Continuing with the November theme ″Why I keep coming back to Italy″ is Reason Nine–Fast Food.
Although most Italians prefer to sit down and enjoy a meal shared with friends and family, they sometimes resort to fast food, like we do. Yet the choices you find in Italy are quite different than what’s available in my home town. Here’s what to look for…
Larger cities and even some small towns will offer freshly cooked food to go at a small shop called a Tavola Calda, Look in the cases and you’ll find freshly baked lasagna, baked pastas and many more choices. I always look for a nearby kitchen, to make sure the food is fresh.
Technically, a Salumeria sells meats and what we call salami, in America. However, many of them also offer cheeses, breads, salads and tasty panini sandwiches to go. The famous Salumeria, Tamburini, in Bologna is an amazing butcher and food store packed with wine, local products and much more. It also provides a delicious fast lunch.
The word casalinga means housewife or homemaker in Italian. This is where you can find fresh pasta and sauces to make your own meal in a hurry. If you’re lucky, you can watch these artisans magically twisting the pasta into those intricate shapes of tortellini or orecchiette while talking a mile a minute. Many of these shops are only open in the mornings and for a short time in the late afternoon, so plan accordingly.
Panini di Lampredotto
& Regional Specialties
Many regions have their fast food specialty. In Florence, it’s a tasty tripe sandwich called Lampredotto. In Liguria, on the west coast, it might be a wonderful Focaccia. In Sicily, look for those tasty fried rice balls called Arancini. If you visit Emilia Romagna, an important area for foodies, there are many items to try. Near Ravenna and the coast, look for a Piadina, a sandwich made with flatbread and a wide variety of fillings. In the towns of Reggio or Parma, be sure to try an Erbazzone, made with a light and flaky dough filled with spinach, cheese and other goodies.
Farmers’ Markets & Street Fairs
Most open air markets also offer street food. The butcher selling meat might also provide a wonderful pork sandwich. The baker selling bread might also be selling pizza by the slice.
At the street fairs and local festivals, you’re sure to try their special treats. These events are usually celebrating a feast day or a special harvest. So there are plenty of opportunities to sample the area’s unique specialties.
One way to search out fast food is to merely keep your eyes open when you enter a pleasant piazza during the lunch hour. If you see people standing around with something delicious in their hands—just ask them where they found it. Use hand signals if you have to—an Italian will understand.
McDonald’s and Burger King have made their way into the larger cities of Italy, but there’s no reason to go there. You can always find a smaller vendor selling fast food that is actually fresh and local. And once you find that special treat, walk a bit further to a quiet piazza and enjoy your new culinary adventure.