After two and a half months I have finally left behind bella Italia. It took me much longer than I had expected to feel comfortable in Italy, but in the end, just like always, I did not want to leave.
Italy is a beautiful country; it is just like our fantasies. Rolling green hills, colorful houses, old ladies peeking out from balconies, ancient churches, endless fields of sunflowers and of course, incredibly delicious food! In Costa Rica I lost weight from the rice and beans, in Argentina I became muscular from all the meat, and in Italy…I gained weight! I have never eaten so much rich, flavorful food! Pasta cooked in a cornucopia of ways, cured meats, sweet pastries, dark chocolate, heavenly cheeses, creamy gelato. I tried everything. And loved it. But my body is begging for a break.
I do not think there is a cuisine in the world so reliant on wheat as the Italian cuisine. Pastries, bread and pasta are all eaten daily. I often asked myself, where does all this wheat come from? I rarely saw wheat fields on my cross-country train rides (or maybe I slept through them all!). I did a little research and found that most wheat is produced in Northern Italy, but production is decreasing. Italy imports more wheat than it produces, mostly from France. It is the third largest importer of wheat in the world and the largest producer and consumer of pasta in the world (on average Italians eat 36 kg a year or 100 grams a day). My body is on wheat overload and to be honest, I’m a little tired of pasta!
I will miss the Italian attitude towards food. They are strictly seasonal and value flavor over convenience. To the Italians, good food is not complicated, or it shouldn’t be. It is just a matter of starting with the freshest, highest quality ingredients and then not messing with them too much. Pesto is an excellent example. All you need to do to make incredible pesto is grind up loads of freshly picked basil leaves together with high quality olive oil, a few garlic cloves, some pine nuts, pecorino romano and parmigiano reggiano cheese. Pesto is about showcasing basil; I once was scolded for adding too much garlic, it overpowers the basil. Italian cooking is like this: staying true to the purity of the ingredients. I love that.
I made a list the other day of my favorite things about Italy. The most beautiful city: Rome, the most stunning landscapes: Sicily, and the friendliest people: Neapolitans. I spent my last week in Naples, but I wish I had gone there earlier. I instantly made friends who I already miss.
And so, after mastering Portuguese and now Italian, I am in a country that does not speak a romance language! In fact, they even have a different alphabet here. I am in the city of Ermoupolis in Syros, one of the Cyclades Islands of Greece. It is beautiful here! Fall has reached the island; cold, ocean winds slip past the white-washed walls in this small city. But I have found the warmest hosts to be with and even cook with!
I am not sure how long I will stay on this island, it actually depends a lot on the social situation. Today and tomorrow all ferries in Greece are on strike, so I am technically stuck here for now! It is certainly a very interesting time to travel to Greece, if not a little frustrating. Every day someone is on strike: the lawyers, the teachers even some of the police. All government buildings have been occupied and there are protest posters everywhere. The people gather and talk daily about their troubled present and uncertain future.
I am here to talk about their food! I can’t wait to share with you everything I have tasted already! This mediterranean cuisine is full of olives, legumes, fish, nuts and vegetables. And much less wheat! After my first meal, a Greek salad, I could almost hear my stomach say, “thank you, Nicole!”