Sunday, March 02, 2008
Our Last Italian Post: Milan's Chinatown and Bergamo
I promise that this is the last post I make about our trip to Italy. Been busy here in Budapest and haven't been out adventuring much... so just a batch of more photos from a couple of weeks ago. While we were in Milan we naturally gravitated to the Chinatown district, located along Via Sarpi northeast of the downtown. Italians and Chinese: two great tastes that go great together! How can you go wrong?Well, one way is to tell a Chinese driver to move his car. Last summer some cops did just that and sparked a weekend of riots throughout Milan's Chinatown. But things have calmed down, the Chinese are busy selling the clothing that fills many of Milan's cut rate boutiques, and hey, unlike many Chinatown districts, the Via Sarpi area actually melds both cultures - you have Chinese enjoying italian pastries and sipping coffees and Italians gorging on Shanghai dim sum. It's a win-win situation.Since we had taken a cheap flight in Whizz Air to Milan (tickets cost 25 cents... plus airport taxes of about $40) we flew via Bergamo's airport. Bergamo is a beautiful town less than an hour east of Milan, divided into a busy lower city built on a plain, and a medieval upper town perched on a hillside.Bergamo is a great town to spend a day in - it's small scale allows you to get most of the sites in with a minimum of walking. The cathedral in the upper city was a relief after the monumental never-get-finished Duomo in Milan. Finally, a Duomo you can see without panoramic eyeglasses.The cuisine of Bergamo is essentially Alpine-Venetian, and polenta is served with virtually everything, including sweets. The local specialty is a polenta cake with little chocolate birds heads sticking out, "polenta of birds." Hmmm... johnny cake with chocolate. They would love these in Romania. Mamaliga balls with chocolate!The bakeries offered both sweets and a selection of fresh pastas, as do most Italian bakeries. every region has a different version of stuffed fresh pasta - raviolis, tortellinis, you name it - and Bergamo is no different. But check this out: ravioli with rucola, EU 19 a kilo? As the Kangaroo says to the bartender in the famous joke "And at these prices you won't be seeing many more...." I think I would rather whip up a batch at home.On the other hand, a shop specializing in truffles and porcini mushrooms is something I wouldn't mind having in my neighborhood.We had a day in Bergamo, before catching our flight back to Budapest we had to visit Italy's largest shopping center, the Orio Center located just across the highway from the Bergamo Airport. (Below: view from the Mall food court)A lot of English people fly to Bergamo just to go shopping at this monster and then catch the flight back to Old Blighty.Somehow, they don't make getting from the Airport to the Mall very easy - you have to walk along the highway for a kilometer before you get to an underpass tunnel, and then walk back along a highway to get top the mall. No problem... we'll crawl on hands and knees to go shopping at an Italian hypermarket any day!Now, when you go to a mall, you might get a bit hungry... so wander into the food court. Yes, they had some desultory chinese buffet place, but everything else was Italian. Excellent Italian. Pizza to die for, stuffed double crust pizzas (seen below,) calzones, panini, piadinas... This is the food court di tutti food courts. And then there is the Iper supermarket. God shops here. Yes, that's right. He shops here. We know this for a fact, and it is not nice to argue about religion, so just take my word for it. God shops here. OK? So we decided to shop here too.The cheese selection at the Bergamo Iper market. This is an entire selection of Talleggio cheese on sale, as opposed to those not on sale. If you like the sharp, creamy taste of Talleggio, it makes sense to shop in a place where six or seven of them are "on sale" at all time, no?Every time we visit Italy we tend to stock up on groceries, and this time we stuffed a duffle bag full of food, checked it in as luggage, and brought it all home to Budapest. Several Bergamo salamis, a king's ransome of pasta, a river of good olive oil, and a couple of zampones to cook up for our friends back in Budapest. Here's the haul after we got home...We had promised our friends a feast when we got home, so we met at the home port of Captain Squid and Mdme. Squidella La Lignje to cook up zampone with lentils. Zampone are pigs feet stuffed with cotechino sausage, and are a specialty of Modena. Usually they take hours to cook, but these babies are the heat and serve variety produced by one of Modena's most respected families of zampone producers.Yes, its a pig's foot. A very tasty pig's foot. It is almost guaranteed to make an American scream "Ewwww! Icky!" Hmmmm.... pork! Yes, once again, I have avoided any Jewish content in this blog to bring evidence of the superiority of non-kosher food products deriving from Ancient civilizations!A mere half hour of boil in the bag porky goodness and here you go! We served it on a bed of lentils, which symbolize wealth and traditionally eaten with zampone or sausages (in this case, both) at New Years.These people are eating their weight in pork as we watch. This type of gluttony is what medieval priests were talking about when they made eating too much a sin. Is everybody happy?