September 2020. I have been working from home in Cape Town for almost six months and the cabin fever is real when those Facebook memories start appearing. It is exactly a year since my Italian holiday. It feels like a lifetime ago.
Through my old posts, I relive what feels like every step, bite, drink and sight of that amazing trip. A favourite shot of my Plus One, a.k.a. The Carb Hunter, gazing fondly at the cone of crunchy, cheesy suppli classico he has bought from a market stall in Rome; the night we shared bistecca alla Fiorentina and a bottle of Chianti in Florence; our daily caffe and cornetti at Torrefazione Cannaregio in Venice. No social distancing. No masks. No COVID-19. No way could we have imagined how different all this would be just five months later. Deserted piazzas, shuttered osterias, hospitals overwhelmed.
I wonder if the places where we ate our hearts out still exist. Whether mamma Giovanna and babbo Rolando’s trattoria in Florence, and the Mori brothers’ osteria in Rome, have survived Italy’s hard, hard lockdown. It’s a heartbreaking thought. But an online search reveals that many of these family-run eateries are once again serving their signature dishes. Like restaurants in SA and all over the world, they are offering home deliveries, opening their outdoor dining areas and selling house-made pantry items. I start sharing their hope-filled posts with The Carb Hunter. Because we have our own pandemic challenges to deal with, and escaping to another time, if only for a moment every day, is what we need right now.
“Imagine if…”; “Maybe one day…”; “Remember when…”
I am bone-tired after a sleepless flight to Rome via Dubai, and grumpy at the chirpy WhatsApps I’m getting from The Carb Hunter. He is on the high-speed train from Milan after a week-long Italian Grand Prix jaunt, which included an impromptu pilgrimage to Tavullia to visit Valentino Rossi’s pizzeria. (I’m told that the pizza alla diavola was “bellisimo”.)
I, on the other hand, have spent three hours in the queue at passport control, my luggage has vanished from the carousel, and I’m not impressed by reports of how many kilometres per hour his train is travelling. (As a late-pandemic aside: I promise I will never be cranky after a long-haul flight again – 2019’s “problems” were so minor.)
After reuniting at our hotel, we set off on foot for an afternoon of exploring the city centre. Fortified by a quick slice of pizza bianca and an ice-cold Moretti beer at a sidewalk café, we stroll to the Colosseum and Roman Forum, then on to the Trevi Fountain and throng of selfie-snapping tourists.
After climbing the Spanish Steps – all 135 of them – more drinks are required, and Google Maps comes to the rescue. The Rinascente Tritone rooftop bar, which has a menu created by the executive chef of Michelin-starred Ristorante All’Orro, Riccardo Di Giacinto, is just a three-minute walk away. With views of the city’s red rooftops from the terrace, this is the perfect spot for a refreshing aperitivo before heading to the Testaccio District, the food neighbourhood that has been on my mind since we first started planning this trip.
Built at the turn of the 20th century to accommodate Rome’s industrial and slaughterhouse workers, it gets its name from Monte Testaccio, a 20 000 square-metre, 53-metre high artificial mountain of broken terracotta amphorae (or testae), discarded during Roman times. Amazingly, many bars and eateries are nestled right into the terracotta hillside.
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CHRISTMAS STEP BY STEP
If you’re the kind of traditionalist who insists on old-school starters, two roasts (glazed gammon, obvs), duck-fat potatoes, gravy perfection and the ultimate jelly and “custard”, then Hannah Lewry has all your work cut out for you, right here. Because if ever there was a time of year to flaunt your cooking skills, this is it
HAPPY HOUR Spirit of the season
A few ingredients left to infuse for two days and you can add a few home-made gifts to your festive repertoire this year, says Jeanne Calitz
FOOD HERO Brandy custard
Creamy, flecked with vanilla and now spiked with everyone’s favourite festive spirit, the TASTE team is all over Woolies’ new brandy custard. But how will we make the most of this fresh punnet of ingenuity?
A NEW KIND OF MAGIC
Break a few rules this Christmas, ('cos it's been that kinda year) and make new traditions with Abigail Donnelly’s inspired modern menu
In which Jonathan Ancer makes peace with the most embarrassing meal of his life, after learning that his food phobia has become family-table folklore
South Africa lost an icon earlier this year, when food editor and author Dorah Sitole passed away. Mogau Seshoene remembers the woman who inspired, advised and cheered for a generation of young black chefs
THANKS FOR sharing
Best way to do Christmas on a budget? Pot luck, you guys! Make some menu “suggestions”, says Khanya Mzongwana, set up a buffet table and ask everyone to bring a shareable dish that costs less than R50 per person. Think of it as food-nerd secret Santa
ON THE FIRST DAY OF CHRISTMAS
These are all the cakes, tarts, puddings, biscuits and treats you need for your Christmas countdown, courtesy of Abigail Donnelly
STEP BY STEP Christmas fairy-cake biscuits
For the kids and the kids at heart, these buttery, rainbow sprinkled biccies offer pure, unadulterated joy in the making and eating
The last carb
When her favourite veg, the humble potato, is all dressed up in a rich, cheesy tartiflette, Sam Woulidge knows it will bring peace to the holiday table
GAUL'S UNIVERSITY TOWN
New excavations have revealed the wealth and prestige of an ancient center of learning
Speaking Fluent Fatherlish
Dads have a language all their own, one that’s not difficult to decipher
Stealthily Wielding Caesar's Sword
Sohrab Ahmari’s case for tradition conceals an authoritarian agenda.
Remember When: Fifteen years ago in Rome, Hingis rekindles her magic
The Swiss kept missing until a throwback performance in the Eternal City
NO, REALLY, ARE WE ROME?
The sack of the Capitol was thwarted. But history suggests that corrosive change can be hard to see while it’s happening.
Fresh Pasta, Frozen Feet
Braving the elements for a taste of Rome off the Bowery.
EMPIRE OF SIN
A new boss is in town to take over the forgotten gangster sim genre
MODERN-DAY OLYMPIA ANABOLIC STACK VS. THE ‘90S
Purists wish to trace modern-day bodybuilding to the sport’s roots of the 1960s, but it could easily be argued that modern bodybuilding branched away from classic bodybuilding in the 1990s, deviating to extremes in size and form that bring to mind caricatures or comic book drawings.
With the nation and much of the western world contending with the fallout of the chronic problem of racism, this is as good a time as any to take a look at the issue within the world of vertebrate paleontology.
From Italy to New York
2 flights and 5 angels got me home