M’s Adventures Rome Food Tour

After having more than 30 visitors in the last year, I thought I would share my “food tour” of Rome. This is an addendum to my “Tourist Information for Rome.” While I recommend going on a tour with a professional guide as they are worth it because it is a rigorous test and it takes two years to pass the test to be a licensed tour guide. Not sure what the regulations are for food tours. But, maybe you want to do one or two things, in which case, you can try some of my suggestions. Many of these places are mentioned in my list of Roman restaurants to try.

Go to three markets to see three different markets: where normal Romans shop, the touristy version, and zero kilometer (everything produced from within a 100 km/68 mile radius of Rome). I recommend going to Trionfale, Campo de’ Fiori, and the San Teodoro (Campagna Amica Circomassimo) farmers market. I wrote about local markets earlier. Trionfale is the large central market and you will experience real normal Romans doing their shopping. Campo de’ Fiori will bring you into a mix of what was once a real local market now overrun by tourist tat vendors (limoncello, spice mixes etc.), and San Teodoro (only open on weekends) will show you a yuppy farmers market where many social media influencers can be seen filming. But, ignore them and hone in on that fact that everything, from olive oil, cheese, meat, wild greens, bread, honey, pasta, and wine, was made locally.

Look at these beautiful “weeds” at the San Teodoro market.

Markets are open Monday-Saturday from 7:30-2, generally. The San Teodoro market is only open on weekends (closed all of August) from 8-3. If you want to go when it is quiet, try 9 am. If you love the crush of old ladies in housecoats cutting in front of you in line, go at 11:30 am. I do not recommend going after 1:30 pm, as the vendors are hangry at that point (they have been up since 4 or 5 so not in the best of moods at 1:30 pm). If you want to go to another “real” market, try a local one or Esquilino. For a market with a combination of local, touristy, and influencer plus with more restaurants, try Testaccio.

Trionfale, Via Andrea Doria (near the Vatican so you could do it on your way).

Campo de’ Fiori, Campo de’ Fiori (it is a plaza).

San Teodoro, Via San Teodoro 76 (near the corner of the Circus Maximus, around the corner from the Mouth of Truth, and behind the Palatine hill).

Sample spreads and dips at San Teodoro market.

Testaccio, Via Aldo Manuzzio 66B (but any taxi driver will know where it is — say, “mer-CAT-oh-test-AH-chi-oh”)

Grab breakfast at the market. Or explore and eat at a bakery or coffee shop. The “cornetto” (croissant) is a normal breakfast food, but so is pizza. Any “forno” sign you see is a bakery. Buy a piece of white pizza (no cheese and no toppings other than salt and oil) and enjoy that or get something more substantial.

Forno Monteforte is my favorite Italian bakery/cafe. Via del Pellegrino 29. You can sit down and people watch. This is the place for you if you like classy elegant types of places.

L’Officina della Pizza, Via Cicerone 22: Not only the most delicious and varied pizza “al taglio” (by the slice, but really by weight), but they also make fantastic house sliced potato chips. They only have high tables but you can take your pizza to Piazza Cavour which is nearby and eat your breakfast there. Or eat it while walking and let the olive oil run down your hand. Yummy!

Mushroom pizza in the front and a pumpkin pizza sandwich in the back, topped by a potato pizza at L’Officina della Pizza.

Stop for some gelato. Gelato can be eaten any time of the day from 8 am to after midnight. It is not dessert. It is a separate thing. I like Gunther’s but Neve di Latte is also good. Otaleg in Trastevere is one of the best in Rome and they make the best sorbetto (non-dairy sherbet/sorbet).

Osteria del Rione, Via Basento, 20 (near Villa Borghese): This place is a real local place located in a basement. They have an extremely limited menu (basically what Bruno, the owner, tells you he has), and a set menu for 10 euro. The food is always good and “on point.” The only downside is that this place is mostly a lunch place so go at 12:30 to get a table.

Fuoco Lento, Via Flavia 63/65: Old school waiters, outdoor seating, never had anything bad here (But I would avoid the proscuitto as it is house cut and too thick for my liking). It’s my “go-to” place. Open on Sunday night as well. Outside the touristy area so much easier to get a table.

Saltimbocca, Via di Tor Millina 5, is on a small street off Piazza Navona so if you find yourself down there, you could go here for lunch (even at 3:30 pm) for an authentic Roman experience.

Then do some food shopping. Go to a wine tasting. Or olive oil tasting. Or cheese tasting. If you go in to a cheese shop, they will usually let you try their cheeses.

Beppe and His Cheeses, Via di S. Maria del Pianto 9A (in the Jewish Ghetto so a good anchor for your visit to the area of Rome that had Jewish people 500 years before JC). This shop/restaurant will vacuum pack your cheese so you can take them with you. The last time I was there, I sampled seven cheese, including one they put on a piece of bread, and they gave us a glass of Prosecco… it’s a fun place. Also, sells pasta and many other delightful things. Take a sturdy bag with you.

Castroni, Via Cola di Rienzo, 196/198: Visit this emporium and buy gianduia gold nuggets. There are other branches of this store but I like this big one. This is also a place where you want to take a backpack or other sturdy bag as you will invariably buy many things.

Gold bars of gianduia (like fudge nutella) at Castroni.

Colline Emiliane, Via degli Avignonesi 22 (near Piazza Barbarini): This place makes delicious food. It is the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna (Bologna, Modena, Parma, etc.). Small and with no outdoor seating. But, they have a window where you can watch the pasta being made fresh every day. You have to call to make a reservation. It is a very popular place so I recommend walking past one night and making a reservation for the next night.

Tratteria Valentino, Via del Boschetto 37 (in Monti): great local place on a side street in Monti. Near Quirinale palace. Hidden in plain sight because they kept the old facade from when the space was a ice shop. (Not to be confused with Trattoria da Valentino on Via Cavour, which is also fine.)

MiVa, Via Ezio 23. This is a bit out of the way (although not far from the Vatican) and they make excellent food with modern offerings but NOT molecular cuisine. There may be foam but it will play a supporting role, not be the WHOLE dish.

I list other places but these places are currently on my “Rome in Two Days” food tour when people visit… which are doing a lot…

Also, check out my Instagram @madventures.me to see what I’m up to on the daily.

I’m a Sucker for Pea Shoots – Food in Malta

The shrimp and scallop agnoletti.

As the year draws to a close and the days are finally getting longer here in Rome, I am thinking about fresh snap peas and pea shoots. I love fresh peas and I look forward to them. But, I’m also a sucker for pea shoots. Perhaps partly because they look so artistic. Like edible dancing decorations.

While visiting Malta, we went on a traditional food tour which was interesting. The variety of foods in Malta is as mixed as their culture so we tried Japanese, Italian, Maltese, and fusion (well, it was all sort of fusion).

Soup.

But, then one evening, we found a really delicious restaurant. It is called Grana Bistro and woah was it yummy. I only include a few photos but we had soup, spaghetti alla vongole, salt baked fish, grilled vegetables, bread, and. those amazing scallop and shrimp agnoletti (big ravioli). There were lots of pea shoots used on the various dishes.

Spaghetti alla vongole.

I ate them too.

Malta, the Fantastic

One of the things to see in Rome is the keyhole of Malta. Visiting Malta is so much more than that glimpse into the world of the knights of Malta. The tiny central island just off of Sicily is as fantastical as one imagines it to be.

Upper Barakka gardens, Valletta.

I visited on a cold winter day with torrential rains bucketing down like biblical times. Yes, I still loved it.

Photogenic shop in Valletta.

Maybe because of the weather, it was a better experience — free of the millions who flood the island every year searching for Gladiator or Game or Thrones…

Valletta, tourist and native.

We did a food and cultural walking tour. It was a great introduction to Malta.

Lots of streets in Valletta are steep.

The island of Malta has a long history as a embattled island due to its central location in the Mediterranean. To borrow from the Visit Malta site, “the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans and the Byzantines” and then the Berbers, Knights of Malta, French, and British all had influences on the island.

Famous harbor seen from the Upper Barrakka gardens.

St. Paul was shipwrecked here in current era 60 (AD). This is a big deal. Christianity is a big part of the island. The Knights of Malta were a Christian order which is considered sovereign, but now they are a Christian humanitarian organization. They have had different names at different times in history but they ruled Malta from the 1500s (when they were given Malta as a territory after fleeing Rhodes after the rise of the Ottoman empire) to the 1800s.

This mall also has subsidized public housing, right downtown, for as little as 30 euro per month.

Valletta has been the capital for 450 years and has a uniform look to it because it was built in three years. The buildings of the old town are all made of the same pale yellow rock that was quarried from the exact place where the buildings were built. In some ways, Valletta reminded me of the towns of Apulia like Lecce, Bari, and Polignano a mare. Maybe that is why I liked it so much. The stone is the same color as the stone used in Jerusalem.

Another instagrammable shop and remnant of the British influence.

Malta had a capital before Valletta was chosen. The old capital goes back 4,000 years and is located about 20 minutes drive from Valletta. Mdina, not to be confused with Medina, is the old capital and right outside its gate is Rabat, not to be confused with Rabat.

Gate of Mdina, the former capital.
Mdina is crushingly quaint.
The eight pointed star is symbolic for the eight “langhe” or rulers of Malta.
Mdina is a perfectly preserved walled city.
Mdina has a few pops of color other than the sandstone color of the native rock.

The language of Malta, like the people and culture, is also a mix. It has many words that are the same in Italian but I did not understand Maltese at all. No matter as they speak English as well.

The Beheading of John the Baptist by Caravaggio is in the church in Valletta.

Another reason to go to Malta is to see a Caravaggio painting. The church is also beautiful but to be in front of a Caravaggio is a special moment. This brings a visit to Malta full circle. Many consider Caravaggio to be the first cinematographer for his use of dramatic light and shadow. Malta, with its dramatic history, seems most famous now as a movie location.

The Valletta Street Food and Culture Walking Tour

Sandwich “lunch” stop. The drink was also traditional.

I rarely go on food tours because I prefer to wander around on my own. But the tour I took in Malta was an example of why one should take a food tour.

The tour is not just food. This is the view from the upper gardens where the tour guide explains a whole lot including which films were filmed here.

In Valletta, I joined a tour with the Valletta Street Food and Culture Walking Tour, found by my friend on TripAdvisor. This tour was great. Not just food, but culture, history, and movie locations.

The guide spoke excellent English (it’s one of the languages of Malta) and used a micrphone/headset system so you could always hear her.

It was good value for money, the walking was not too strenuous, and guide was great (guides must be licensed in Malta so they have to know their stuff).

Fried ravioli.

The cost is about $43 per person and for that you get four food and culture stops and three hours of information about Malta.

Horse meat stew.

The guide will ask you to pre-select if you want to try the horse meat.

Cheese and salami plate.

The amounts of food are not overly huge but enough that you will not need to eat lunch.

Coffee stop at a traditional bakery.

At the final stop, you get free beer, an appetizer slate, and a small main dish.

Dessert at the “dinner” stop.

Conveniently, the tour ends in a food hall so you can keep eating if you are still hungry or just want to sit for a while.

The God of Misrule – Farsinus

When I worked in Bangladesh, there were notices about being wary of mishap. One day, a local colleague came up to me and quietly asked me about the unlucky Mr. Mish Ap, as he seemed to be most unfortunate.

Ten years later, I find myself in a completely different world — in the Roman world of bureaucracy, calamity, inanity, and farce. For this, I’ve created a god named Farsinus. Yes, sounds bit like a fart (for the purile) and that other four letter F-word. I asked a Roman if there was a god of mischief, a cousin to the Nordic Loki, Lord of Misrule. I imagined it must be Bacchus, the god of wine and debauchery. I was confusing him with Faunus, or Pan to you G(r)eeks. Apparently, the Greeks had a goddess of mischief, Ate (“Ah-tay”). According to the great oracle in the ether, Wiki, Ate was “of mischief, delusion, ruin, and blind folly, rash action and reckless impulse who led men down the path of ruin. She also led both gods and men to rash and inconsiderate actions and to suffering. Até also refers to an action performed by a hero that leads to their death or downfall.”

Well, I may not be a hero, but I’ve been trying to become a devotee of the God Farsinus. To enjoy the calamity of life… and public transportation in Italy.

The chocolate fare was mostly about shopping.

The God Farsinus came to me when I was going to the Bastia Umbria (I’m told that if I don’t add the specifier Umbria, you might think I meant Sardenia — as if anyone has heard of Bastia, either one) for the Eurochocolate frenzy. I will start out by saying that, generally, it’s not like this. But, then, some days, it is, and the day will unravel like a standup sketch by Russel Howard. Or, Karl Pilkington. On the day in question, I needed to get to Bastia Umbria, but the train to Perugia did not stop there. So I had to take the train to Perugia and then take the train back to Rome which did stop in Bastia Umbria. I am not sure why I still think there is logic, but why do people from Perugia get to stop at Bastia Umbria but people traveling from Rome do not?

There was a small stall in the actual town of Perugia.

Next week, I’ll get back to talking about nice things.

In Search of Spicy Chinese Restaurants in Rome

There are many Chinese restaurants in Rome, but I like spicy Chinese food (like food from Sichuan). I have been to about 15 Chinese restaurants at this point and I am finding that most are the “same same” — so I do not want to continue. The first three are places where one can get spicy “Sichuan” style food. The rest are where you can get okay Chinese food. ***update December 2022 — I did finally find really spicy food at the hotpot restaurant called Tianci Chongqing.***

The spicy hotpot is sure fire way to make sure you eat something spicy!

Sichuan, Via di San Martino ai Monti 33: It was supposed to be spicy but I didn’t think it was. The food was good. I took a Chinese person with me so maybe the food was better because of that.

Xiao Shenyang, Via di S. Croce in Gerusalemme 91a: On a dingy thoroughfare but if you can speak Chinese to the owner and he does the cooking, then you can get authentic spicy Chinese food.

ChongQing Impresiones, Via Vicenza 10: Near the train station with a casual cafe feel but excellent cucumber salad and other vegetables. I’ll be back. Sichuan style food but not sure about it.

Mi Cucina Cinese, Via Giovanni Botero 31: Located quite a bit out of the city (five miles is a long way in Rome) with good dishes but not worth the haul. They fried rice with beef and fried egg served on a massive iron hotplate is straight up comfort food.

These were interesting, and not bitter.

MiFang, Via Firenze 30: In Monti, and a bit fancy inside. They have excellent special fried rice but the portions are small. The sweet and sour chicken balls are worth it just because they are served in a bowl of ice… and still are hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth.

Tea & Noodles fried dumplings.
Inside Tea & Noodles.

Mandarin Chow, Via Emilia 85: Considered one of the best. I thought it was good but not sure it was the best, but maybe I have a faulty memory.

Tea and Noodles, Via Conte Verde 38. It’s comfort food when you need it. Homemade noodles and dumplings. While it is a casual cafe, the menu is extensive and even includes Peking Duck. The homemade dumplings, fried rice, chicken crunchies (not sure what they are called but that is what they were), and pork belly were probably the best things but I love the garlicky cucumber salad and the sour pickled radish.

Tea & Noodles chicken crunchies.
Sichuan – Dumplings in spicy oil, chicken with chiles, and hot and sour soup.

Apparently this plum drink is what one drinks with spicy food. It tasted a bit like ice tea.

Chinese Tea House, Via Otranto 3 in Prati: This place has an all you can eat sushi offer that one orders through a tablet at the table. But, they also have a Sichuan menu which is really more generic Chinese food. Not bad for generic. I’ll go back for the shrimp.

Online reviews say that the Tea House is hard to find but it is not. It’s covered in flowers, which you can see in the background.

T’Ang Cout, Via Filippo Turati 54: The service is nice. The place is well lit and pleasant. The food is okay.

Coconut tapioca dessert at T’ang Cout.

Oolong, Piazza di San Paola alla Regola: Very fancy with a strict Chinese owner. Outdoor seating, a vast menu, housemade noodles and dumplings, oysters, and the best part were the desserts.

This dessert at Oolong was the best thing there.

Heji.

Heji, Via Daniele Manin 61: This is a newish place and they are not finished decorating. It has a hole in the wall feel, and it located on a busy street with a tram line chunting along outside. The folks are friendly and they seem to do a massive delivery service.

Water spinach, kang kong, is very popular and is in season in the fall.

I also went to some others, like Green T, but I don’t recommend them. Green T had nice decor, too pricey, food was cold, and too fancy with no flavor.

Foods of Piemonte

Russian salad.

One of the “chandelier” problems with Italy is that the food is delicious and one could spend a life time trying it all. That said, I have some food that I have liked more than others. I expected to like the cheeses of Piemonte as that is where much of the dairy farming happens. But, I found it not so exciting. Here is an article on some of the typical dishes to try. I only managed a few of them.

Agnolotti di plin.

Agnolotti di Plin are small stuffed pasta. The filling is usually a meat reduction and the one I had was surrounded by a chestnut paste adding to the gamey feel.

Raw meat. They love raw beef tartar.

Sausage stuffed vegetables.

An array of special appetizers with sausage, anchovy, truffles, cheese fondant, and eggs.

Egg frittata with cheese sauce.

Truffles.

Breadsticks. Grissini are apparently a specialty of the area.

Quail eggs and cooked tuna.

Russian salad. I actually liked this mayonnaise based salad of potatoes, carrots, and peas. The one I had was very fancy.

The pan pizza.

Deep Pan Pizza of Turin

As I have mentioned before, “pizza” is “bread” in Italy. There are many types of pizza and in Turin, I tried yet a different type. A personal sized deep pan pizza (for those who have had pizza in Pizza Hut in the United States, it is like those). It is called Pizza al Padellino.

In Turin (famous for the Shroud of Turin — which incidentally is so delicate that it will not be on show again until 2025), there is a type of pizza that is small, soft, and baked in a pan. The pan is about 10 centimeters across/7 inches across. The dough is airy and yeasty so rises to a pillow when baked.

The staff encouraged me to get the black pizza dough as it was special. The taste is the same but the dough is black due to charcoal. It looks special too.

The taste was as one imagines. Light, airy, yeasty, and with crunchy edges.

It was not my favorite because the dough had that “cookie dough” quality to it. and I am not into the cookie dough. I preferred it be cooked all the way through. But, if you like raw dough…

9 Best Korean Restaurants in Rome

There are only 12 so that makes it easier. I am listing the restaurants on flavor, authenticity, and selection.

Seoul Restaurant is old school.

Seoul: This place was filled with Koreans and the atmosphere is more family than business lunch. They have no mandu (dumplings) but otherwise a full menu. The service was fast and the flavors were authentic. Not a wide variety of panchan but at least the kimchi was okay. This is on the south side (also figuratively) of Termini. This newly renovated place is down in a basement and I think it is located where the previous highly rate Hana was once located. I would go back.

Seoul restaurant is newly renovated down in a basement.

Starbaps: This tiny three high table top take out place has five things on the menu (bento box, rice bowls, dumplings, rice cakes, and soup) but the flavor is authentic. But it annoys me that they deep fry their mandu as this destroys any “chew” factor. I go back all the time.

This a tiny place with a few high top tables.

Gainn: Perfectly acceptable place to eat Korean. Elegant enough for a nice meal. Near Termini on the nice side. Probably would take newbies here.

Gainn is a fairly classic Korean place.
HanCook in south Rome.

Hancook: New restaurant, pleasant atmosphere. They are a bit south of the center. The seafood pancake was good, but the bulgogi was bad. It tasted blah. The japchae noodles were excellent. They had no beef mandu (dumplings) but have small deep fried scallion gyoza. They also have pork dumplings in a money sack shape were “sold out” when I visited. The pork, seafood, and tofu stew was spicy and okay. The rice was not sticky Korean rice. The restaurant looks nice but there were not too many Koreans eating there even though the owner is Korean and the waitress is also Korean. She bops around in her mom jean shorts and speaks Italian. Might go back.

At HanCook, the bulgogi looks okay but it has no taste.

Jangbaeksan/Chang Bai Shan: It’s Chinese Korean. Perfectly acceptable Korean food. A bit far out down south of the center of town. Might go back.

Lettuce included at Jang Baek San.

Da Lui Bian BBQ: This place is listed as a yakitori (meat on stick in Japanese) place but the photos show Korean items. The Korean items are all fine. The bulgogi was more like roastbeef so not too sinewy. This place is also near the center of town so convenient. Might go back.

Large but few portions of panchan at Da Lui Bian.

Kombi Ni Ni: is a pan Asian place but they do make some Korean items. Very generic pan Asian but okay if your live nearby. It is actually a Korean owned shop but they are doing well enough that it takes 90 minutes to get the food so it is best to order online. I liked their fried chicken but it could have been fried anything. Good though. The kimbap (like sushi rolls/maki but these are with beef) were good too. No kimchi served with meals/bento boxes. A bit like Starbaps. Too far away to go back to.

Mamma Coreana/Corea: This is a bit like eating at a Korean mamma’s house. They have all you can eat which includes some basics including rice and soup. There are a few a la carte items but not much of a menu. When the food is done, it’s done. This is bare bones, TV on, children running around, businessmen on video calls with wife while eating, kind of place. I might go back.

Arirang is down those stairs…

Arirang: The food was very average, the location and facade make it a hole in the wall. This is the place that I’ve seen from when driving around Termini… I even walked around twice looking for this place with the Korean painted frontage… and then I searched on Google Earth… finally, I found it by reading other lists of Korean restaurants in Rome, but I clicked on the image search instead of the regular search. Read that list here. I would not go back.

I-gio: This is possibly the most trendy of the Korean restaurants. The restaurant is elegant. The food was okay but I didn’t find it good enough to finish or take home. I would not go back.

Galbi: This was another strange frankenstein of a place. The menu is made for Italians. If you want the food served more Korean style, the owner will do so. I wish him good luck, but I would not go here for Korean food. I might go back to grill steak on the mini grill for an Instagram video. Would not go back.

Biwon: Sad. I did not finish the food and I left quickly.

There are two other restaurants listed on Google but…

Kumkan-san: way outside Rome, near Ciampino airport. Temporarily closed.

Rist.coreano: Outside the ring road around Rome. I think this is only for organized tour groups and I don’t think this is really open to the public.

And then there are places with Korean food on the menu:

Raviolieri: It’s not Korean but while many restaurants are trying to get a piece of the “Korean chicken wing” action, this place actual has several pages of Korean items on their menu. The items are fusion Roman-Korean.

Most of the restaurants now make “Korean chicken” wings but they are not. They are chicken wings. Some have sauce. It is not the same as the ethereal rice flour wings of real Korean chicken wings.

The Digestivo Will Cure You

An digestif made from arugula. I can’t recall what the other one was made from.

As they say, what does not kill you, will make you better. I am always suspicious of things that are supposedly really good for you or things that will increase my sexual stamina. Usually these things are things that are terrible tasting.

Often, you are offered a limoncello at the end of the meal.

Italians have an obsession with their intestinal and gut health. Drinking a little digestif, digestivo, is something many of them are accustomed to.

“Amaro” is bitter. No kidding.

Digestifs are usually an alcoholic beverage that you enjoy at the end of meal. It is not meant to be downed like a shot. As with many things in Italy, most of the Italian digestifs are bitter. Oh how they love bitter here!

I have tried a few. Some made from walnuts and some made from arugula. The one made from arugula is a specialty of Ischia, an island near Capri.

If they are not too bitter, then they are often too sweet. When I tried the Ratafia, I was delighted because while sweet, it at least tasted good.

The “elixir from Abruzzo” was quite good.

Ten Unknown Local Dishes to Try

While there are many local specialties that everyone will recommend, like orecchiette in Apulia, I want to mention some that do not get mentioned as often.

Egg soup, Salina: A soup with poached eggs and vegetables.

Egg soup

Fried cheese, Abruzzo (and other areas): This fried cheese is a bit like haloumi in Greece, but not as salty. Served melted from the oven. In Salina, it is deep fried.

Fried cheese

Pizzeli (wine cookies): Most regions of Italy have round hard not sweet crackers that are for dipping in wine.

Egg cheese balls, Abruzzo: These were like a cheese egg souffle in a round donut hole size and shape. Served with red tomato sauce.

Raw artichoke salad: Actually, try any of the salads and vegetables that you have never tried before like raw fennel or artichoke.

Fried egg tart, Campania: A frittata which is then deep fried.

Taralla (Napoli): These are another baked bread twist. Many places in Italy make them like a small ring but in Naples, they are longer.

Fish balls, Salina: On this island off of Sicily, one can try tender fish balls. Try them. They are surprisingly good.

Fish balls

Pizzette (small pizzas), Rome: Many bakeries sell mini pizzas (many with no cheese or red sauce as a pizza just means a type of bread). These pizzette are often served at happy hour.

Pane Cunzatu, Salina: This is like a giant garlic bread. The plate-sized bread is toasted and smothered in toppings. Absolutely awesome!

Cunzatu

The melon-cucumber of Apulia: I wrote about this before. When in season, it is served as the “vegetable” but only to locals so make sure to ask!

Melon cucumber slices served with radishes

The “Busy” Scene on the Aeolian Islands

Fresh prawns.

The Aeolian islands are called the gourmet islands. I think they may have styled themselves as this as a tourist attraction. Conde Naste Traveler magazine called them this and based the article around a female Michelin star chef who owns Signum on the island of Salina, the second largest of the Aeolian islands. Lipari is the biggest.

The upstairs of the catamaran.

Getting to the islands is by boat or catamaran. Of helicopter if you want. The catamaran from Milazzo on Sicily took under two hours. The port restaurant at Milazzo is really good. Best bread I’ve had, excellent sandwiches, good beer, and well, overall better than they need to be for having a captive audience. The ferry from or to Naples from Salina is about six hours and I wouldn’t recommend it. The air conditioning only worked well on one side and because the Italians have a severe fear of upsetting their digestion, those that had sat over there were wearing their jackets and scarves but refused to move. Even in the windy cold side of the boat, it was still only 80 F or 27 C. The hot side of the boat was 99 F or 37 C (I carry a thermometer with me for just this sort of situation). When I opened up some of the vents to get more air, I had many fingers waggled at me to stop. The toilet also became somewhat of a fetid horror.

A view from one of the Relax Salina Boats.

Getting to and from the islands is fairly easy as there are ferries and local boat companies that stop at the various islands including Stromboli, famous volcanic island. Ask at your hotel or B&B. Everyone knows everyone on these islands so they will all have a cousin or brother or son who has a boat.

The social media director was way fly and hip looking.

But, the islands are famous for their food scene. The restaurants I liked in Santa Marina on Salina were Lo Schiavo, nni’ Lausta, and Mamma Santina. Down in Lingua, there is a restaurant, Il Gambero, on the harbor which runs a shuttle (the dad runs it) to Santa Marina. Try the local speciality called “pane cunzato” a sort of large garlic bread with various toppings. I loved it because they used raw garlic. Although seafood is the speciality, there are vegetarian options on all the menus.

Imagine this fresh tuna from the fish shop.

If you have an opportunity, buy the fresh tuna tartare at the fish shop, Pescharia A Lampara (there is only one fish shop). It’s so fresh and glistens like rubies.

Linen in all sizes.

While resting between meals, buy linen and crochet. If you can afford it. Some of the nice dresses were handmade and cost 700 euro. Be aware that this is small town life so many shops close for lunch. But a few don’t and most have air conditioning. The people are generally friendly. The main street of Santa Marina is mainly pedestrian making for good shopping and eating. And people watching.

View from Hotel Mercanti di Mari

For happy hour, go to the Hotel Mercanti di Mari by the harbor where they have a make your own bruschetta station. Drink wine and admire the view of the harbor.

Unusual bread at the local bakery.

If you want a nightclub, go to the Porto Bello restaurant by the dock. Just be aware that any shenanigans you take home with you will be known all over the island. If you don’t mind adding to the local action, then never mind.

The main street in the morning when the delivery trucks are allowed in. Nni’ Lausta on the left has a secret garden.

The reason many go is for the food and one could just visit Salina and eat well. But, stay a while longer, and become part of the local soap opera scene… I befriended a local, not knowing that he was a local passionate about more than fish. When I described this local casanova to the manager at the place where I was staying, she said with a wise nod that she knew who I was talking about . She added, “he is busy busy all the time”… on an island with as many bikini clad tourists as this one, one can see how he constantly had a fresh “catch.”

One of the many gourmet food stores.

Otherwise, sit back and enjoy chatting with the locals and soaking up the local. If you imagine a BBC feel-good romantic comedy, then you get an idea of what I saw in this little island buzzing with flashing smiles, bronzed arms, and twinkling glances.

Nni’ Lausta’s upstairs terrace is perfect for an assignation. Or just a rest from the heat of the day.