Is it true that you don’t have to tip in Italy? Yes, it’s true. But people are happy if you do. In sit down restaurants, one can add ten percent or so. In the touristy places, they may expect it. But, as there are so few tourists (and right now during an orange day or month, no traveling outside your city — so only very local tourist) in Italy due to the virus, I think the foreigners make sure to tip.
In a taxi, round to the nearest Euro. In a casual place, like a stand up pizza place, no tipping necessary.
Not sure about tipping the shampoo gal/guy as I haven’t been to a salon here (a bad haircut helps keep me at home, although shaving my eyebrows would work better).
I know that it is the general convention that dishes, food, is best tasted at the source. I think that does some disservice to the diaspora and fusion food that has evolved over the millennia. That said, here is a list of food that I often crave. Actually, for many of the dishes, I prefer in their newer form. But, then again… some I prefer at the source.
Ceviche — I like the classic old fashioned version. The Peruvians love fusion. They are a fusion and so is their food. So now one can find “warm ceviche” and ceviche not made with fish.
Danish hotdog — I prefer them in Denmark. The actual hotdog is special, the ketchup is different, the dog is served with crunchy fried onions… New York pizza — also, one of those things. Some say that the New York pizza is like a Neopolitan pizza from Naples, Italy. We shall see… Hamburger — Some of the best I’ve had are in the United States. American beef and lack of gristle in the mix. Banh mi — I’ve had good ones outside of Vietnam. Pho — Also, good in the certain parts of the United States. Very bland in other places. Korean BBQ — If one sticks to the pork belly, then it’s fairly easy to get good Korean barbecue in many countries. I think that many people think that bulgogi should be made with a high grade of beef and grilled at the table. Traditionally, bulgogi was created to use bad cuts of meat that required marinating. Usually the slices are so thin that grilling at the table dries them out. Some places use good cuts of steak and then one can dip them in sesame seed oil and salt. This is a delicious way to eat barbecue. Chicken wings — Oddly, some of the best barbecue wings I’ve had were in a pizzeria in New Mexico. Dim sum — can be good in many places outside China.
Laksa — so far the best I’ve had, and even some of the mediocre, was in Singapore and Malaysia. What can I say?
Most of all, the food of other lands transports you to them.
After the gray skies of Lima, I feel like it’s blue skies here in Rome every day. But, of course, that’s not true. There are rainy days and I’ve had to use my umbrellas for the first time in years (it never rains in Lima). When it’s rainy out, I really like to slurp soup.
One of the delights of Peru was that I never had a bad bowl of soup. It seemed like everyone knew how to make “sopa criolla” or creole soup — basically a chicken noodle soup. The kind your Jewish mother used to make (as David Chang says).
While I like chicken soup, I love spicy Asian soups with spice and treasure trove of ingredients in my bowl. Some of my favorites are hot and sour soup, pho, and laksa. Pho always allows for lots of greens which I love in spicy soup. Laksa is a curry style soup with noodles and seafood, plus tofu cakes, and many other things.
In Singapore, I went to the most famous location for laksa. It was good. One day I went to a mall (it’s a country of malls), and found a “pick your own 100 ingredients” soup place. Heaven! While not on par with the famous place on the number 14 bus, even the laksa at the airport was good.
Here’s to happy virtual traveling and soon, slurping at the source!
Colazione (breakfast): Breakfast is a cup of coffee with milk like a cappuccino. Maybe a croissant or a sandwich (triangular white sandwiches like the triples in Peru). Italians don’t really eat much for breakfast. They consider the milk in the coffee to be the “food.” But, later in the morning, they will have more coffee. Coffee is a small cup of coffee like an espresso. No coffee in Italy is ever the size of American coffees. Italians will have many coffees throughout the day, although milk in coffee is only for breakfast (so before 11 a.m.).
Around 10 or 11 a.m., Italians might have a small snack with their next coffee.
Pranzo (lunch): Lunch is generally eaten from noon to 2 p.m. but on a Sunday, lunch can be later.
Merenda (tea): At around 3 p.m., Italians (and certainly children) will have a snack. One could have a gelato… or some crackers and cheese.
Aperitivo (happy hour): after work, Italians may have a tapas/mezze style spread. Many judge the bar based on the selection of free nibbles. During the current COVID restrictions (restaurants close for in restaurant dining at 6 p.m.), many people are having aperitivo at 3 p.m. Why not?
Cena “che-na” (dinner): Dinner is generally at 8:30 p.m. or later. One had a snack earlier, thankfully.
During this pandemic, time has slowed down, and yet, it seems to take a long time to get anything done. In Italy, as recently as two hundred years ago, time was also different, not due to a pandemic, but because time was told differently. The day started not at midnight, but at sunset. As I wait for my time to move to Italy, I am sharing another segment of the book I wrote about what I wish I knew about food in Italy. This is from the chapter called, “Saucy,” ostensibly about spaghetti sauce… and yet, the chapter covers so much more, including the three musketeers, and Elvis.
One of the gripes about Italian food outside of Italy, is that there is no such dish called, “Spaghetti with Meatballs.” Despite the role that this dish plays in the American iconography of Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. The famous scene with the spaghetti and meatballs shows that by 1955, when the film was released, this dish was already iconic to American Italian cuisine. (A fun note: The model for Tramp was actually a female dog.) Also, there is no dish called, “Spaghetti Bolognese.” The sauce served with spaghetti is called a “ragu” in Italian. Ragu is a sauce. Bolognese sauce comes from the city of Bologna, in the north of Italy. Thicker sauces like Bolognese usually accompany thicker types of pasta like lasagna pasta. Meatballs, called polpetta in Italian, are never served with pasta.
Ragu comes from the French word, “ragout” which means a stew. The French ragout comes from the verb “ragouter” which means “to revive the taste.” In the nineteenth century, Alexandre Dumas wrote in his culinary dictionary that ragout made French cuisine “shine.” This is the same Alexandre Dumas who wrote The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. The Count of Monte Cristo is actually based almost entirely on the life of his grandfather, Marquis Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie who fathered General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie with his black slave, Marie-Cessette Dumas. To read about this, read The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss. It is a swashbuckling tale if ever there was one.
Alexandre Dumas fils (son), the son of Alexandre Dumas pere (father), was a playwright and wrote the tragic Camille, possibly one of the most tragic romances I’ve watched on stage. This play became the basis for Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. La traviata means “fallen woman” in Italian. Both Alexandre Dumas, father and son, were born out of wedlock and illegitimacy is a common issue throughout the son’s writings.
Giuseppe Verdi’s birth was registered as “born yesterday” on October 11, 1813, in the church register. At that time, the day began at sunset, not at midnight, so Verdi celebrated his birthday on October 9. He was born in a village in municipality of Busseto, in the province of Parma, in the region of Emilia-Romagna, in northern Italy. Supposedly VERDI was used as an acronym for Vittorio Emanuele, Re D’Italia, which means Victor Emmanuel, king of Italy who was the first king of Italy, to signify the Italian unification movement. Verdi got involved in politics and was a staunch supporter of Italian unification. It took almost fifty years for Italy to become unified.
Verdi also wrote Aida, possibly the most baroque over-the-top-operas of all time. Verdi wrote Aida upon request by Ismail the Magnificent, Viceroy of Egypt and Sudan, to celebrate opening of the Khedivial (Royal) Opera House in Cairo, not to celebrate the Suez Canal as some sources will state. Aida had its world premiere in 1871. Aida is the love story of an enslaved Ethiopian princess and an Egyptian military commander. The story is set in the ancient capital of Egypt, Memphis. The glory days of Memphis were 5,000 years ago. The name Memphis is the Ancient Greek version of the Ancient Egyptian name meaning “enduring and beautiful.” The ruins of ancient Memphis are just south of the pyramid of Giza in Cairo.
The trumpets blaring and drums thumping in the famous choral march in Aida is one of the most recognizable tunes in our collective hearing. Ordinary people cannot belt out the chorus from Aida, but most think they can do a fair version of “O Sole Mio.” “O Sole Mio” was written in 1898 with lyrics by Giovanni Capurro and music by Eduardo di Capua and Alfredo Mazzucchi. “O Sole Mio” means “my sunshine” in the Neapolitan dialect which uses “O” instead of “Il” from the standard Italian as the preposition. This catchy tune was so popular and well-known that, at the 1920 Olympics, when the orchestra had not received the music for the Italian national anthem, they played “O Sole Mio” instead. That shows hows catchy a tune it is.
In 1958, a young enlisted man from Memphis, Tennessee, Elvis Presley, heard this song when he was stationed in Europe. After he returned to the United States, he requested that a version be written especially for him. This became his best-selling single, “It’s Now or Never,” one of my favorite songs. I always thought this song was about “carpe diem” as in the Latin term meaning “seize the day,” but it’s about seize the guy, before he falls out of love with you. The original phrase carpe diem by the Roman poet Horace in 23 BCE, was “carpe diem quam minimum credula postero,” which translates to “pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one.” Basically, to live today to the fullest. Which Elvis certainly did. Of the song versions, I even like the disco version by Al Martino, an Italian-American who played a singer in “The Godfather.” “O Sole Mio” is sung in the canzone napoletana tradition. No, not calzone. That’s a pizza pocket.
The Neapolitan style of singing was taken abroad at the end of the nineteenth century by singers like Enrico Caruso, the famous opera singer. He was from Naples, and when he need a song for encores at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, he would sing songs from his hometown.
There are many Neapolitan languages, “napulitano” in Neapolitan, which originated in the Kingdom of Naples. Most of these languages, dialects, cover the southern half of the Italian peninsula, with around five million speakers. Like standard Italian, it is a Romance language, from the Vulgar Latin adverb romanice, “in Roman.” Vulgar meant everyday, vernacular, language, not foul language. There were three forms of Latin. The Romance languages arose in Europe between the third and eighth centuries.
For language nerds who don’t speak Latin, look up Romance languages on Wikipedia to see side by side comparisons of the same sentence in the various forms of Romance languages. For the nerds, did you know that Dr. Seuss invented the word nerd?
That’s how it’s feeling in Italian class. The classic “Mambo Italiano” sung by Rosemary Clooney (whose nephew has a house on Lake Como in Italy), was written deliberately in incorrect Italian, so it is no help when trying to learn Italian. As I noted in my last posting about Italian for beginners, much of Italian seems to be the opposite of Spanish and English, while much is the same. I’m not sure why, but I was sort of pleased to learn that in Italian one does not “mount” one’s bicycle as one does in Spanish. One “goes on” a bike in Italian. But, then I realize that Italian has eight (8) ways to say “the” and I’m less pleased.
In order to try and study, I make flash cards by taking snapshots of my study notes, like the one shown here. This was a day when we steered our teacher into restaurant lingo as part of our cultural education. The Italians have a word for “spaghetti dinner” — una spaghettata — but it means a casual meal of pasta (keeping in mind that pasta can be a separate course). As opposed to a more formal meal. The idea is that a spaghettata is while there will only be a pasta course, there will be lots of it. Also, apparently, one should not take a bottle of wine to a dinner as wine is the host’s responsibility. As a guest, one should take flowers, or chocolate, or cake.
I also learned that restaurants will not split the bill (check in American English). You have to figure it out on your own. Apparently, they don’t do doggy bags either — as most portion sizes are small in Italy so you probably won’t have left overs.
One of the things I find most useful in my kitchen are scissors. I’m not alone in this. In Rome, there is a type of pizza that is cut with scissors. In Korean food, scissors are used to cut the meat after it’s been grilled. In the photo, the mini scissors are used to cut open condiment packs (photo taken in Argentina).
Then, there’s the fork. Have you ever wondered why some forks have that slightly wider tine on one side? The answer is that the one tine is wider depending on if the fork is for a right handed or left handed person. If both the outer tines are wider than the inner tines, then the fork is for everyone, both righties and lefties. There are over fifty different types of forks, but that is the subject of another book. I have plans to write a book about forks and kitchen tools. A friend begged me to call it, Fork U.
While forks had been used since ancient Egypt for ceremonial purposes, the personal dining fork was first used in Constantinople in 400 CE (This particular fork is in a private collection in Washington, DC). The fork fashion spread to the middle east and the courts would use small two-pronged gold forks instead of their fingers. In the eleventh century, one such gold fork was part of the dowry of a Byzantine princess sent to marry a Venetian doge, a chief magistrate, Domenico Selvo. When a bishop saw her eating using this fork, she was admonished and told that she was insulting God by not using her fingers. The fork disappeared from the dining table for three hundred years!
By the 1400s forks had returned to the dinner table in Italy. The fork probably gained traction in Italy due to the popularity of eating pasta, which is much easier with a fork. By 1400 CE, it was common in Italy to present a diner with his own spoon and fork.
Famously, the fork was introduced to the French court by the queen, an Italian princess, Catherine de’ Medici. Caterina de’ Medici was the daughter of Lorenzo de’ Medici, ruler of Florence. She took silver forks with her to France in 1533 as part of her dowry. The French did not take to the fork immediately.
The fork did not gain popularity in the rest of Europe until much later. British travelers in the seventeenth century would deride the fork as an effeminate Italian custom. It was not until 1633, when Charles I, King of England declared the fork “decent.” The original dining forks had two prongs. The two prongs were not enough to eat peas and other round foods, so over the next several centuries, the fork gained two more prongs. The word “fork” comes from Latin “furca.” The fork reached North America during the revolutionary war, most likely via Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, both who had enjoyed the good life in France.
One of the constant questions I get on my blog is, “Where is the best Mexican restaurant in…?” Most of my readers are hankering for Tex-Mex or Chipotle, so I follow the trend of Tex-Mex for my readers. When I lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh, there was only one Mexican restaurant and avocados were not easy to find. I recall once going to that restaurant with my restaurant group, only to find that they had no avocados. That night was epic in many ways as due to road works and Dhaka traffic, it took 90 minutes to travel one mile. So to arrive hungry at 9 p.m. to find that the place had no guacamole, was a let down. We ended up setting up our private Mexican restaurant at a different restaurant. In Dhaka, I also recall buying avocados for party and paying $50 for them, only to find that they were rock hard and no amount of time in a paper bag with bananas, or even boiling, made them edible. When I live in Bogota, I went to the Mexican restaurants as they opened up, and in Lima, I also followed the trend.
To get ahead of the question for Rome, I have googled the question. I have a friend who has great faith in the collective opinions of Google reviewers, on the assumption that if 300 people have reviewed a restaurant, then their collective rating is probably reliable. So here are the top ten (okay, eleven) Mexican restaurants in Rome.
Amigos Mexican Grill, 5 stars
Sabor Latino, 5 stars
Il Calavera Fiesta, 4.8 stars
Mr Tabu Tacos e Burritos, 4.8 stars
Coney Island Street Food Roma, 4.8 stars
Casa Sanchez, 4.7 stars
El Jalapeno, 4.7 stars
Quiero Tacos, 4.6 stars
Pico’s Taqueria, 4.5 stars
Gustamundo, 4.5 stars
Maybu – Margaritas y Burritos, 4.5 stars
When I’m in Rome, I’ll check some of these places out… maybe. I will have lots of other things to try, so maybe not.
It is fairly easy to publish on Blurb. You can upload a print ready PDF with photo and illustrations all included or you can use their software to layout your book. I found that the layout program was a bit clunky for me as I find it easier just to use one of the book templates in my word processing system. The only tricky thing so far has been figuring out the sizes. Luckily, the Blurb computer figures it out for me. Unlike in the old days of the printing press when the broad sheet could be folded and cut into 16 pages, Blurb uses six as the divider. If you upload less, Blurb will add blank pages at the end.
You can even upload the cover and back cover in the same PDF. I did and Blurb worked with me. It even troubleshoots pre-flight (printing). My page size was not quite what it was used to using for the “bleed” (variable area around the outside of the page) even though I made the size of the books according to what I thought was a Blurb size. Blurb’s computer just quickly says that it is not a standard size. When you see this message, you just choose the option to have it auto-fix it and it does. The books turned out great. Blurb also tells you if the images you are using are too low quality, too low in pixels for printing. You can adjust them right there by replacing or re-sizing. I still went with one that was “lo-res” and it turned out fine. I was concerned that it would look pixelated, but it did not.
The minimum page count is 20 pages, but you can go as high as you want. I think, but do you want to publish a 600 page book?
For the photo type of book and the hardbacks, the prices are higher. The cheapest, with the highest profit margin for you, is paperback. The good thing about these paperbacks is that it includes color photographs in the cost. If you buy more than 10 books at one time, you get a discount. Blurb will even mail out the books for you! Once done setting it up, you can buy it for yourself and send out the link so others can purchase it. Books are hard to find on Amazon so it’s best to search by ISBN or author name.
Then, when you get to the next process which is where you set it up for sale or not. If you do want to sell it, you can choose to hard back, paper back, paper type, and your profit margin. You can also choose an ebook for five bucks. The book will then be on sale on Blurb with an ISBN of its own. Yay! If you click on the “Ingram” publishing option, the book will be distributed through the Ingram distribution system, a central warehouse system. It takes about two weeks for the book to show up on Amazon. When it shows up on Amazon, they add their markup.
My children’s book, a 7 x 7 inch photo book cost around $26. If I buy it and send it through Blurb, I can get a quantity discount but it’s rare that I’m sending more than ten books to the same place. The “coffee table book” of M’s Adventures in Peru cost $42 because it’s a hardback with outer sleeve. Wowsa. The cheapest was the standard paperback size for the Tales, Tall and Short, About Food in Peru, at around $16. I set a small “profit” on that and marked it up accordingly.
The paper versions of the books look good and even the images that the Blurb software warned me were “low resolution” turned out okay. I will be printing more with Blurb, but I’ll probably move all the books to the paperback size.
The honey shot — a riff on the money shot. I was scrolling through old photos from back when I “lugged” around my DSLR camera and this got me thinking about name calling. While I understand where it comes from… I think it’s sad that the hobby of food photography is called, “food porn.” Maybe we could call it “foodlust” so that it’s more about the passion and less about bodily fluids. Equally so is the term, “money shot” which derives from the same business (and it is a business), so I posit the term, “honey shot” instead to denote something sweet and in keeping with the food field.
In that vein, I present to you, one of my favorite honey shots. It’s a photo of home made cabbage salad and egg pie from a picnic in New Zealand. Hark, how regal (purple is a royal color) and how glorious (gold like honey) it is!
Contact info for drivers, dentists, estheticians, mani-pedi, waiters, classes, chocolate, vets, furniture-makers, and other services you might be looking for while living in Lima. Some of these are services I have personally enjoyed and others are highly recommended. Most like Whatsapp as a form of communication. If they do not speak English and you don’t speak Spanish, use Google translate. (A note on Peruvian names: Peruvians spell their names with a creativity that has been written about in the national newspapers. So John can be Jhon, Jon, Yon, Yhon, and beyond.) To learn about some of these entrepreneurs, watch my video about them on the video page of this website or on YouTube.
Private chef and sommelier: Jasmine (speaks English): 944 534 074
WineBox, owned by Gonzalo (speaks English) also does monthly subscriptions of wine delivery to your house.
Most taxi drivers can be hired per hour or for the day (30 soles per hour is the normal rate).
Yuberlyn: 923 484 172
Orlando (speaks English): 936 034 508
Michael (speaks English): 979 349 077
Brenda Ortiz (speaks English): graffiti tours and other tours of Barranco: 962 373 975
Miller (speaks English) has a fleet of vehicles and guides: 977 654 348
Dyan: While not a professional guide, she can take you for a hike, or fishing, or babysit your guests around town (speaks English): 937 210 084
PERSONAL HYGIENE SERVICES
Again, there are many places to get all these things done. But these are some that I know of.
Dentistry: Dr. Angeles speaks English: 998 237 144
50 soles for a checkup and cleaning with Dr. Miriam: 991-590-656.
Hair: Many places, but try Mariela who makes house calls: 942-961-464.
Thomas Bennett is an American hair stylist, speaks English: 970-740-639.
Mani-pedi: Monica is the best: 950-070-925. She makes house calls. About 60 soles for a mani-pedi.
Massage: Whatsapp Dora and she will send someone for massages and facials: 999-353-381
Facials: Brian Douglas speaks English: 987-727-133
Vets: For international transportation, I’ve heard good things about Petwings.
For house calls, Dr. Cols speaks English and can get your pet’s papers in order as well: 959-189-949.
Like in many places, if you like to customize, personalize, design, then you can do that here, at reasonable prices. Let the inner designer out!
Ceramics: want those plates from Central? Jallpa Niña is the most famous store that sells ceramics but you can also find it at Dedalo and other locations. Almost all of these vendors only speak Spanish which is a good mix with Google translate.
Fashion (clothes/shoes/jewelry/handbags/leather): there are so many places that can make you hand made clothes, shoes, jewelry, handbags, and leather products. Here are some:
— seamstress: there are many shops, or try Miriam: 957-383-230
— jewelry: many places on Petit Thouars avenue. Try Petit Thouars Avenue 5321, interior shop 103. 100 soles for custom made earrings and 200 soles for a custom made necklace.
— handbags, shoes, furniture, and leather repair. Try Luis: 981-025-192
— shoes: Kaleydo shoes has ready to wear but you can also design your own. Carla also speaks some English: 988-027-111
Furniture: can be bought ready made at places like Don Bosco. They can also make customized furniture. Some of highly recommended furniture makers are Casa Rustico (Juan Carlos at 977-188-057), and Tharina Kaspi. Customized furniture is not cheap but you can get what you like and it will be cheaper than in many other countries (U.S., Germany, Australia). You can also get your furniture repaired and refurbished here. I even had a “vintage” plastic poof re-sewn, re-stuffed, and re-polished, by a shoe repairman. He also re-upholstered a footstool and added a leather seat.
Frames: get your photos, awards, diplomas, etc. framed here. There are many, many, shops that frame. A diploma sized goldish frame is about 50 soles ($17).
Metal: it seems like every street has a metal working shop. Every building has a handmade door so, you could get one too. Or get a headboard or staircase made. The only limits are your Spanish skills and patience.
Fabric and yarn: alpaca, llama, and vicuna products are the main shopping item in Peru, but you can find fabric and yarn by the yard in Gamarra, La Victoria. This district is infamous but after the mayor cleaned it up, it is on its way to gentrification. The fabric can still be bought for great prices. A yard/meter of fleece for 6 soles (under $2).
Souvenirs: at Dedalo, Las Pallas, and at the Inka Market/Indian Market/Inka Plaza etc. on Petit Thouars. These stores also sell high end items and ceramics.
Other things: black salt, mangosteen, anyone? I wrote about it somewhere…
Peru is also a “melting pot” and the Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Italian immigrations added to this pot. But what did the Peruvians eat before?
The original inhabitants of Peru ate the foods that today are called “criolla” or creole. I think of “queso y choclo” — cheese and corn — when I think of local food. The “queso fresco” or fresh cheese is just that, non-aged cheese so think feta but not salty or sour (which feta should not be, but that’s a whole different discussion.) Some creole dishes are tacu tacu (refried hash), beans, habas (roasted fava bean snack), rice with duck, papa rellena (large stuffed mashed potato croquette), tamales, soups (sopa criolla is a noodle soup with cubed beef and milk), butiffara (a pork sandwich), and anything with an egg on it. Every single restaurant will know how to make a delicious home made soup called “sopa dieta” which is what would be called “Jewish noodle soup” in other places. It’s a soup that can cure all.
A word about “dare” or “scary” foods. Guinea pig or “cuy” in Peruvian is convenient and easy to raise. A Peruvian told me that traditionally you would only be served a portion — not the whole thing with head frozen in its death scream. Cuy, pronounced “koo-wee” is more common in the mountains. Yes, one can also eat alpaca, llama, vicuna, and other camelids. And, the one that people always seem to “dare” tourists to eat — the suri worm or maggot. Maggots are fatty sources of protein (According to experts, bugs could be the protein of the future). Many cultures eat bugs — crickets, grasshoppers, ants, and so on. But, you don’t have to eat it. Many modern restaurants will serve cuy or llama in a way that you might find more palatable. At Astrid and Gaston’s, the cuy is served as a mini Peking Duck bite. My “word” about scary or dare foods is that you don’t have to eat them. Many Peruvians don’t. There is so much available that is much more delicious.
The weirdest thing I ate in Peru (no, I didn’t eat the maggot) was a vegan “jerky” stick. So odd. I don’t know what was in it, but it wasn’t criolla!