Father’s Day in Italy

Bigne di s. giuseppe and maritozzi (cream buns)

March 19 is the saint feast, or name, day for St. Joseph (San Giuseppe in Italian) and it is father’s day (festa del papa) in Italy. Giuseppe, shortened to Peppino, Pino, Pina, Giusy (a modern variation) can also be a female name, as Giuseppina. Celebrating St. Joseph as Mary’s husband is marked on May 1.

Italy is a Catholic country and in Rome, within hearing distance of the Vatican, Catholicism is a part of daily life. Every day, at certain times of the day, the bells toll from all the churches, not just to mark services, but also to set their time.

It seems like there is a special pastry and/or food that one should eat for everything. For St. Joseph’s day, it’s a beignet filled with pastry cream. It is called “bigne di san giuseppe” or “zeppole.” There are many recipes online, but basically it’s a choux pastry (baked up like a white sauce to create rise instead of using a raising agent) which is then injected with pastry cream.

In pagan times, this is the day that marked the end of winter, so bonfires were set ablaze to clear away the old wheat fields. Maybe they started frying dough on these fires?

Carnival Confectionaries

Castagnole di carnevale and frittele.

Carnival, carnevale in Italian, translates to “farewell to meat” and marks the festivities before Lent (the 40 days of fasting before Easter in the Catholic religion, this year starting on February 17). Traditionally, one had to use up all the fat and sugar (luxury items), therefore the treats served during this period are deep fried. There is one type called “Castagnole di Carnevale” which translates to “mardi gras chestnuts” — donut holes. Also called “frittele.” Another fried dough is the “zeppole” which is a lump of fried dough.

The lasagne style fried dough are called “cenci” which means “tatters” as they look like tatters. There are other names for these (just there are many names for the same type of pasta depending on the region) including “frappe (commonly called this in Rome), chiacchiere, bugie, and guanti.”

Frittele, fried lasagne dusted with sugar.

As it is, Italians eat sweet things for breakfast. Many do not eat very much at all for breakfast. Some even considered the milk in their coffee to be breakfast…

Savory lasagne at my local.

While Italians eat lasagne all year round, it is served more during this “farewell to meat” period than at other times of the year. Another thing I noticed about lasagne in Rome is that it’s not very saucy, although during carnival it is meatier. Lasagna with an A at the end is one piece of lasagna. No one wants that!

“Turron” Cake for the Lord of Miracles

IMG_0450In Peru, in October, the Lord of Miracles (el Señor de los Milagros) is celebrated with a cake called a “turrón de Doña Pepa” which is a type of shortcake, with hints of anise and sticky with honey, covered in color sprinkles and stars. In the 17th century, during an earthquake which leveled Lima, one painting of Jesus remained intact. Other miracles were attributed to this painting and people began to venerate it. Every year, during October, this painting is taken on processions (with the faithful wearing purple and asking for miracles) in the streets of Lima.

And people eat turrón. It is available all year round but look for this heavy weight to make its appearance everywhere in October.

Salt of the Earth Underground in Zipaquirá

Another chapel.
Another chapel.

Zip-ah-what? I played tourist for a day and visited the salt cathedral of Zipaquira. There’s no spelunking or crawling along on one’s knees. This place is a walk in the dark, more like doing a pilgrimage (like in Jerusalem on the via dolorosa) underground. The one-mile walk leads you through tunnels which lead to the stations of the cross. The goal is the large church at the bottom. At each station, there is a cross carved from salt and some kneeling posts. At some of the stops, there is piped music playing “Ave maria” which adds to the atmosphere.

One of the stations of the cross.
One of the stations of the cross.

As an experience, the salt cathedral is well organized and our English-speaking guide was both pleasant and audible (he wore a microphone). All the guides wear yellow hardhats so catching a glimpse of them in the mines adds to the experience.

The big cathedral.
The big cathedral.

At various photogenic locations along the way, the staff will take photos of you which you can then buy at the end of the tour. The end of the tour, at 180 meters below ground, has a host of trinket and jewelry shops, plus cafes. For those of us not moved religiously, the whole thing is a bit like a ride at an amusement park. Apparently, the Catedral de Sal is one of the “must see” things to do before dying. That seems like a bit of advertising exaggeration. The original salt cathedral was carved by the original salt miners seeking salvation in the salt. But, they were not engineers and therefore the original cathedral is too unstable for visitors. Hence this modern version.

A reflection of the salt ceiling.
A reflection of the salt ceiling.

It is possible to take the train, very slowly, from Bogota, and I imagine that is an experience worth trying.

I also think it is better to try to get away from the crowds. Alone in the quiet dark spaces, all the better to imagine meeting that knight from Raiders of the Lost Ark, guarding the holy grail. Maybe the grail is made of salt?

A deep cup of coffee.
A deep cup of coffee.