On a trip to Italia, following the little snail symbol of Slow Food can land you in some of the most authentic dining rooms in the country.
When traveling in Italy, Where to eat? can often be the hardest question. It is few and far between that you stumble upon the experiences romanticized in movies and books, where characters discover local trattorias happy to serve the secret, regional specialties for a minimal price. Even on the less traveled roads, bright signs target tourists with special menus, serving American items at a high cost. Other restaurants offer guests menus labeled tipico, but the fare is often nothing more than Americanized Italian cuisine. Afraid that you’ve traveled to Italy, only to eat the same food served in the tourist traps of Little Italy, NYC, pick up a copy of Slow Food’s Osterie d’Italia before you embark on your next trip Eastward. Using this guide to to plan out your meals will ensure you miss the overpriced tourists hangouts and get a true taste of Italy’s gastronomy.
Published every year in Italy, the Osterie d’Italia is a guide recommending many of the country’s most traditional restaurants. In 2007, the book was published in English as Osterie & Locande d’Italia, combing a region-by-region listing of both restaurants and lodgings. Instead of rating the most fashionable or avant garde restaurants, along the likes of the Zagat or Michelin guides, the book is produced following the guidelines of the Slow Food organization, which maintains “the responsibility to protect the heritage of food, tradition and culture.” The restaurants found in the Osterie are often the most simple you will eat at; this is a collection of unpretentious dining rooms, with chefs using local produce, serving local specialties. Find your way into these restaurants and you are sure to avoid the tourist menus, and really taste Italian cuisine. Be fair warned, the patrons are not likely to make substitutions for picky American eaters, the restaurants are not always centrally located, and the servers may not be as pleasant as those you’ll find in the Menu Americana spots. But if your heart is set on true Italian cuisine, this book, written by Italians for Italians, will be the best guide you can use to choose for you dining destinations.
In the heart of Tuscany, Montepulciano offers a few restaurants in the guide book, including favorite Osteria dell’ Acquacheta. In a simple dining room filled with travelers and locals alike, feast on Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the local specialty. The owner cuts the meat to order and presents each cut to the table before it is grilled on the wood fire. The portions are quite big(the smallest is a whopping 1500grams!) so if your appetite is a bit smaller, try one of the many pasta options. Homemade tagliatelle is tender, served with raw and cooked porcini mushrooms. And an excellent way to sample the local sheeps cheese is a dish of pecorino baked with sliced pears on top; the pear’s sweetness cuts some of the the sharpness of the cheese, a nice ending to the meal.
In Roma, slip away from the crowds and busy streets and tuck down the tiny side street of Via del Leone to find Matricianella. Reserve a table on the outdoor deck and listen to a street musician play the accordion as you sip one of the 600 national wines on the menu. Start with fried artichokes or zucchini blossoms, whichever happen to be in season for your trip. For a pasta, try the northern staple of risotto with radicchio, creamy and surprisingly spicy. The braised chicken with truffles is flavorful, rolled around spinach, and full of aromatics. And a dessert of chocolate mousse is smooth, decadent and rich.
Along the canal’s of Venice you’ll find more than a few Slow Food bacari serving wine and cicheti, the region’s bite sized version of tapas. The guide also includes several restaurants offering some of the best seafood you’ll eat in Italy. Book a table in advance, especially during the summer months, reservations are hard to come by, especially a coveted table on the water. Avoid the very touristy areas of San Marco and San Polo and head to the Cannaregio district for dinner at L’Anice Stellato. Sample the fish with the misto di cichetti di pesce, a mixed plate of eel, sardines, and monkfish marinated in different ways. And the polenta with squid in ink sauce is a true Venetian classic, superbly prepared at the restaurant. In the Dorsoduro neighborhood, on the tiny street of Calle lunga San Barnaba, find Quattro Feri. A casual, bustling eatery, you’ll be pleased with pasta with clams, grilled swordfish, and monkfish served with pesto. A plate of mixed grilled and marinated vegetables rounds out the meal.
Whether you are interested in eating every meal of traditional Italian cuisine or are just looking to escape one or two nights of the traveler crowded restaurants on the main piazzas, the Osterie & Locande d’Italia will steer you in the right direction. With helpful guidance, including location, operating hours, phone numbers, and local dishes to try, the book is a great resource to own, and to pass along to other travelers. And if you can’t manage to pick up a copy before you land on Italy’s shore’s, just look for the snail sticker on the doors, the seal of Slow Food, and you know you’ve found a good spot.