Calabrian Cuisine, 5 Things You HAVE To Eat When You Arrive

Home Made Ravioli at Al Caminetto

Ciao Belli!

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Perfect coffee and cakes
Perfect coffee and cakes

OK, I know that you know that I am a truffle pig when it comes to finding the best eats. I will root them out anywhere I go and my job became a lot easier when we arrived in Calabria.

Calabrian food is a wonderful mix of amazingly good and fresh seafood, pork dishes, Chicken dishes, home made pastas, and so much more.

Everything is fresh. The vegetables are right out of someone’s garden. Some of the people in our village, like our friends Rosaria and Peppino raise EVERYTHING themselves including their mushrooms. Rosaria is an amazing chef and an invitation to lunch starts your mouth watering even if the lunch date  is days away.

So you can imagine how incredibly difficult it is to choose only 5 things that you HAVE to eat. By no means limit yourself to these 5 but definitely don’t leave without tasting them.

Pizza Talao
Pizza Talao
  1. Pizza at The Bella Vista, Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria

    This is the Italian snack staple. Pizzas are everywhere and they are all good. I have only once had a bad pizza but it was in Rome and really everything in that place was bad. The restaurant owners and staff were not even Italian.
    So you can love them all but the best pizza I have had was Michelle’s pizza at the Bella Vista. I know I harp on and on about Michelle’s cooking but it really is that good.

    Pacchieri
  2. Pacchieri Ala Gitana at La Perla Del Terreno, Scalea, Calabria

    I initially ordered this dish because LOVE pacchieri. they are wide, fat noodles that soak up the sauce and spread it all over your tongue. Then you bite and there is a little resistance and then it gives.  You can’t help it! Suddenly you start singing hymns to the Almighty!

    This pasta Is coated in a fine tomato based seafood sauce with lots of assorted shellfish and white fish.

    It comes with a bag of freshly baked Calabrian bread that you can use to sop up everything on your plate. It is serious, good eating. Pair this with a lovely white wine on a Summer day while you watch the sea birds play in the surf and listen to the waves lap the shore. It is one of the most pleasant things to do on a Summer day in Calabria. Then you have to go and nap.

    Zucchini Fritters
    Zucchini Fritters

    The Bella Vista in Santa Domenica Talao
  3. Zucchini Fritters at The Bella Vista, Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria

    OK here is Michelle again. Let me describe the Bella Vista to you. It is a cafe at the corner of our village and is the first thing you see when you arrive. The owners have created a huge roof terrace on top where you can enjoy your dinner while watching the sun set over the Mediterranean and while the village behind you starts to glow gold in the evening light. It is a magical place far from anything that worries you and the best part is that you know a spectacular meal is coming.
    Michelle or one of her staff greet you and take your order. Shortly after that a little plate arrives with your zucchini fritter and a perfect bruschetta featuring sweet tomatoes, garlic and a drizzle of beautiful Calabrian olive oil. Honestly some day I will show up and Michelle’s and just asks for two or three plates of appetizers instead of dinner.

    Cannoli
    Cannoli at Vulare Siciliane
  4. Cannoli at Vulare Siciliane, Scalea, Calabria

    I know I also talk a lot about Ilenia but her food is unbelievable. Everything there is delicious but if you want something sooooo incredibly delicious that you actually go weak in the knees, you want one of her cannoli. She and her husband make the little pastry shells themselves and fill them with the lightest sweetest, milkiest, ricotta filling I have ever come across. I have had a LOT of cannoli and hers are seriously the best.

    Pasta with Wild Boar at Al Caminetto in Tortora, Italy
    Pasta with Wild Boar at Al Caminetto in Tortora, Italy
  5. Pasta Al Cinghiale at Al Caminetto, Tortora, Calabria

    One rainy June afternoon we met our great friend Giacomo in Tortora which is a stunning little hill town just north of us. Giacomo’s cousin and his wife Roseangela run a restaurant there Called Al Caminetto. Since it was our first time there, Giacomo ordered a sampling of many different Calabrian dishes including fried appetizers such as arancini. This is a ball or cone of rice stuffed with a meat and vegetable mixture and rolled in bread crumbs and fried. I know! That is about as good as it gets!

    Roseangela giving us a pasta making demonstration

    Everything was amazing but her Pasta Al Cinghiale was special. It is a truly gifted chef who knows instinctively how much of everything to put in to ensure that the balance between the flavors is perfect. Roseangela is such a chef. Don’t miss this dish! (Cinghiale is wild boar by the way.)

    Lunch!
    Lunch!

    Now I could go on and on for days and I would love to do that because these are just the things you need to eat when you arrive. Hopefully you intend to stay awhile and sample all of the amazing restaurants in the area. The Riviera Dei Cedri seems to have attracted the most talented chefs in Italy and you can hop from one great meal to the next easily and happily.

    Antipasti
    Antipasti

    Enjoy your trip to our beautiful area and Buon Appetito!

What is the Deep, Dark Secret To Great Italian Cooking?

Olive oil

Lunch!

Ciao friends!

If you have followed me even a little bit you know that Pete and I are HUGE foodies! We honestly would go to the ends of the earth for a great meal.

That was one of the reasons we purchased our home in Calabria, Italy ten years ago. Obviously there are a million reasons, but the food in Calabria is the very best in the world (in my humble opinion).

And in Calabria, I am a great cook. I wow myself with almost every meal I make and I get wowed by every meal I eat there no matter who makes it.

So I knew that there had to be a SECRET to great Italian cooking.  And there is!

I looked long and hard and finally found it! And it was so simple!

Calabrian Cuisine
Calabrian Cuisine

Even the best and freshest ingredients will fall flat in your dish if you don’t start with a really good basic ingredient and in Italian cooking the most basic ingredient is the super high quality, Italian olive oil.

Once I stumbled on that bit of brilliance, I started looking in my kitchen in California at the olive oil I had been cooking with. I thought to myself, Hmmmmmm, I bet that is not the best I can find.

And that, my friends, started me on a quest to research and find the BEST olive oils in the world and learn everything I could about them.

As I researched, I ran into so much false data and contrary facts. Everyone it seems has an opinion that they defend to the death even when it conflicts with everyone else’s opinions.

Chris Olives
Olive Market

I had to go back really far into the past before all this weirdness began to find the correct data. And again I found it, this time in an obscure little book written by a Spanish olive nerd living and working in Italy in 1900 by the name of Dr. Alejandro Bizzarri.

Dr. Bizzarri wrote down in almost excruciating detail EVERYTHING that had to do with the cultivation, the harvesting, the pressing, the storing, and the transporting and selling of olives.

His book is part chemistry, part physics and part agriculture. I got it and translated it, pulling out the parts that I knew we all needed to know here in 2020 to understand, use and cook well with any olive oil.

And I took these golden nuggets of information and compiled them all in an easy to read and entertaining FREE Ebook so that you can have fun and learn about EVERYTHING OLIVE at the same time.

Foodie’s Guide to Decoding Italian Olive Oil Ebook

Since we understand that many people learn more visually, we created an online course of seven high quality videos, each one packed with vital information from Dr.  Bizzarri’s book. Here is where we debunked the myths and dispelled the mysteries of everything olive.  We also picked out a bunch of frequently asked questions to answer that I know you want to know because so many people have been asking them.

slowfoodrenaissance.com
Foodies Guide to Decoding Italian Olive Oil Video

By then I had REALLY been bitten by the olive bug and I had to learn more!

So Pete and I ordered five of the top ranking Italian olive oils on Amazon.com. It was like Christmas when they arrived! We then researched the best way to taste them and compare them.

Video Comparison 5 High Quality Italian Olive Oils

Then we created a video, side by side comparison of these five top ranking Italian olive oils and we were blown away by what we found! Each one was so different but so delicious! We loved the unfiltered ones for salads and pestos. Learning this was like opening a huge door to a completely different world of food and cooking. Who knew that one of the the oldest and most basic ingredients on the planet could create such a change in our every day lives?

So having tasted all of these magnificent olive oils, we decided to create a new and original recipe for each one of them.

5 Best Mediterranean Recipes Video Series

We created a video series of cooking classes, one for each recipe featuring one of our Italian olive oils. These recipes were amazing as they each were created with a high quality Italian olive oil in mind.

Italian olive oils
5 Best Mediterranean Recipes Ebook

In order to make it easier to purchase the other ingredients and follow the recipes, we then created an Ebook containing these recipes.

And, since we know that once you start in on this path, like us, you will be transported to true olive nerddom, I added Dr Bizzarri’s book from 1900, translated and annotated by me so that you can understand everything he was saying.

Dr. B's book
The Oil Of The Olive

Pete and I had so much fun creating this package of Olive Mastery for you and we are so excited to make it available.

To start on your journey go get your FREE EBOOK right now. And welcome to a new life of great cooking and eating!

XO Chris

 

Foodie’s Guide to Decoding Italian Olive Oil

Olive Market
Chris Olives
Olive Market

Hi Everyone!

I am so excited!

But I have to divulge a BIG secret to you about myself.

I have spent a lot of time in Italy and done a lot of cooking and eating. In fact I am quite a foodie over there. I have a nose for the best restaurants and the amazing chefs that I seem to be able to find all over Calabria

And I love to cook. So I would spend mornings in the markets in Italy finding the best and freshest ingredients. I would have Nunzia save me fresh eggs just scooped from underneath an unsuspecting chicken. And I would find the sweetest fruits and tastiest vegetables all ready to be enjoyed.

Market day
Market day

I would gather all of my bootie and come home and cook.

And my dishes were fantastic! In Italy I am a great cook.

So it was a huge mystery to me as to why, when I came home I was a mediocre cook. I still looked for and purchased the best ingredients. I still took care to make things correctly. And don’t get me wrong, the dishes were good, they just weren’t Italian.

Now full disclosure here, I am not Italian by blood, I am in spirit and one thing I do know is great cooking.

So recently I started really looking into something that I knew was missing here and that I could somehow find and incorporate into my dishes to make them truly authentic. .

Beautiful olive tree
Beautiful olive tree

And then I figured it out!

It was the most basic and probably the oldest fresh ingredient in Italian cooking.  It is the one thing that no Italian table is ever without.

What was missing was a really good Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil. That was it! I knew I was onto something!

But as soon as I started looking for true facts on the subject of olives and olive oil, I ran into so many contrary facts, ideas, and opinions that I could not figure any of it out!

Olive Oil Pouring
Olive oil

I knew I had to go to the source to get really good information and I found it in the most unlikely place!

In my travels I stumbled across a book written in 1900 in Spanish called “The Oil of the Olive” By Dr. Alejandro Bizzarri, probably the world’s first real OLIVE NERD.

And I knew I had found it.

So I translated Dr. Bizzarri’s book from start to finish, read it all and culled out the really useful information that would help us in this day and age. (I left out the bits about how many olives were exported from Argentina in 1899. We don’t need that particularly.)

And I was enchanted!

Dr. B's book
Dr. Bizzarri’s book

Dr. Bizzarri covered everything from the cultivation to the harvesting methods to the pressing including intimate details of how to clean the presses, and what to do if your olive oil comes out smelling like animals or tasting like worms. This man was a true nerd and I am quite proud that I found him.

In short, Dr. B gave me everything I needed to pen my olive video and ebook that I now proudly call “Foodie’s Guide to Decoding Italian Olive OiI”.

slowfoodrenaissance.com
Foodies Guide to Decoding Italian Olive Oil

After completing that I had to jump head first into great olive oils so I ordered five of the top ranking Italian olive oils on Amazon.com.

We created several other really fantastic products including a video side by side comparison of the five Italian olive oils we bought. We were amazed at how different each one was and in short, I will NEVER go back to mass produced olive oil again. I have been spoiled for good!

On top of that we created special recipes for each olive oil we tried which was so much fun and way beyond delicious. We also made these available on video and in ebook form.

And, if that were not enough olive fun, I translated and notated Dr. Bizzarri’s book for you as well. Let me tell you, that was time consuming but with the annotations, it is really fun to read and honestly there is nothing that I can think of olive related that is not in that book.

You are going to love it.

Olives through the window
Olives through the window

I also included a couple of surprise bonuses but I will wait until my project is ready to launch before I tell you what they are.

All in all, Pete and I have been in Olive Wonderland for the last several weeks! I can’t wait to release this so you can join us there! I see many olive related happy moments in our future!

Chin-chin and I will see you in the piazza!

 

Autumn in Calabria, Food, Culture and Wine

Autumn in Santa Domenica Talao
AUTUMN IN CALABRIA
Autumn in Santa Domenica Talao

There is something uniquely magic about Autumn in Calabria.

Gone is the white hot afternoon where La Pausa, our afternoon siesta, rescues us from the brutal sun of the Mezzogiorno creating a womb of dark, relative cool where no one expects you until evening.

In its place is the honey colored light that slants in sideways and bathes everything in a golden glow which gives our hilltop village an air of peace and magic around every corner.

Our village, Santa Domenica Talao goes from the quasi frenetic July/August tourist/service pace to instantly more relaxed as though life moved from Allegro to Andante the minute the calendar page turned over.

Santa Domenica Flower Shop
Santa Domenica Talao Flower Shop

The village is turned back over to its residents while the evenings remain warm and long, and the magic light turns its houses gold.

After a long flight from San Francisco then a direct jump onto the train and a stop in Praia Mare to pick up my rental car, I finally alighted in Santa Domenica Talao.

Normally I stop off in Rome for a night to catch my breath but just prior to booking I had received an email from our architect, Antonello advising me that there was a grand festa happening which included several days of discussion about how to spread the beauty and flavors of Calabrian cooking far and wide. This news propelled me to Santa Domenica in record time as I am never one to miss a spectacular meal.

Santa Domenica in Autumn
Santa Domenica in Autumn

 

Calabria has really been moving forward in its quest to become an actual destination rather than a foot note in a guidebook which skips Southern Italy with barely a mention and takes up again in Sicily as though almost half of Italy, with all its culture, cuisine, wine and Produtti Tipici don’t even exist.

And one of the speakers last night brought up the fact that the fault of this has been lack of PR and marketing. He was right, How could you have all this wealth of amazing products including the freshest and most amazing seafood, the cedro, that misshapen citrus fruit which only grows here, and the Calabrian black truffles, and still go unnoticed.

In any case, the region has made a decision that the world needs to know about Calabria and her treasures and they have set out with a vengeance to ensure that the world is brought to our door.

Rinaldi
Ristorante Rinaldi Da Vittorio

Calabria has 380 unique products typical to the region. And its cuisine is second to none in terms of creativity and sheer deliciousness. Cucina Povera (Poor cuisine) originated here and celebrates the creativity needed to create the nourishing and delicious dishes with only a handful of the ingredients that they had available at the time.

You see, Calabria, despite her wealth of typical products, has not been considered a wealthy region for a very long time. Long ago Calabria was part of the Magna Grecia or Great Greece. It was a region of learning and culture before the days of the Roman Empire.

Somewhere between then and now, her grand Greek heritage had become somewhat lost and poverty took over.

Many Americans don’t realize it but the majority of Italian dishes that we consider “Italian food” originated here in Calabria. It was the Southern Italians who fled their homelands back in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s to find a life where survival was easier and where one did not have to battle the environmental extremes in order to eke out a living. And they brought their recipes with them.

Lunch!
Lunch!

The first night before I arrived in Santa Domenica Talao, there was a cooking competition. The judge was a local chef, Vincenzo Grisolia who has made a name for himself with his restaurant, Vigri, down in Scalea.

Scalea is right on the coast and perfectly perched to pull the freshest of fish from the sea and serve it to you immediately. Vncenzo’s restaurant, Vigri. is well known for local seafood and it is the place that I first tasted the most perfectly prepared, fat, sweet shrimp that I have ever experienced.

Chef Vincenzo Grisolia has spent his career presenting Calabrian cuisine to the world and had come to our beautiful village to work with others to spread the word.

During the forum held last night on our communal terrace that overlooks the Lao plain and the Mediterranean, we were treated to discussion about all the cuisine of Calabria and exhortations to not only preserve these amazing dishes, many of which are unique to each tiny hill town that grace the mountain crest of the region, but to disseminate them.

Calabria is a rich cornucopia of natural resources. Wild fennel grows everywhere, Cedros are plentiful and ONLY grow here, and the aforementioned black truffles fetch a fierce price in the markets all across Europe.

Antipasti
Antipasti

There was much discussion among the panel about the famous Pepperoncini festival in Diamante where you can buy peppers that are said to cure anxiety, cancer and even impotence.

The pepperoncino festival is one of the most widely attended in Europe and is a local success story that could be duplicated with other products and in other areas.

When Pete and I first started looking at property here in 2010, things were very different. There were relatively few public works that ever got started much less completed. Some of the areas around our village had an air of seediness to it that try as they might, the locals could not overcome.

Most recently the Italian government has seen the potential of this and other Southern Italian regions as a tourist destinations and has decided to handle the barriers that stood in the way. As a result, our mayor has been able to secure funding for projects that will create a demand for everything Calabria has to offer and it is all starting.

And Pete and I are so lucky to be in on the ground floor and see it all roll out before our eyes.

Our BNB
Our BNB

Last Winter we purchased a grand old building in our village just up from the piazza.  We are working with the architect and builder here to turn it into a spectacular and luxurious BNB. From the moment we arrived here the first time we looked at Calabria and our village and decided it was a no-brainer to invest time and treasure to help push this vision forward.

This afternoon, I met my friend Bonnie for lunch at the Bella Vista restaurant. I ordered my favorite, Antipasti di Stagione (Antipasti of the season) which means you never know what treats will show up on your table.

Plate after plate arrived with fresh vegetable dishes, Patate e Pippi (potatoes and peppers), Fritatta, and lots of little stuffed and baked or fried things that I cannot name but are delicious little surprises that explode in your mouth with a flood of flavors.

For 12 Euros, we ate our fill and we both took the rest home for dinner.

It was a tiny microcosm, an analogy of our beautiful region and all that it has to offer.

Watch this site for culinary, wine and  photography tours of the Riviera Dei Cedri, our beautiful area of Calabria. Pete and I can’t wait to take you round to all the best restaurants and wineries and for you to sit out on the roof terrace with your glass of Ciro watching while the village goes from gold to the pink of sunset and back to gold as the lights come up illuminating this amazing little place that is somehow stopped in time.

It is a place whose time has come.

And you will want to be the first to experience it.

Lunch with Rosaria

CAKE!
Fusilli
Rosaria’s home made fusilli

I am the luckiest person alive, I mean along with my husband, our friends Bonnie and Carolyn, and Father Ernesto.

Why you ask? Well, not to brag but I had been invited to the lunch table of one of the master chefs of Calabria and right now I can barely put my arms around  my massive belly to type this to you and that, my friends, is lucky.

No, this master chef doesn’t have a syndicated TV show, nor does she even own a restaurant. She has a beautiful kitchen lovingly crafted by her adoring husband Peppino and a kitchen garden where they grow everything from tomatoes to mushrooms, to herbs and a gaggle of happy chickens.

And happily she and Peppino have chosen us as friends.

A few days ago was Valentine’s Day so my husband invited our friends to dine at the Bella Vista here in Santa Domenica Talao to celebrate. That was a fabulous meal as Michelle of Bella Vista fame is another mistress of the kitchen and her pizzas and pastas are top notch.

Valentine Cake
Valentine Cake

As we ate and the wine flowed, Peppino leaned in and told me that this Sunday, we were all having lunch at his house.

I didn’t stand up and clap my hands although I wanted to, but even though I was mid a perfect pizza, I started thinking about what magic Rosaria might have up her sleeve this time.

The last time we visited was Summer and we were invited for lunch. Rosaria allowed Pete to take video of her making tagliatelle.

And I do not exaggerate when I say, this was one of the very best meals I have ever had and I have had some epic ones.

As she cooks so also does Rosaria instruct. “These are the dishes not only of Calabria but specific to this village, Santa Domenica Talao.”

And as she moves gracefully from the stove to the cutting board to the sink, some of the most amazing smells start to emerge. Her braided Calabrian loaves of the softest white bread filled with cheese and salami are almost perfectly browned in her counter top oven and they fill the house with a yeasty goodness.

A pan lid on the stove slides to the side revealing potatoes perfectly browned, frying in a deep pan, crackling and sizzling as Rosaria turns them over and over.

Another pan lid allows one to peek inside and see wild boar cooked with peppers in an impossibly delicious sauce.

And on the bureau in the dining room lie perfect fusilli, hand made that morning and resting before their hot bath and dressing with Rosaria’s famous sugu.

We breathe in filling our noses with the hope that the smell will make us less hungry because one cannot be exposed to this kitchen without becoming ravenous.

We sit at the already set dining table catching up on the latest news from the village. Peppino tells us that the village is a grand family and the joys and losses of everyone in the village are shared. He lists some of the events and we laugh and cheer at the successes and shake our heads in sorrow at the losses.

We chat while listening for the doorbell because lunch cannot start without Father Ernesto who has raced over after saying mass in Santa Maria Del Cedro to join us.

Finally the doorbell rings and Father Ernesto appears talking in rapid Italian and filling the room with his laughter and benevolence.

Bonnie and Carolyn tell him how much the villagers miss him. He was transferred to a nearby village for some reason and it has left a giant hole in the church and in the hearts of the villagers.

But finally we are all together again and Rosaria is at her finest,

Despite wild pleas for “piccolo, piccolo!” (only a small helping please) big bowls of home made fusilli pasta appear topped with sugu (sauce) made from tomatoes and an unfortunate, though tasty wild boar  who was shot by Peppino’s friend and sold off in bits to whoever is lucky enough to hear about it.

Fusilli
Fussili

“This boar is a young one” Peppino tells us as we savor the fusilli and slurp up the sugo.

Home made fusilli is the perfect pasta. It has a hole in the middle made by rolling it over a thin piece of metal such as an umbrella spine and stretching it out sideways until it forms a hollow tube.

Rosaria cooks hers perfectly al dente creating a delightful mouth feel in addition to the super fresh flavors.

Father Ernesto says grace and with a flourish and a giant Buon Apetito! he finishes and we dive in.

The table falls uncharacteristically silent as we focus full attention on the fusilli.

From nowhere bowls of bread appear just in time to sop up the sauce and clean our plates for the next course.

With the first dish handled, we sit back and in our chairs.  Our stomachs that have been torturing us all morning are happy but we still feel the tug of hunger as we know round two is on its way.

Cinghiale
Cinghiale

Rosaria appears again with two dishes of wild boar. The first is a stew of tomatoes and cinghiale (wild boar) and the second, cinghiale roasted with peppers.

Cinghiale with peppers
Cinghiale with peppers

Again silence falls with only the sounds of happy sighs and wine glasses being refilled breaking the hushed reverence.

We are full and somewhat worried because we hear a clattering of dishes in the  kitchen that portends another course. We think we cannot eat another bite until Rosaria appears again, this time with plates filled with fried potatoes, thinly sliced pork sautéed in white wine and a hint of lemon, vegetable frittata and sweet chili peppers fried up to a crisp like potato chips.

Lunch!
Lunch!

I pick up a chili to try it and it crumbles in my mouth filling my tongue with sweet peppery deliciousness and a perfect blend of salt and olive oil.

Suddenly despite the first two courses I am hungry again.

And again silence falls.

CAKE!
CAKE!

Rosaria disappears once again and emerges with a platter filled with individual rectangles of orange sponge cake filled with orange pastry cream and dusted with powdered sugar. it is impossibly light and so freshly orangy that I have to help myself to a big slice instead of “being good” and sticking to a small one.

Finally Rosaria emerges once again this time with tiny coffee cups and thick, powerful coffee perfectly sweetened to end the meal.

In case you have not divined this yet, lunch with Rosaria is a work of loving art unequalled by anything anywhere.

And the company is also unequalled.

Friends
Friends

Although we live far away and are gone for months at a time and although Father Ernesto is now watching over a new flock in another village, it is as though we were never apart. The Winter sun shines in Rosaria’s dining room and we are all together loving each other and enjoying Rosaria’s works of culinary art. It is a moment that seems like it will last forever.

And I think to myself “How did I ever get this lucky?”

And no matter what happens in the future and where I might find myself, I will hold this feeling close to me and never lose it.

Tomorrow I will go to the flower shop in the piazza, I will climb the steps filled with flower pots and plants next to the little fountain the runs all year round, and I will chose something very special for Rosaria.

To repay love with love.

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

As you may know from reading previous posts, Pete and I are opening a BNB here in Santa Domenica Talao. I have asked Rosaria if she would be willing to teach our clients how to cook her amazing Calabrian dishes and she is ready to roll. If you are interested in joining us in a Calabrian culinary experience, please write to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foodie Heaven: 3 Calabrian Restaurants You Can’t Miss

Santa Domenica Talao, our beatiful home.
Pasta with Wild Boar at Al Caminetto in Tortora, Italy
Pasta with Wild Boar at Al Caminetto in Tortora, Italy

Ciao Gourmands!

If you are reading this then you are likely a foodie, not just any foodie but a real true believer, a foodie who would move heaven and earth for a great meal. You plan your trips around the meals you foresee. In Winter you pore over glossy food porn magazines anticipating your Summer trips because you, like every Italian, know that life affords you a certain set number of meals before you die and that to waste even one of them would be a sin.

You have come to the right place. Pete and I love to eat. We love great food and understand it as an art form. We don’t eat to plug ourselves up or to keep going. We eat because it is a religious experience.

This is one of the reasons we chose Calabria as our second home. The food here is unrivaled anywhere even, dare I say it, in the North.

Calabrian food is strong. The flavors meld perfectly and it is the last word in comfort food.

I could wax lyrical all day about it but it is best to show you. And what better way than over lunch?

Fried zucchini flowers at Alicia
Stuffed zucchini flowers lightly floured and fried with vegetable “polpette”

Il Ristorante Di Aligia, Maiera, Calabria, Italy

Pete and I are starting the renovation process for our ruin in Santa Domenica Talao. When we purchased the house here, we bought the ruin next door and are finally ready to fix it up.

After an exhausting morning of trying to translate plumbers, electricians, general contractors and tile vendors, we took off up the hill from the main drag along the coast and headed to Maiera.

Round sculpture
Sculpture garden at Restaurante Di Aligia, named for the sculptor Aligia who hails from Maiera.

Il Ristorante Di Aligia is a bit of a trek but once you get there, you know you have entered paradise.

The restaurant is set mid a beautiful sculpture garden with flowers and plants everywhere.

Garden Aligia
Garden at Restaurants Di Aligia

The Summer heat can be oppressive in Calabria but up on the hill, on a verandah shaded by trees and plants, the breeze is gorgeous.

Grilled chicken at Restaurants Di Aligia

I ordered grilled chicken. The waiter told me that it would take awhile so he started us out with zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese, fish and some other heavenly substance all lightly floured and fried. These were accompanied by magical little loaves of vegetable “polpetti” which, God knows how they are cooked but they are magnificent.

Toasts with tomatoes and wicked N'Duja
Toasts with tomatoes and wicked N’Duja

Since no one wanted us to go hungry even for a little bit, slices of home made toasts covered with tomatoes came to keep us company along with their best friends, spicy Nduja which also my new best friend.

Shortly thereafter Pete’s plate of fusilli with goat arrived along with my grilled chicken, fries and grilled vegetables.

Goat Fusilli
Goat Fusilli at Restaurante Di Aligia

And the fun began!

Restaurante Di Aligia is a true find. It rivals top notch restaurants anywhere in the world and the bill including everything we had, home made cedrocello and my espresso was all of 29 Euros.

cedro liqueur
Home made cedro liqueur at Restaurants Di Aligia

 

 

Al Caminetto Ravioli
Home Made Ravioli at Al Caminetto

Al Caminetto, Tortora, Calabria

I have to admit that I am biased. The restaurant is owned by the cousin of our great friend Giacomo and I have fallen in love with Roseangela and her family. She is an angel in a white apron who cooks like one imbued with divine grace.

Our first visit there, Giacomo ordered traditional Calabrian dishes for us to sample.

Traditional Antipasti at Al Caminetto
Traditional Calabrian Antipasti at Al Caminetto

This was the first time I had tasted Baccala, the dried cod that is magically rehydrated into the most amazing dish anyone could ever experience. The dish consists of the baccala, capers, olives, something magic, something else magic and something else magic.

This is also where I fell in love with Arancini, seasoned red rice, stuffed with meat, formed into a ball or a pear shape (oddly “arancini” means “oranges” in Italian and they look like pears) and (get this!) rolled in seasoned bread crumbs and fried.

When these little monsters are made correctly they transport you immediately to heaven where angels sing and play on their harps. Crispy, crunchy, soft, aromatic and filled with magic.

Additionally Roseangela creates her own pasta and for a fun filled video of Chris making a mess with a fusilli, check out the video below:

Al Caminetto is also a bit of a climb but if you could climb to Heaven why would you not?

The Bella Vista, Santa Domencia Talao, Calabria, Italy

Again, I write about this place a lot because I go there a lot.

Calabrian Antipasti
Calabrian Antipasti At the Bella Vista Restaurant, Santa Domenica Talao

From Scalea on the coast, you have to climb the hill to Santa Domenica Talao which is where we hang out. On the corner of the village is the Bella Vista. You can’t miss it because there is always a table out front and several people congregating there.

The Bella Vista fare is simple but fabulous. The pizzas are authentic Southern Italian pizzas, the pasta is home made and if you want something light you can get panini and appetizers.

Pizza Bella Vista
Pizza at the Bella Vista

The magic of the Bella Vista is in the location. Perched as it is on top of the hill and in front of the village, you get a 360 degree view of the most magnificent mountains ever created by any deity, the impossibly blue Mediterranean and the village behind you. As the sun goes down, the gold lights in the village come up bathing it in a golden glow and imparting a fairy tale magic that will stay with you forever.

Santa Domenica Talao
Sunset in Santa Domenica Talao

The last time I was there, I asked the owner where she bought the house wine. It was so fresh and light. I wanted to see if I could get it in the states. She told me they make it themselves. There is nothing artificial in it, just the ingredients God gifted to this area. It is seriously good and no snobby half glasses here like you may get in Rome. They fill a juice glass to the brim.

So, Foodies! What are you waiting for? A true foodie goes to the ends of the earth to find the best food. I think this is the best so come here and decide for yourselves.

Call me and let’s plan your trip.

 

Take Rome Off Your Bucket List and Put It On Your To Do List

Wonderful Romans
Via Veneto, Rome, Italy
Via Veneto, Rome, Italy

Why is Bella Roma so internationally loved?

Rome is wild, loud, beautiful, and always unpredictable. There is honestly so much to love about Rome that I am doing her a disservice listing only 5 things to be crazy about.

Go to Rome armed with these 5 things and make up your own list of favorites. 

Michelangelo's Pieta, Rome, Italy
Michelangelo’s Pieta, St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy

1) The Vatican Art Museums

Rome is a city filled to the eyeballs with art. It is everywhere. 

A trip to the Vatican Art Museums is a must when visiting Rome because it is the greatest collection of fine art in existence. Much of it is Renaissance Art.

The Vatican Museums were originated by Pope Julius II in 1506.

At that time, Michelangelo was working at the Vatican for Pope Julius and the pope had Michelangelo go and look at a sculpture that had just been found and unearthed in a roman vineyard.

Michelangelo confirmed that this sculpture was the original Laocoon and his sons which had been praised in the writings of Pliny the Elder centuries before.

Based on the recommendation of Michelangelo, Pope Julius purchased the statue and placed it on display in the Vatican.

Since that time, different popes have added art to the museums and have had to add new wings to accommodate it all.

A tour through the Vatican Museums is like taking an art bath. You see it, breathe it and take it in through your pores.

Like a perfect bath, it refreshes you and gives you new life. 

Make sure you avoid the lines and headaches by booking yourself a tour. I like Through Eternity Tours in Rome because their tour guides are well trained, personable, entertaining and professional.

Book months in advance because they fill up, especially in Summer.

The museum contains paintings by Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael and, the entire Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo between 1477 and 1480.

The museum tour includes a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica which contains the amazingly beautiful Pieta sculpture, sculpted by Michelangelo from white Carrera marble when he was only 24 years old.

Michelangelo was such a prolific artist and you will see many of his pieces on this tour. You will see why he is still the most beloved artist ever born and so cherished by Italians.

Cafe in Rome's Jewish Quarter Super Savvy Travelers
Cafe in Rome’s Jewish Quarter

2) Café

Or Café Macchiato or Café Latte, or Cappuccino.

When ordering coffee in Rome, understand that if you order coffee (or café) you will get a tiny cup filled with fiercely strong and biting espresso.

The Italians don’t fool around with their coffee. It is a source of pride.

If this is too much for you, you can order a café latte.  Don’t confuse a cafe latte at Starbucks with a cafe latte in Rome.

Both cafe latte and capuccino are perfectly blended combinations of milk, coffee and in cappuccino, chocolate. 

Don’t order a “latte” as we do here in the states or you will get a glass of milk.

Having heard that ordering coffee with milk in it after lunch was taboo all over Italy, I put this to the test in Cremona one afternoon.

My friends and I  entered a small café and a tiny Asian lady attended us.

My friends ordered their café and I looked at her and asked for a café latte. Her perfectly crafted eyebrows shot up into her hairline in surprise.

She covered it well and brought me my café latte but I am sure I was forever branded a tourist in that shop.

A café macchiato in Italy is espresso with a small amount of milk in it but still  strong. I have ordered this after lunch and the eyebrows rose minimally so I think it is ok.

If you like your coffee a little weaker, you can order a café lungo which is an espresso with a small amount of water in it.

The Italians, recognizing that Americans drink our coffee differently, have created a café Americano which is espresso with more water.

The coffee in Italy is, to my mind, the best in the world. Great care is taken to make it perfect and bar staffs are well trained.

Even the ground coffee you purchase in the supermarket is top notch even though it is inexpensive.

Order a cafe,  dump a packet of sugar in it and stir. You are rewarded with a couple mouthfuls of the sweetest, bitterest, most fragrant and coffee-est sip you can imagine.

You digest your food better and you are wide awake for several hours. 

Via Veneto, Rome, Italy
Via Veneto, Rome, Italy

3) Shopping

Rome has several fine shopping districts including the Via Veneto, which is a street dedicated to shopping and outdoor cafes.

It is a beautiful tree lined street and an afternoon spent in a sidewalk cafe watching the beautifully dressed Italian businessmen and women go by is a treat.

Italy is well known for fine Italian leather goods. Italian leather crafting goes back centuries. 

The Via Veneto has many fine leather emporiums however I have found that going a few streets over can save you money.

Aside from the shopping that you would normally expect from a large city, Roman streets are a riot of colorful outdoor markets.

Rome Outdoor Market
Rome Outdoor Market

Every day you can purchase fresh produce and other delectables at the Campo De Fiori  (literally, The Flower Market). This market has been going strong since medieval times.

Chicken, gravy and potatoes in Rome
Chicken, gravy and potatoes in Rome
Cornetto with Friends
Cornetto with Friends

 4) The Food!

The Italians have raised cooking to a fine art form and almost every restaurant I tried has been amazing! A similar meal here in California would be ruinously expensive.

I never go hungry in Rome. Even when I have just eaten I am eagerly looking forward to my next meal. 

Even those with dietary restrictions can relax as vegetarian cuisine is always available and I had no trouble finding gluten free meals that were unbelievable. 

Gluten Free Pizza in Rome
Gluten Free Pizza in Rome

Only once have I had a bad meal in Italy and that is when Pete and I unadvisedly ducked into a restaurant right next to Termini Station, the main train station in Rome.

Pete’s pizza was hard and burnt and my Roman artichokes hung their heads limply as if they had a severe case of erectile dysfunction.

It was sad.

Whenever possible, stay away from any eating establishment close to the train stations, the monuments or any of the touristy areas.

If you find yourself in a touristy area and you are hungry, walk a few streets away from the attraction and you will likely find a great place.

In my experience, you are not taking much of a chance as most restaurants are operated by people who have pride in what they serve you. I can guarantee you that when in Rome you will eat well if you look for restaurants not geared for tourists. 

Roman Ruins
Roman Ruins

5) The history!

Rome was the seat of the entire Roman empire which encompassed all of Europe, a big chunk of the Middle East and the United Kingdom and then some. It was HUGE and Rome was the center of it all.

Everywhere you look in Rome are ancient ruins dating from different times and civilizations in the past.

Sweeping your eyes from one side to another at any raised point in Rome presents a dizzying array of structures each with its own history, people and civilization.

Any of these magnificent structures generally has a tour associated with it. You can learn so much history here in a few days. And the history itself is standing right in front of you.

Italian Roman super savvy travelers
Wonderful Romans

6) Lastly and bestly, The Italians!

I know I promised you five great reasons but I am including my favorite one as a bonus reason.

The Italians I have met in my travels have been the most amazingly wonderful people. 

But what would we expect from the descendants of the greatest ancient empire in the world?

Go and visit them. Visit their cities and revel in their art. There is a reason that the great artists wound up in Italy. And Rome is where it all begins.

Start planning your trip to Rome.  Contact us. We have some of the most radical travel pros standing by and we can craft a perfect vacation for you.