I’ll probably wax controversial now. So, lovers of all things Italian in Italy, it’s only fair to warn you: brace yourselves.
Up to now, the best Italian food I’ve ever had (in Italy) was a mini pizza I got from a street cart in Venice. Back then, I had the untrained palate of a 15-year-old. Yet nothing has topped this pizza, despite 11 or 12 more visits to the land of vitello parmiggiano, spaghetti alla puttanesca, carciofi alla romana… It’s sad. It’s pathetic. It’s positively tragic.
On our last night in Sardinia, I was looking forward to enjoying a memorable – or even a just-above-average – meal in Italy, at last. I asked around: where do locals eat here in Alghero? Aragon, I was told. By several. So off we go, happily trotting off to said Aragon… where I started off with a salad: limp! – followed by a filet gorgonzola: meh! For dessert, I had a tiramisu. I’ve tasted plenty of delectable ones (just not in Italy). This one: exceptionally uninspiring! But my adventurous 7-year-old had calamari for the first time, and liked it. Her frittata, on the other hand: cold and soggy.
Gelato isn’t bad, though
Sadly then, I’ve yet to have a noteworthy dining experience in Italy. Good noteworthy, that is. There’s been plenty of bad ones. On my first Italian jaunt, in Cortina d’Ampezzo as a mere babe in the woods, I had a ragu bolognese so horrible I still remember it 30 years on. In Sicily, I was served a riccio di mare, where the poor sea urchin tried to make its way across the plate, oh so slowly. Tut tut, such freshness is a good thing, you might say. To me, it was just cruel.
I’ve had tasteless pasta and veal in Rome and Rimini and in too many Tuscan villages to name. Amongst really bad Italian eating, a particularly bland mushroom pasta in Rome stands out. It tasted nothing. Nothing! Another is lobster in Volterra. Granted, Volterra isn’t by the coast, but it’s not that far. How is it possible to screw up lobster?
And now Sardinia. Have I just tried all the wrong places? Have I been jinxed? Now, I’m not for one minute suggesting there isn’t fantastic Italian food in the world. It just doesn’t seem to be in Italy. I fondly remember a mouth-watering gnocchi gorgonzola in Dubrovnik. In Brussels, I’ve had delicious pasta, sometimes hands down divine, in any number of charming, little Italian eateries.
In a bad mood over yet another disappointing Italian dining experience, I spoke English to a flustered waitress whose command of that language was extremely limited. I must have a slightly cruel streak; forcing the poor girl to speak English when I could well have conversed in passable Italian. Not fair, of course. And I did feel slightly guilty afterwards. In fact, when the time comes that I’ll have a truly memorable meal in Italy – and I’m still hopeful – I’ll send her a postcard, apologising. In Italian.