Winning over Italy

A "heel to toe" look at Italy by C.C. Winning



It has become a ritual.  Every morning.

I stumble down, half-asleep, from our upstairs balcony and step as silently as possible into the kitchen to turn on the stove to make my espresso.  No luck!  My mother-in-law, ears like a hawk, ambushes me.  “What do you want for lunch?”

Lunch!!?  I haven’t even had my coffee, never mind breakfast, and she asks me what I want for lunch!  My head and my stomach won’t start communicating with each other for at least another hour!  Good grief,  It’s Sunday morning and I’m still not sure why I’m up this early.

I should be prepared for this by now.  One day, I’m going to prepare a menu the evening before.  “Mmmm” I’ll pretend.  “let me think.  How about fried “alici” followed by chicken cacciatora with roasted peppers and carrots?…..oh and maybe some tiramisù for dessert.” That’ll soon put a stop to it!  I never do and probably never will.


It’s then I remember why I’m up early.  I have to meet some people for aperitivo (some rather filling arancini, potato croquettes and a glass of prosecco) at Cameron’s Cafè* to discuss a quote for some finishing work we have to do on the house.

“Ciao Charles.  You look tired.”

“Yea we got some complimentary tickets for a club last night, down near the beach, so it was a late night.”  (this has a bearing later if you stay with me here)

We chew the necessary cud before getting down to business, it’s always polite.

“So.” They ask.  “What are you having for lunch?  Marco here is having Lasagne, what about you?”

“Oh, I think we’re having pasta con sugo (spaghetti bolognese) and frittelle of courgette flowers”.  “Buone.”  They approve.  “Courgette flowers are in season now.”

We continue to talk about the best way to cook these for a while before we turn to the project…..

Later, business done and start-date approved, we shake hands and kiss cheeks.  “Buon pranzo” (have a good lunch) we say, as is the custom.  I’m feeling a little full already.

It’s on the way back in the car that I begin to think about this.  How much is a cultural identity defined by our small talk?  In some parts of the world it’s the weather, in others the latest sports results but here in Calabria it is most definitely….food.  Even in Rome!  The only time I’ve ever caught a taxi in Italy was in Rome and within a second or two of climbing into the vehicle the question was…”where are you eating this evening?”  If a taxi driver’s opening gambit isn’t the cultural compass of a nation then I don’t what is.

As I write this post I’ve just woken from a nice siesta.  Not, as some would think because of the hot weather but, as winter siestas bear witness, LUNCH!  The Italians are fiercely proud of their cuisine, quite justifiably in my humble opinion.  But why… is the really interesting question.

Suggest a nice French Chablis and they’ll scoff.  Present aubergines at the table in December and they’ll know they’re not fresh.  Strawberries in July are not something you’d use and even the tomato sauce we use for our pasta in January is prepared, jarred and sealed the previous September, for natural preservation….no additives, well except for the fresh basil.  Supermarket fruit and vegetables are greeted with healthy suspicion.


As standard bearers of real food, the Italians still have numerous private fruit-and-vegetable shops, butchers, and fishmongers on the high street……the supermarket exists but can’t compete, at least not when it comes to freshness…….We don’t even pay more.  Our nearest city is Reggio Calabria and even with a population of over 200,000 there’s only one McDonalds.  Bromley has at least six similar “restaurants” just in one street.  The most wonderful thing however, is the non-homogenised regional menu.  Let me take you in a helicopter and drop you blindfolded into any region in Italy and by food alone you can identify your location.  Where else in an increasingly corporate Europe could you do this!

PS. Remember the nightclub I mentioned?  It’s a sign of getting older when you go late-night clubbing and the only pill you’re likely to pop is one for indigestion!!!  Food again!


*See previous post about Cameron’s Café

For some serious recipes please check out:

Author: ccwinning

Hi, I am an ex-pat Scot living in Italy and this blog is my take on the Italian way of life, especially near the largely ignored areas around the "toe and heel" of the boot. I hope you will come to enjoy hearing about the places, the people and their customs

4 thoughts on “BUON PRANZO

  1. Useful info. ʟucky me I found your site by chance,
    and I’m stunned why this coincidence did nott tok
    place earlier! I bookmarked it.

  2. Well, thanks! Now I’m just hungry for more 🙂

  3. It’s a real shame that in the UK we’ve become permanently detached from the cycle of seasonal produce and with it, the enjoyment of quality food. The market town nearby has managed to maintain a good section of independent food shops. Four butchers and a couple of artisan suppliers. One, a specialist cheese shop offers a range of foods as well as cheese from across Europe. Visiting the shop a couple of days ago, I was offered some fantastic looking sourdough ‘ bought in from London’. I politely declined, explaining that I made my own. I was left wondering why the bread had to travel so far, when there are for a fact at least two bakeries within an hours travel that would supply bread of equal quality. The truth is that to remain successful in business, retailers like this must operate an internet ordering service as well as bricks and mortar shops. This shop and another local favourite do just this. Which underscores the reason why the march of supermarkets is relentless and why each subsequent generation becomes inculcated with the notion that they can’t shop anywhere else.

    • Thanks, Kev? I actually don’t think it’s just down to operating costs (I have witnessed the tens of thousands of pounds worth that each Sainsbury’s throw out every week) In the UK it’s about eliminating the competition by underpricing and taking a strategic loss until the high street shop is forced under.  The prices soon rise again.  What I love here is that I can see the Beef my mince is cut from, so I know it ain’t Horse and it makes me very happy to know that the average child here has on average 1 McDonalds a month.  They love their own traditional food much better and aren’t persuaded by plastic toys.  With regard to bread, I have enjoyed spending the last few years sampling each bread shop (always with own bakery) to select the best types.  I get my ciabatta from one shop and my pane di lariano from another…’s great fun especially early in the morning as the smell drifts down the road, mingling with the “real” coffee from the cafes.  It’s even better when you know the price is the same in every cafe or bakery…….the taste becomes the seller, not the price!  Thank you for your comment and nice to be in touch.

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