Our Italian Holiday and Food Festival Tour 2015
Ciao! If you are a regular visitor to our Facebook page (and if you’re not, welcome!) you’ll have seen that we’ve been away again recently. After a very successful first season of Italian street food we decided to reward ourselves with an Italian holiday. However, this was not the average Italian holiday; it was about much more than that. This was about seeing a part of Italy we’d never previously explored, about discovering true and authentic street food and, most importantly, about visiting as many Italian food and drink festivals as we could!!
Food festivals are huge in Italy and the tradition of celebrating a particular dish, ingredient or type of wine or beer forms an important part of local Italian culture. If a town is famous for a particular product or plate of food it creates a festival around it that lasts for days or even weeks and often involves not just the food, but the traditions of the town or village where the festival is held. It’s a great way of bringing a community together and, even though we have great traditions such as village fêtes and baking festivals over here, it’s something we don’t see celebrated in the same way in the UK. In this blog post we’ll tell you a bit more about the festivals we visited and the food and drink we tried!!
Our first stop on the festival tour was the Festa dell’Uva (grape festival), which takes place every year in Giordano’s home town of Monzambano, close to Lake Garda. As the name suggests, it is a celebration of wines from local cantine (wine distilleries) and producers in the Mantova region. At the centre of the festival were different wine tasting stalls. At the first stall we paid €5 each and received a small bag containing a wine glass, plus six coupons which allowed us to sample the local wines.
There was a separate stall for food where we tried gorgonzola with polenta (yes, it was a whole slab of gorgonzola with polenta around it!) and capunsei, a dish from the province of Mantova made with breadcrumbs, cheese, stock and a sprinkling of parsley.
We visited the festival on two consecutive nights with friends and family and saw a traditional parade through the town, market stalls, local rock stars, fancy dress, juggling with fire and historical reenactments. It was all happening!!
On our third day in Italy we embarked on a true adventure, to a place Laura had never visited before – the beautiful island of Sicily!!!!!!
We will talk about our Sicilian adventures in a separate blog post, but right now we want to tell you about our visit to the Cous Cous Fest, which takes place every September in San Vito Lo Capo in north-western Sicily. The festival is all about showcasing the different types of cous cous that are served not just in Sicily, but across the world.
For €10 per person we each got a glass of wine, a Sicilian dessert and a proper plate of cous cous. We had to pick carefully as there were more than 30 dishes to choose from!! Giordano decided to have a local cous cous trapanese (from the province of Trapani) with tuna, sardines and wild fennel, while Laura went for a spicy cous cous with Mediterranean vegetables.
There was so much good food that we had to have a walk around the town in order to have space in our bellies for something else! This was because our friends who work close by had told us about a Sicilian pasta dish that we had to try. Busiata is a long, twisty pasta from the province of Trapani, and ours was mixed with a tomato sauce and topped with loads of vegetables. It was delicious!
We’re not sure how, but we found room for a few of these little Sicilian desserts afterwards too!
After our Sicilian adventure there was still time for two more festivals! Our next journey took us back up north to the province of Modena, where we attended the Sagra del Lambrusco in Castelvetro with a group of our friends. This worked in the same way as the Festa dell’Uva; again, we each paid a set price for a wine glass and a set number of coupons, but this time we got twelve, one for each stall!
There was some tasty food and drink from the Emilia-Romagna region on offer too, and Laura even managed to track down and eat some tigelle (the inspiration for our name), which are traditionally from Modena.
As you can imagine, a food festival involving friends and wine-tasting is great fun, and Castelvetro is really, really pretty!
Our final food festival, on our last day in Italy, was the Fiera del Riso in Isola della Scala, near Verona. It’s a town famous for risotto and also the place where Giordano lived when he was little. The Fiera del Riso is a 3-week-long food festival – a huge event for a small town – and is all about great-tasting risotto made the traditional way. We visited the event with some good friends who have lived in central Verona for many years, and we were all looking forward to seeing which rice dishes were on offer!
The festival’s main dish was risotto all’isolana, a traditional risotto from Isola della Scala made with pork and veal, which is so popular locally that most of the stalls around the main hall were serving it! There were around 20 stalls in one huge hall, each one fitted with industrial kitchen equipment capable of producing risotto for thousands of people each day!
Although food festival organisers love keeping with tradition, they also change the dishes on offer each year to allow visitors to sample a whole variety of rice products. When we visited the Fiera del Riso a few years ago we got to try arancini (Sicilian rice balls with all sorts of tasty fillings) and this year Laura got a pre-Halloween treat with some risotto alla zucca – pumpkin risotto!
Now we’re back, we’re dreaming up new ideas for menus and dreaming of delicious Italian cuisine. Expect some new dishes in the not too distant future and expect another blog post all about Sicily very soon!
Laura and Giordano