When we first got here, we struggled with menus. What are you going to get? What do you think that is? What is "rocket?" These are things that inspired the term "menu roulette." It's when you have no idea what you ordered. To date, I think the funniest one was when our friend Nathan ordered a pizza which he thought had tweleve of something on it. It turned out to be 12 things. One of them being an egg. When the waitress asked how he wanted it and he said 'si' I think she realized that we didn't understand. She decided that she would cook it with the pizza, as the Italians like it. So in the middle of the pizza was a half-cooked, runny egg. Yeah, it was weird.
Living in a city which does not really speak your mother tongue or print their menus in multiple languages makes dining choices difficult. We've now ordered enough bad things to know what we should avoid (read a fried calzone 'ripieno fritto').
Lesson 1: 'Fritto' means fried. How many times did I order something and go "son of b! Fritto! Ugh!" Gut bomb seems to be the most applicable term. I guess I was just surprised at the European love of fried food. I thought it was just a State Fair type of thing in the US. But no, it's big out here, too!
Lesson 2: Wurstel. Hot dogs, or wurstel, are SO freaking popular in Europe. The commercials of a party with a platter of just wurstel. I mean, I know, commercials don't really portray reality (because I've tried to use Mentos to have men pick my car up when I'm parked in a tough spot and that did NOT work the way the commercial led me to believe it would.) but the presence of hot dogs in just about every food situation is notably strange. There is a place down the street from us called 'Dog Out.' Tom swears that Dog Out is the base of the best meal he's eaten in Italy. A hot dog. No, I'm not kidding. The ever famous hot dog and french fry pizza is everywhere! We tried it, because seriously? It's a pizza with hot dogs and fries on it! How could you NOT try it?? But, it turns out that it's pretty dry. Instead of "sauce" (which my Jersey-native husband has informed me is the correct term for any tomato-based substance on a carb-based substance), it's panna, or this kind-of alfredo sauce, except a bit thicker and more bland.
Lesson 3: Anything "alla casa" is good. Vino della casa? Good. Get it. Antipasto della casa? Good. Get it. Primi della casa? Good. Get it. I think this is the thing that I will miss the most when we get back to the States. A liter of house wine, made by someone's cousin who has a farm 20 minutes from where ever you happen to be (he's probably named Giuseppe) for 7 euro? It's amazing. Rocking up for dinner and just plopping down and ordering the house wine, the house antipasti is wonderful. Antipasti come in two rounds, cold and then hot. The cold stuff is normally sliced meat and cheese, some grilled or marinated veggies and olives. The hot stuff is where it gets crazy! Fried mozzarella, fried pizza dough (mmmmm delicious!) (also read aforemention 'fritto' lesson), these little rice balls with cheese in them. Each place has a different collection of what you get when you order their house plates, so it's always fun. Without any direction or specification, menu roulette or "what do you think this is?" becomes a fun game again!
In my soon-to-follow post about Toscana, or Tuscany for you fuzzy foreigners, I'll discuss my first ravioli in Italy and the exciting world of cinghiale (wild boar!). Keep reading!