“Oh wow you are going to eat so much great food!”
Just about every time we mentioned to someone about visiting Northern Italy, we got that comment. People didn’t seem to think there was much cool stuff to see or fun thing to do, but the belief that Italy = great food was deeply ingrained.
To be honest, I didn’t go with very high expectations, and the experience didn’t exceed it. Part of the reason was that we didn’t like wine, which I understand was a big part of Italian cuisine. The other reason was that, at the risk of sounding uncultured, I have always preferred the Americanized versions of Italian food (i.e. Cheesecake Factory) over the authentic fare. Would the ultra-authentic stuff wow me like Japanese food in Japan did? Well, it didn’t.
Regardless, we had good food in Italy. I didn’t consider the meals to be the highlight of the trip, but they were still quite enjoyable.
Street food in Milan
I’m a sucker for trying local specialties. In these cases, though, it was an uphill battle because I wasn’t particularly fond of the types of food. In Milan it was Milanese risotto (risotto is just about my least favorite rice dish), and in Genoa it was pesto. Nevertheless, trying was important because now I could associate the cities with specific flavors.
Milanese risotto looked kind of like Craft mac & cheese
Trofiette al pesto looked like worms swimming in green vomit, but it was pretty tasty
Teaching Xuan to eat pasta my way… cover it with grated cheese until it just tastes like cheese
Food in Venice
Venice, we were told, was basically an amusement park where food was expensive and tasteless. Even those who told us to expect amazing Italian food never extended that excitement to this city, so we had our bar set very low. Turned out that it was actually alright… we came across a bit of that fed-to-tourist garbage, but our favorite meal also happened in Venice.
We made the brave decision to dine at St. Mark’s Square, and the tourist trap proved to be the laughing stock of Italian food. Each plate of ugly noodles and a small bottle of water cost us 21 Euros after service charge, and it was easily the worst meal of the trip.
Square ink pasta in the Ghetto
Trovatore, the restaurant downstairs from our hotel, was an amazing modern Italian fine-dining establishment. A three-course meal at 23 Euros, plus complimentary Champagne and appetizer, was a steal compared to most restaurants that we visited. The service was unbelievably friendly and food was excellent, too.
One of the courses at Trovatore
Other Miscellaneous Foods
Prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella that we had in Piazza Mercanti in Milan. I don’t usually like mozzarella, but this one was quite good.
Gyro in Genoa… they called it Kebab here. For how little Americans hear about Genoa, we were surprised by the diversity of cultures in this city.
Luini was a famous shop in Central Milan that sold panzerotti, which kind of resembled calzones
Look at all these tourists who must have read the same TripAdvisor recommendation
Hong and her panzerotto
Hong’s parents, like mine, are traditionalists who could deviate from Chinese food only once in a while. As such, we ended up having quite a few Chinese meals on the trip. There were plenty of Chinese restaurants in each city. Considering that Chinatown and Little Italy always seem to be adjacent to each other, I should have known that Chinese and Italians were naturally good buddies.
While Hong and I weren’t initially excited about eating Chinese food in an European country, we did have some good meals there. My favorite was a cheap place in Genoa (not pictured) that cooked home style food. It was so good, that I could commit to going there twice a week if I lived nearby.
Tian Jin in Venice, with hybrid decor, was Hong’s favorite
La Felicita in Milan was a Chinese restaurant that catered to Asian tour groups
Possibly our favorite meal in Italy happened in Genoa. Hong, the kids, and I were hungry near Ferrari Plaza, but restaurants were nowhere to be found. Seriously. We mapped a few restaurants in the side streets and none of them had a single soul around (most of them didn’t open until 7:30pm). Out of desperation, we followed a sign that said “sushi”. Even Hong, the only person in the family who ever craves sushi, wasn’t really in the mood to get raw fish in Italy. But we were hungry.
The initial strategy was to just grab a few light bites here, and wait to do a proper dinner later. Only after sitting down we learned that we had entered an all-you-can-eat buffet. Conveyor belt sushi that was all-you-can-eat? We expected real crappy food. Turned out to be better than most sushi we’ve had in the U.S. Not only that, we had some fatty salmon sashimi that I’d consider the best salmon I’ve ever had.
Wouldn’t call this place swanky, but it was quite nice
Having learned that we had just paid for unlimited amount of sushi, I turned on my hoarder mode
After clearing 20-25 plates of conveyor belt sushi, we were told that it wasn’t the only thing this restaurant had to offer… there was also a section of hot food buffet, which in my opinion was highly respectable and can stand by itself to justify the price charged.
Fruits, meats, typical Chinese buffet dishes, and stuff like paella.
There was also a self-serving gelato bar, so we got 3-4 bowls…
Speaking of gelato, if there’s such a thing as too much of gelato, we probably reached the threshold while in Italy. Having more than one per day was not the best thing ever happened to my waist line.
Our kids having a go at it in front of La Boutique del Gelato in Venice was an instant sensation. Have a dozen tourists stopped to take a photo of them eating. If I were a real Chinese person I would have charged them a fee for photographing my kids.
Aside from gelato, there was also this mint granita, which was basically frozen Listerine
One thing I noticed about Italy was that ice was incredibly expensive. I knew that people outside America don’t obsess over ice the same way we do, but was still surprised by how difficult it was to find a cold drink there. Once found, the price spread often made me wonder if I truly needed one. An iced coffee, for example, can cost many multiples of a regular coffee.
At this cafe, a latte with latte art was 1.30 Euro, while a tasteless lemon-mint water was 4.00 Euro
There was a Coke Pinko in Italy! It looked like a nasty diet soda, but I had to give it a try.
We would happily revisit Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, and parts of China just to eat more of their food, and we would not say the same about Italy. Nevertheless, we had many good meals and tried a bunch of interesting things.