Tuesday, September 11, 2007

...The Fifth Quarter...

The idea of traditional food is being pluralized. With advanced agricultural technology, the internet as a medium to educate the palette beyond the local, reality TV for the food inclined and culinary diversity flourishing, we are in the age of choice. Most New Yorkers opt for stylish Japanese food over a plate of Liverwurst, a Burrito over a Roast Beef Sandwich.

In Rome, a cosmopolitan city of enormity, there is a similar transition happening in real time. The traditional Roman food of the Jewish Ghetto and of Testaccio (the fifth quarter) has been relegated to “delicacy” while Pizza, Pasta & Salad and more (inter)national variations have become the norm.

On my day off from work I ventured past the stunning Pyramide to Testaccio for Offal; a bold mid-morning choice of traditional meat orientated Roman Cuisine. I knew that it may be hard to stomach, but I can only form an opinion for a larger discourse by participating.

I chose Trattoria da “Oio” a Casa Mia, a no frills spot popular with locals. Taking cue from a nearby table I ordered The Antipasti Romana. A plate of Nervetti, Beef Tongue and Beans. I pulled my White Wine close and with a deep breath attempted to make sense out of the moment. Perhaps the flavors would surpass textural connotations. Or maybe the texture would open up my mind and transcend the taste. How do the three components of the plate combine and layer taste. Do any serve as a friendly “food clutch” in times of need.

The Nervetti (pickled calf’s foot), a cartilage cold salad of translucent diffculty had me nervous. I tried to meditate to allow my mind to fall back, but the mucousy exterior and difficult inner crunchhad me drinking more wine than 12PM should allow. The beans, purposefully dressed down, didn’t help. The Beef tongue ignited indifference, making me feel like beyond the curiosity of trying it, it hadn’t impacted my meal, or rather my life. A soupy bright Olive Oil marinate with lemon and Parsley helped transition me to my next course.

My Primi and final course (it’s lunch people) was a simple Rigatoni con Sugo di Coda (Oxtail). At first I was disappointed that I had been given a simple pasta without any trace of meat. But as the dish unfolded I realized that the carefully rendered fat of the Oxtail had formed gelatinous glue binding the Tomato Sauce. Although familiar (I have made many meat reduced Tomato gravy’s), this was not only exceptionally executed, but also elevated my desire to perfect this process on my own.

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