I had accepted the sacrifice my Italian journey had made on my palette. “I am here to eat and learn about Italian food”. Soon enough, my weeks would again be filled again with the incremental familiarity of Thai, Mexican, Dominican, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Southern American, Caribbean and Italian Americano food I was accustomed to in NY. But this premature acceptance negated a larger narrative, not only about ingredients and localized assimilation, but of Food; the thing that moves me, despite its denomination or origin.
After an intense day of travel, Chinese food crept into our minds first as a hangover cure, then a break in tradition (like true Romans) and finally as an unexpected Revelation in gastronomy. Both of our meals (yes we returned the following morning) were outstanding down to every detail not only in food and hospitality but of a larger realization about culinary globalization, local acclimation and genuine pride. Let’s discuss.
La Primavera is one block from my apartment in Rome; a borough far outside of central Rome filled with local bars and pizzeria’s soundtrack by zooming vespas and the stop and go of school buses. Our initial greeting was instantly corgial, we were happy to have arrived and they were equally happy to feed us. With some minor inaccuracies we made sense out of the Italian menu and proceeded with a our meal; watching our neighbors dishes arrive, engaging in conversation with our different waiters and using our instincts to hone in our choices.
…The first of which was a bottle of Coke. Grand and confident, it took on the indulgent air of a bottle of wine for two; it poured fluidly into our small wine glasses and somehow heightened the literal occasion of having a “Coca-Cola”. If I am not mistaken, it even tasted better than I remembered.
Our first course(s) consisted of two soups of literal perfection.
Zuppa Agro Piccante / Hot & Sour Soup.
A slightly gluttonized light stew of tender Tofu, firm minuscule fresh carrot, pickled peppers (yes!!) and Pork (which appeared the size of perfect ground meat / or from a sausage). Neither Hot nor Sour, it was a perfectly meshed, subtle, inviting and scandalously fresh intro to a spectacular meal.
Zuppa Tre Sapori / Soup of three Flavors
A generous soup of fresh (de-veined) Shrimp, Chicken and Beef. The meat, distinct and tender; the broth, exquisitely light and perfectly executed.
Ravioli Di Gamberoni / Shrimp dumplings followed; the meat ground into a fresh sea paste of sweet steamed shrimp.
A light and harmonious Fried Rice with Vegetables accompanied our main courses. The egg, electrifyingly yellow and with an undercurrent of caramelized char; the perfume of perfectly browned paper thin sliced Onion. The only thing fried about the dish.
A sizzling (translate: alive and bubbling over) platter of Beef with Mushrooms and Scallions. At first site it had the heaviness of unnecessary gravy, one that we might later regret. But as it formed and we tasted a solo spoonful we became enamored by its lightness and flavor. Despite an endless amount of observations (and a pointed question to the staff about what Oil they use) we accepted the fact that we will never fully understand. Corn Starch, Flour, the freshness of the base meats, MSG, Soy Sauce…
Gamberoni Piccante gave off a similar first impression. Bright red, sloppy (the heads in tact) with large slices of Carrot and Pepper seemed obvious, even obvious. But, again, it was the sauce that made us twitch with outward excitement. Neither sweet, or hiding behind spice; it was light and airy, buttery and refined.
A contorni of soy beans only punctuated our newfound obsession.
As did the Plum Wine, Grappa, gift(s) given to all the lady patrons and the memorable teenage waitress whose charm, dignity, Italianisms and generous smile stay with me.
Editor’s note: this post would not have been possible if it weren’t for the inquisitive and passionate observations of my fellow diner, the lovely Suri. I share this memory with her, always.