Sunday, 10 May 2009

Bologna and the art of Artisanal Junk Food

The official reason for my trip to Bologna was the Slow Food on Film festival, but the truth is I came to fall in love with the city.  The sight of a snow blizzard in May is surreal as feathery dandelions are swept up in the air staging spring’s version of a silent snowstorm.

A major junction point, Bologna is a hybrid between Rome and Parma, sharing Rome’s bustling, noisy, hectic- ness and Parma’s small town mentality. Unchanged for centuries it has a medieval air, composed of narrow streets, arched walkways, and small piazzas.

Known as ‘the fat and the red’ for its good food and political siding I quickly learnt that Bologna is a heaven for ice cream lovers, i.e. me. On every street corner, sometimes even more, stands a glistening gelateria drawing me closer for a sneak peep that ends with a cone in hand.

During the three days I spent in the city I had visited 3 gelaterias, ordered 4 servings and tried 8 different flavors (Dulce de lece with caramelized almonds, banana, coffee, pistachio, Bacio, Mediterraneo, ricotta with dried figs and honey, pine nuts and caramelized walnuts, if you must). Each scoop in its turn crowned as my new favorite; Baci with a rich chocolate ice cream specked with huge whole hazelnuts, Mediterraneo with almonds pistachios and pine nuts combined into a harmonious one, a cream of ricotta intervened by swirls of dried figs and drenched in a dark sweet syrup, and a cream of pine nuts scattered with crunchy caramelized walnuts. My taste buds were happy.

One of the benefits in learning about food and our relationship with it, is the emancipation from the perceived conventions and norms surrounding eating habits. Who decided and why that ice cream should be had at the end of a meal? Or that it cant be the meal itself? More importantly, why do we take these conventions for granted? So I had ice cream at the end of a meal, in place of a meal, or as a meal and the world did not come to an end. How liberating.

When I wasn’t chasing gelati there was film on food; features, documentaries, and shorts exploring our complex relationship with food, with concepts of death and devouring gripping my attention. A mouthful encapsulates both nutrition and life counterbalanced with death and devouring…Food for thought.

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