The dark series of frescoes in the Duomo in San Gimignano was a warning to medieval Christians against the seven deadly sins.
The fresco of the sin of Gluttony showed monstrous devils restraining overweight and agonized looking sinners from a table laden with food.
Now I think I know what was in the middle of that tempting table.
I’d bet it was a plate of Parma prosciutto with delicate puffy fried bread and a bottle of Lambrusco.
Tonight I went to one of the best restaurants in Parma, which is in one of the best food regions in the world Emilia-Romagna. I was not disappointed.
In fact, I sat at my table at dinner tonight in such satiated bliss I was attracting the attention of the staff who kept looking at me like they were slightly amused.
This dinner reminded me of my last visit to Italy with my friend Jenny and a dinner at a small restaurant named Pepe’s in Syracusa in Sicily. Pepe was a shiny-faced, pot-bellied, balding man in a dirty apron. He came out to take our order, which basically meant he told us what we were having for dinner. And Jenny swears by the end of dinner I was giving Pepe lascivious looks. We later dubbed his restaurant Pepe’s Palace of Pleasure.
|Proschiutto, Lambrusco and Torta Fritta|
I tried to go to this restaurant last night – Trattoria del Tribunale – but couldn’t get in. So tonight I was in line when the doors opened. I had not eaten since breakfast and biked a good 30 miles to make sure I had a good appetite. And while the bike ride was enjoyable – I found a beautiful trail by a river that wound past towns and fields and even a few future prosciutto farms – really I was biking to earn my dinner.
Because let’s be honest. I’m not in Parma to bike. I’m in Parma to eat.
And I’m an excellent eater.
This meal started with a beautiful plate of prosciutto that is served with torta fritta – square bread that is fried so it puffs like a big hollow ravioli. The ham is eaten on the bread with a knife and fork and it melts in your mouth.
And even though I’ve been eating Prosciutto and fromage as a panini for lunch more days than not since I’ve been in Italy – this prosciutto was special.
I always order the vino locale (local wine) which is usually sold in increments of a liter and generally comes from a cask in the cellar of the restaurant. It’s always good wine, and always cheap, and the local wine is always perfect with the local food. The vino locale will often come from a relative’s winery down the road and you will never find that wine again in a bottle or outside of that town.
Today I tried Lambrusco – a sparkling red wine that is produced locally here in Parma. Deliciously effervescent and the taste was perfect with the prosciutto and the fresh-made pasta with ragu the restaurant owner recommended as a main course.
I sat savoring every bite of that pasta – one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had. Ever. The funny looks from the waiters started coming in the middle of the pasta course.
A shot of espresso and then I headed out to walk off dinner.
And strangely my walk let me to the gelato shop.
Nowadays in Italy you have to be selective about where you get gelato because there are many places that use a processed mix or thickeners like corn starch rather than making it by hand in the traditional way by making the custard base – a hot process using egg yolks, cream, milk, sugar and flavoring. But you can surely taste the difference when you have the good stuff. The good stuff is impossibly creamy with complex flavors.
And now trendy gelato has been getting more inventive … I’ve had flavors like rose petal, violet infusion, walnut and rosemary and chocolate/tobacco dubbed “Kentucky”. The old standbys – lemon and hazelnut and strawberry are still good, of course, but gelato has evolved with more sophisticated palates.
Locals here seem to prefer their gelato in the early evenings before restaurants open for dinner at 8 pm, and I judge where I go for gelato by the length of the line of locals stretching out the door – one of the only ways I know to tell the true gelato from the processed.
|Parmesan cheese and a ceiling full of prosciutto in one of many
salumeria lining the streets of Parma
Tomorrow I plan to ride south of town past more of the farms where they make the prosciutto and the Parmesan cheese. And that ride will be interesting – there are castles and other interests along the way.
But really I’ll be biking to earn my dinner again, and I plan to be in the front door when Trattoria del Tribunale opens again tomorrow night.
The menus in Parma can be more adventurous than I am. There were several dishes made from horse on the menu, and I walked passed an Equine Specialty Butcher Shop yesterday. Offal and tripe are also local favorites.
I can’t say I feel the need to try my first pony tomorrow night. But I happily admit that I can’t wait for the next dinner.