The Word Buffet Doesn’t Translate (a post by Josh)
April 3, 2009
What they don’t tell you – when you are boarding the plane to Italy – is that your kitchen may be smaller than your bathroom.
But they do tell you a whole bunch of things that sound amazing, almost too amazing to be real. Like markets every day. No pesticides on the produce. Simple but delicious food. Beautiful people. Ground-breaking art. Breath-taking cities. Cheap travel.
By this point in the schpeal, I started to not believe a word they were saying.
But let me tell you that it’s about 90% true. That other 10% is just for wiggle room. Italy became my haven. Before I left, I tried to prepare myself for some culture shock, writing a mini-recipe for an ideal day in my life:
2. Cook something
3. Go to a market
4. Have a good conversation
If I followed these steps, I would have a great day, I thought. And, well, Italy was the perfect “baking dish,” if I’m trying to extend this metaphor. My day in Italy typically consisted of a run, a cappuccino, a walk to the market for fruit, veggies, and cheese, studio time, a nap, a walk to the grocery store in historic Florence, cooking in my makeshift kitchen for two hours and eating for three.
Or we’d go out to eat two times in one night – at 7:30 and 11pm.
The 7:30 meal was my favorite, called the apperitivo. It’s not a meal by most Italian’s standards, rather an entire two hours dedicated to whetting your appetite with drinks and a buffet. This meal is also not your typical tourist meal – no pictures on the menu or English options – but more of a time for locals to hang out. And they happened all over. I found my favorite two cafes that served apperitivos by the end of my time in Florence.
One was two blocks from my Arno-side apartment. My friends and I would stave off hunger until about 7:45, head to the café, order ourselves a glass of red table wine, fight the sea of bodies gathered around the table with the food, and snatch an open table. Our table normally was about 4 people too small for us, since it was a two person table. We were six. From there, we’d dig into the buffet.
And when I say buffet, you may translate that into large, industrial-looking kiosks with inset basins full of a lot of food. Italians translate buffet into apperitivo – it means large, family-style bowls set out on a central table in a dark, mood-lit room with a house party feel. Couscous, Riboletta, fennel marinating in 2008’s olive oil, gnocchi in pecorino sauce. All of these delicacies sat at our all-you-can-eat-for-the-price-of-one-drink apperitivo.
Needless to say, it was the best deal around.
After these meals, we could stroll into the nearest piazza – Santa Croce – gaze up at the 15th century frescos, listen to the hum of the active night life and wait for dinner hour to start, promptly at 11pm.