Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Prosciutto Festival in Parma

Last Sunday we woke up with only one agenda in mind. The Festival del Prosciutto di Parma was on, and we wanted to take this opportunity to visit one of the many prosciutto manufacturers or prosciutteria that were open for visits to the public.

We arrived in Langhirano, a small town outside the city of Parma, to find the festival in full swing. There were many booths lining the streets selling food, trinkets and of course prosciutto. Langhirano is home to one of the biggest concentration of prosciutto makers in the Parma region. At the meeting point, we left our name, and 10 minutes later our group was ready to go.

We ended up in the group visiting a prosciutteria that was just 5 mins walking distance away. For the ones further away, they had small buses arranged to drive visitors over. 

It was a beautiful day with sunny blue skies. The temperature was perfect. When we arrived, we were further divided into smaller groups of 10. We were led through the facility by one of the master prosciutto makers himself. He was very friendly and explained the steps in detail, starting from the delivery of the meat from local butchers. 

Here, the legs of ham are resting at one of the earlier steps. 

The hams pass through several different rooms of different temperatures and humidity where they rest of a set amount of time. Although there were modern machinery especially for the initial cleaning process, and for moving the hams through different parts of the facility, what really amazed us was that many of the steps were still very much as it was traditionally hundreds of years ago.

For example, in one of the later curing steps, the windows are actually opened for several hours each day, to let the hams air out and breathe in the Langhirano valley air.

Another example is the initial salting process. A machine is used to apply salt on the legs of ham, our guide explained, but he himself will personally check each one after that and adjust the quantity of salt depending on the size, shape and fat content of each leg, 

We got really excited when we entered this last room where the hams are left to age for 12 up to 36 months. There were 60000 hams hanging in that space at a time!

The sight and smell of the hanging prosciutto was just amazing. We didn't want to leave!

At the end of the tour, we were treated to a freshly sliced ham served on slices of bread. There was also a nice selection of water, beer and wine. Some of us really had a hard time tearing themselves away from the tasting table.

It really was a fun and interesting visit. This prosciutto maker produces about 3000 legs of prosciutto a week, or about 150000 annually and even exports internationally. What really surprises us was how such a producer remains family-sized with only 25 employees.

We sure enjoyed our time in Langhirano. The tours were very well organized and definitely worth a visit considering we didn't have to pay a cent. The festival is on till next weekend so it's not too late to plan a visit if you are in the area.

Potatoes... Patate...

This was back in August when S had to go to work harvesting potatoes from his mom's orto, or vegetable garden.

I had no idea how potatoes were even grown.  Apparently, you take the old potatoes that have sprouted (you know, the ones you've forgotten in the back of the cupboard), cut them up in chunks and throw them in the dirt.  Some weeks later, voila... potatoes!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Apple Store in Italy

We stopped by the Apple store in Carugate, just north of Milan, as S had to consult with the Genius Bar. Granted it may be one of the only official Apple stores in northern Italy but who knew it would be so crowded the day after Ferragosto, when the city is supposed to have cleared out? There was even a roped off area for people wanting to acquire the latest iPhone 4.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Rainy Ferragosto

Where's the sunshine?

No thanks to the unseasonably cool and rainy weather up here in northern Italy, we've had to stay indoors instead of going hiking in the mountains. The only consolation? A comforting dish of polenta, meat and potatoes by S's talented mamma.

Hope you are enjoying your Ferragosto.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Korean Food in Milan - Ginmi

Milan is one of the most cosmopolitan and international cities in Italy. Walking around you will find people with different backgrounds and cultures. But one thing that's definitely lacking is the number of ethnic restaurants around. There are some Chinese and Japanese restaurants sprinkled around but anything else is pretty scarce.

This definitely takes some getting used to for me, coming from diversity-rich California, where one can find Greek, Mexican, Thai or Vietnamese food around almost any corner.  I sure miss having such a variety of food choices.

So when my friend V suggested we go try out a Korean place in Milan, I was excited. The last time I'd eaten anything non-Italian was probably months ago when I broke out my stash of Maggi Mee instant noodles (yum!).

Jinmi is conveniently located just a 5 minute walk from the Piola, Loreto and the Lima Metro stations. As we stepped through the door, I caught of whiff coming from the kitchen and immediately I knew it was going to be good. I had been to enough Korean restaurants to know how the real thing was supposed to smell like.

At lunch, in addition to the ala carte items, they also offer a lunch menu that ranges between 11-13 euro, which includes a main dish, a bottle of water and the cover charge (coperto). It's definitely an affordable choice if new to Korean food or want to try a new dish.  

We couldn't decide, so we decided to share our orders.  The kim chi jigae stew came bubbling hot, and was accompanied by a bowl of rice.  It was good and tasty, and not as spicy as it looks. 

 The spicy bbq pork bento box came with rice, and a soup on the side.  The meat was tender and juicy, and deliciously marinated.

Both were served with a selection of Korean banchan side dishes.  There was the ubiquitous kim chi or preserved cabbage, pickled cucumbers, spinach, and a side salad.  Not the largest selection ever, but they graciously offered refills.

It was past 2pm when we arrived so it was rather quiet.  Two out of the three other tables were Korean diners, and the two waiters were also Korean.   It took me this long to find an authentic Korean restaurant in Milan, thanks to V. I'll definitely be back to try more dishes.

Via Paisiello 7, Milano
Tel: 02-29516394
Closed Sundays

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Holy Shroud of Turin - La Sindone di Torino

We first passed by the Duomo after stumbling out of the Tre Galline with full bellies.  It was practically just down the street.  We hadn't realized how close we were.

The first thing we saw were the news crews.  There were trucks representing all the networks, even CNN. There were a number of reporters, photographers and cameramen milling around. 

And then we realized that it was actually the first day that the exhibition was open to the public.  The press was there to cover the event since this was the 5th time in a 100 years that the original artifact has been displayed.  (A copy is permanently displayed at the Museum of the Holy Shroud nearby).  The first group was set to enter at 6pm, and we had tickets for the 6.30pm group.  I hadn't known this when I had reserved our tickets online a couple weeks earlier.  There was a buzz of excitement in the air and Stefano even spotted one or two local celebrities. 

And he even had his little moment of fame when a reporter asked to interview him.  He was asked where he was from, why he was there, and what the thought of the city of Turin. 

Since it was still early, we decided to first take a walk and visit the city.  We came back a few hours later and headed to the starting point where visitors were to congegrate.  There was quite a crowd, but the timing was fairly punctual, with groups of people being let in at 15 minute intervals.  Ok, there was a little bit of crowding at the entryway ala Italian style, but overall it was bearable.

The path took us through the gardens of Palazzo Reale gardens and at one point our group of probably about 300 ended up in a dark room where a short slide show explaining the Holy Shroud was shown.

The slideshow was short but impactful.  It zoomed in on different markings on the shroud and explained them concisely in short titles, in ten or so different languages.  It really helped us understand what we were about to see. 

The Shroud is a linen cloth that shows the imprint of a man that was crucified on a cross.  Many believe it was used to wrapped the crucified body of Jesus.  There has been many studies done but it seems that there is still no conclusive evidence as to whether this is true or not.

After the slideshow, what was moments before the excited chatter of the crowd around us became a quiet reverential silence.  Which in itself a pretty amazing thing for a group of Italians.  This silence continued as we continued on the path that finally led us into the Duomo.  We filed into three levels that allowed everyone to have a good view of the shroud.  There an Italian recording again explained the different markings on the cloth, the face, the feet, the nail wounds... and finally finished with a prayer. 

Whether a believer or not, it was hard to ignore the distinct human imprint on the cloth.  The markings of a human being who had suffered   It was a touching moment, and an experience I will not forget.

The Holy Shroud can be viewed until May 23, 2010.  Make a free reservation for your visit here. There are still slots available especially on weekdays.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Happy Labor Day - Buon Primo Maggio

I'm almost too late, but the day hasn't quite ended yet.

Happy Labor Day!  Hope you enjoyed the first of May with a little bit of fresh air, even if the weather forecast hasn't been great for Northern Italy.  After almost 15 years in the United States when Labor Day always marked for me the 'end of summer', now it marks for me 'spring is here-summer is coming'.

And what better way to celebrate than to share with you some spring flowers fresh from Stefano's mother's garden here in Valtellina.

Beautiful fluffy pink and gigantic peonies.  How gorgeous they are!

There's plenty more on the huge bush outside where they came from.  The blossoms just seemed to have magically appeared.  There was no sign of them two weeks ago.

Some hot pink rhododendrum blooms.

Lots and lots of round white puffs of petals in the backyard.  I'm not sure what these are called.

And some cheery tulips.

Happy first of May!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Turin Walking Tour

After lunch we had some time to kill before our time slot to see the Holy Shroud.  We decided to walk around and enjoy the beautiful spring day.

We started out at the very center, the Piazza Castello, with its elegant and grand palazzi buildings. 

On one side is Palazzo Madama, which also houses the Museo Civica d'Arte Antica.  So if this is the Piazza Castello, then where is the castle you say?

We walked around the Palazzo Madama and saw the castle facade.  It's actually connected to the Palazzo Madama.  I'm not sure how that came about but it is rather interesting.   

We walked along Via Po towards the Po River.  Via Po is one of the most beautiful streets in the ciy, flanked with beautiful baroque style palazzis, and connected with portico walkways.

We made a left turn off of Via Po and to find the Mole Antonelliana, an impressive landmark building that towers over the city of Turin.  It was originally built as a Jewish synagogue when construction started in 1863.  It now houses the National Museum of Cinema and is said to be the tallest museum in the world.  On a side note, Stef says 'mole' means 'big thing'.  Oh.

We came across this interesting looking artwork while wandering around.

Finally we arrived at the huge PiazzaVittorio Veneto, just next to the river.  Across the River Po, we could see the Chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio, which resembles the Pantheon in Rome.

On our way back to Piazza Castello on the other side of Via Po, we spotted another beautiful church that we had missed before while passing on the walkway underneath.

We took a peek inside.  It was beautiful for just another 'normal' church.

We stumbled into not one but two galleria style buildings.  They reminded me of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milano with the glass dome arcade that lets in lots of light.

I imagine there must be many more gallerias in this city.  These were just the ones we found by accident.

And that was our walk around Turin on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  So far, we had really enjoyed the culinary and the architecture side of the city.  Next up, the Holy Shroud of Turin.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ristorante Tre Galline, Turino

The first thing Stefano did after we decided to visit Turino was to find a good place for lunch.  Can you see our what our priorities are?

He called up his friend who is a bank director in Turino to ask for recommendations.  We wanted a good Piemontese meal and he pointed us to Tre Galline. 

We parked in one of the many underground city garages near the Castello and arrived after a 10 minute walk.

We were seated and after studying and ordering from the menu, I looked around the traditionally styled dining room.  The tables were almost full and most were locals.  Always a good sign.  The table nearby had ordered the antipasti misti, and here they roll out a cart with a selection of cured meats and slice it by hand for you on the spot.

For the appetizer, Stefano had the fonduta con cardo or cardi in fontina cheese.  The cardo is a vegetable that translates to 'thistle' in English, but that doesn't sound right, does it?  Anyway, it's a fibrous vegetable that looks similar to celery.  We had seen it before in the supermarket but never knew how to cook it.  It tasted ok, but I don't think I'd put it on my list of favorite vegetables.

Next he had a filleto di maialino con carciofi e castelmagno or piglet fillet with artichoke and local castelmagno cheese sauce.  The meat wasn't the most tender but the overall dish was very tasty.

As for me, I had spied the piatto del giorno or plate of the day on the menu.  It is quite common at the cafeteria type restaurants for workday lunches, but we've never seen offered at restaurants like this.  And surprisingly it is offered also at lunch on Saturday. 

I picked it knowing it would be the perfect portion size for me, and it turned out to be excellent.  The tagliatelle con sugo di cortile or 'backyard' sauce, which is actually meat with bits of liver.  I used to hate it when mum forced us kids to eat liver as kids, but this wasn't the same thing.  It was really good.  And then there was the anatra in acceto balsamico or duck cooked in balsamic vinegar.  That was really delicious and went well with the roasted potatoes.  The portion was huge too and I was throughly satisfied.

We decided to skip dessert but along with our coffees came a chocolate treat and candied orange peel.  I just love when they serve coffee with a little something sweet.

Overall, we enjoyed our experience here.  My piatto del giorno was only 10 euro, and cost a third of Stefano's two dishes - great value for money.  We also shared a half bottle of Barbera wine that was really good. 

This restaurant has been around for a long time and it's a good place to go if you want to sample the traditional Piemontese cuisine of Turin.

Ristorante Tre Galline
Via Belleza, 37
10122 Torino
Tel: 011 436 6553
Closed for lunch on Sundays/Mondays

Friday, April 23, 2010

Eataly in Turin

A couple weekends ago, we decided to make a day trip to Turino, just a 1.5 hour drive from Milan.  I had never been plus I had gotten us tickets to view the mysterious Shroud of Turin.  That deserves a post on its own.  We decided to make a day of it and started early.  Well, early for us on a Saturday anyway.

Our first stop, Eataly, a clever play on the words eat and italy, is a marketplace featuring local artisanal food and wine products from all over Italy.  Something food related?  We definitely wanted to check it out.  It took us a while to get through the city to arrive in an area called Lingotto.  When we walked in our mouths just fell open. 

There were rows and rows of pasta, rice, flour, oils, jars of every variation of tomato sauce you can imagine, and colorful displays of fruits and vegetables.  There was an in-house bakery churning out delicious smelling fresh bread.  The pastry counter had a beautiful selection of cakes and desserts.  The cheese selection was huge, there was a big case just for local cheese from Piemonte.  The selection of meat and fish was just as impressive.

And tucked in between the aisles and food counters, were small restaurants specializing in pasta, meat, vegetables, fish, etc. I glanced at the menus and the prices were reasonable.  You could make a little food tour going from station to station.  It was still early for lunch when we were there but I've heard it gets crowded with locals and tourists alike at lunch and dinner.

Downstairs, we found some climate-controlled cellars showing how cheese and cured meats are traditionally stored.  The smell in the Parmesan Reggiano room was delicious.

In the wine section, in addition to the huge selection of wines, you can also purchase wine by the 2 litre bottles straight from the barrel.

And if you're a lover of beer, you have this whole wall of different beers to choose from.

And of course, a place to sit and have a meal paired with beer.  There's also a similar restaurant in the wine section.

We grabbed a basket and picked up some food stuff that didn't need refrigeration since we had a whole day ahead of us.  We also had fun picking out some items to make up a gourmet food basket for a friend's birthday gift.  My stomach was growling but unfortunately we couldn't stop to eat.  We had reservations for lunch at another place. 

But we will for sure be back with more time for the whole experience.  We had discovered a culinary food lovers dream.  If you're in the area or passing by, it is worth a stop.  It is the only place we've seen in Italy where you can find such a variety of gourmet food products, and they are surprisingly reasonably priced.  They also hold special dinners, cooking lessons and tasting events.  

Via Nizza, 230 / 14
Turin Lingotto

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Malaysians in Italy - Lunch in Milan

When you're far from home, no matter how much fun you're having, sometimes you just can't help but feel a little homesick.   And that's what drove me one day last year to google 'Malaysians in Italy', thinking surely there must be others in my shoes.  My Google search didn't turn up anything, but a search on Facebook did.

I first met the Milan members of the group at an aperitivo late last summer.  Since then, we've gotten together a couple times.  It's such an interesting diverse group.  We have among us students, housewives, people working in the fashion industry, travel industry, people from the consulate and government agencies, even a model!

There was a lunch gathering on Easter weekend a couple weeks ago.  The setting was Mei Lin Restaurant right in downtown Milan just a few minutes walk from Castello Sforzesco.  It is mostly a Chinese restaurant however the owner Mr Lau is Malaysian and so some Malayian dishes offered.  I spied on the regular menu on the window dishes like roti canai and mee goreng.

Our group that day however had a special buffet menu prepared for us and it was quite the spread.  Most were executed pretty well, considering.  Well, some of my favorites are missing but beggars can't be choosers here.

- Curry Puff
- Poh Piah or Tipo Involtini Primavera
- Cucur Udang or Frittelle di Gamberi
- Baked Chicken Wings or Ali di Pollo al forno
- Asam Fish or Pesche al tamarindo
- Cereal Prawns or Gamberi impannata di cereali
- Cantonese Fried Rice or Riso alla cantonese
- Fried Mee Hun or Spaghetti di Riso
- Vegetable Curry or Verdure al curry

We spent a couple hours meeting old and new friends.  It's always interesting to find out what brings people here.  We met a E who has been in Milan for 27 years, N who's Australian but is moving to Milan from KL with his Malaysian wife and kids, and several others who came from as far as Genova.  There aren't that many Malaysians in this country so this was a wonderful opportunity to meet each other. 

Thanks to Linda for organizing this.  Until the next time!

Mei Lin Restaurant
Via San Giovanni Sul Muro, 13

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