By sylvie | February 2, 2013
I know that there are a couple of people who might come visit us in Trento, so I’m going to write a series of posts on how to get around in Trento. Today’s post is all about food and drinks.
Italy may not have France’s reputation for haute cuisine, but it does have a well-deserved reputation for good hearty food. You will find that Italians are very proud of their local specialties, so don’t expect to eat a Calabrese specialty in Trentino.
It is only quite recently (First World War) that this region was annexed to Italy. Before that, it was a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. So it is no surprise that the typical plates here are closer to Austrian or German food than to what you might find in the rest of Italy: somewhat bland sausages with sauerkraut, deer meat, a good thick lentil soup are all reminders that we are in the Alps here. Polenta is the typical carbohydrate, replacing the rice you might find further south.
Which doesn’t mean you can’t find pasta in a variety of forms or the ever popular pizza.
If you go to a restaurant, you will find that the menu is (usually) composed of primi piati (first plates) and secundi piati (second plates). The first plate will usually be some kind of carbohydrate, typically pasta or rice, offered with a sugo or sauce. The second plate is where you will find meat and some kind of vegetable (verdura). Meats are typically beef, pork, or turkey. That first plate will be a generous serving, not the dainty kind of serving you might find in a French restaurant. Personally, I find that having either the first plate or the second plate is more than enough. And no, they don’t expect you to order both plates (but nor will you be looked at strangely if you do).
By the way, if you go to a restaurant in Italy, you may be surprised to find a mystery item on your bill which will be between 2 and 4 euros. This is the “we put a tablecloth on your table” “tax”. No, I don’t know either. Just pay it. You don’t have to leave a tip - no Italian does. However, it may be a good idea to do so if you’re going to a restaurant that caters to foreign tourists, especially if you intend going again.
If you buy a sandwich at a coffee shop or other place that sells sandwiches, chances are excellent that it will be some sort of ham sandwich. Italians have a wide variety of hams (prosciutto), with each region having at least one special local ham. In Trentino, it is speck, a dry, dark ham.
And speaking of coffee shops, you may want to take your coffee at the counter. Sitting down at a table will make it more costly.
Wine here is remarkably cheap (compared to Canada at least). Choose the local wines, they are quite good. If you want to buy a bottle, you can get it from the supermarkets. You can also get all sorts of beer in the supermarket.
I should also mention the local aperitif, the spritz, a mix of white wine and orange bitters. Sit at one of the terraces around Piazza Duomo and sip one as you people watch. Or, after dinner, have a grappa. Or maybe not. It’s a pretty strong drink.
On a closing note for this post, I would like to suggest that you take the time to try a real Italian pizza. Worried you may end up with the one that has potatoes and onions as toppings? Order the margherita, a wonderful example of simplicity itself: tomato sauce and cheese. And don’t worry, pizza places are practically at every corner of the city.
Or maybe you shouldn’t have a pizza. Once you’ve had the real thing, it will be hard to go back to the thing that passes for pizza in Canada.
P.S. Pepperoni in italian means the bell pepper. Salame is what we Canadians think of when we say pepperoni.