Emilia-Romagna

I didn’t want to spend my 30th birthday in the U.S., so we booked a last-minute flight to Milan and planned out a brief trip to Emilia-Romagna. While it would be my sixth time in Italy (it is my favorite country, after all!), it was my very first time in this region, the culinary capital of the country.

After an hour train ride from Milan, we arrived in Bologna on a dreary morning and checked into our Airbnb. There was a free walking tour starting in ten minutes, so we scurried to the starting point at Torre degli Asinelli, the iconic twin towers of Bologna. Bologna used to have hundreds of these towers, but only two remain, and one of them is comically crooked — Bologna’s own Leaning Tower! Our tour led us to the University of Bologna, the oldest university in continuous operation, and Basilica di San Petronio, a church that is only half covered in marble. Apparently the Pope had gotten jealous of the size of this church, so he ordered marble suppliers in Carrera to stop the shipment of marble to Bologna and it was never completely finished. As we wandered around town, we noticed how many porticoes there were. Bologna is a city of porticoes; there’s actually a law for each block to have them. Porticoes make so much sense, especially in the rain or snow, and they make the entire city pedestrian-friendly.

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Torre degli Asinelli – look how far that right one leans!
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The oldest university in continuous operation
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Basilica di San Petronio – half marble
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Low-key canal
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City of porticoes
On our first night, we took a cooking class in the snug apartment of a former chef named Dennis, who hosted us and another couple. We learned how to make five different pastas (tagliatelle, ravioli, tortellini, garganelli, and agnolotti) and five fillings (various mixtures of ingredients such as Ricotta, spinach, potatoes, bergamot oil, truffle oil, and Parmigiano-Reggiano), and then tossed our pasta creations with a simple butter and sage sauce. For some reason, I’m awful at rolling garganelli noodles (it kept getting stuck!) but can make a pretty good tagliatelle, which I loved magically unraveling off my knife before hanging on the drying rack. As we drank Chianti and snacked on Grana Padano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Ricotta, Dennis let us design our own fillings using his enviable collection of bottled oils.

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My first time using a pasta maker!
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So many oil options for our pasta stuffings
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Drying our tagliatelle
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A mixture of tortellini and ravioli, topped with a butter and sage sauce
Tagliatelle al ragù and tortellini in brodo are two of the most iconic Bolognese dishes. According to legend, Tagliatelle was created by a chef in love with a noblewoman named Lucrezia Borgia, and the noodles represent her long blonde hair. These flat, thick, ribbon-like noodles are best served with a rich sauce like ragù (also called “bolognese”). Such a thick sauce should always be served with a thick noodle that can handle it, which is why anytime you see “spaghetti bolognese” on a menu, you should run away from that restaurant immediately. Meanwhile, tortellini is a cute little stuffed pasta that represents the navel of Venus and is best served “in brodo” (in a chicken on vegetable broth).

One of my favorite things we did in Bologna was walk the longest portico in the world, which runs from the edge of town up to the Basilica di San Luca, a church sitting up on rolling hills above Bologna. The pilgrimage is a steady uphill walk through ornate covered porticoes – 666 of them in all! – stretching 4 kilometers. This walkway was built in 1674 as a way to protect the Madonna di San Luca as she was carried on her yearly visit into town. Many Bologna residents use this as a walking path or exercise run, and we enjoyed seeing so many locals out and about on a Sunday morning.

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This gate marks the beginning of the portico
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If you look closely, you can see a monk is also on our pilgrimage!
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Gorgeous views of the countryside
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One of the 666 arches
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The end!
After our walk, we caught a 51-minute train ride to Parma, an elegant, compact city that’s also part of Emilia-Romagna. It’s famous for Parmigiano-Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma, being the home of Barilla (the world’s biggest pasta maker), and was the first city in Italy to be named “Creative City for Gastronomy” by UNESCO. Besides food, it’s also known for its artists, such as opera composer Giuseppi Verdi, Renaissance painter Correggio, and conductor Arturo Toscanini, and is the headquarters of Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini. Yup, good food, opera, and fancy cars. You can sense the affluence as soon as you set foot here.

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Civilized Parma
It was raining hard when we arrived in Parma (too bad Parma’s sidewalks aren’t covered by porticoes like in Bologna!), so we didn’t get to explore as comfortably as we would have liked, but we did get to see the stunning Correggio dome in the Parma cathedral. The fresco of the assumption of Mary is bursting with color even today.

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Look at that ceiling!
For lunch, we couldn’t get into the first two restaurants I wanted to try, so we settled for a nondescript cafe called Cardinal Bar, which turned out to be an outstanding meal. When a city is this competent at food, you don’t even have to try finding a specific restaurant; you can stumble into anywhere and have the best Prosciutto and tortelli (large tortellini) of your life.

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Eating Prosciutto di Parma in Parma!
Back in Bologna, we had dinner at Osteria del Cappello, a traditional restaurant that’s been around since 1375. We tried more Bolognese specialties, such as Tortellini in Brodo, Gramigna alla Salsiccia (short, squiggly hollow pasta noodles with sausage and tomatoes), Squacquerone (a soft, creamy cheese), Tigelle (a flatbread baked in a round electric griddle), Gnocco Fritto (a puffy fried bread), and Mortadella (what Americans call “baloney” but is on a completely different level from what you can get in the U.S.).

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Best charcuterie board I’ve ever had
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Wearing tortellini earrings while eating tortellini
On my actual birthday — the only sunny day of our trip — we woke up early for a ten-hour food tour with Italian Days. This tour was one of the best experiences of my life. It’s up there with riding a camel through the Sahara Desert, waking up in Positano, eating a private meal at our ryokan in Kyoto, and riding on the back of a pickup truck through Wadi Rum.

We were promptly picked up from our Airbnb and driven for about 40 minutes to the tranquil countryside of Modena. Our first stop was a Parmigiano-Reggiano factory, at which we were greeted with espresso and given disposable robes, hair caps, and shoe covers to wear for sanitation purposes. We watched the painstaking process of making official Parmigiano-Reggiano and learned the vast differences between Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano D.O.P., which must be aged for at least 12 months and will have the official Parmigiano-Reggiano branding on its rind if it passes inspection. Inspectors come to the factories and tap different sections of the cheese wheel, listening for any flaws. If a Parmigiano-Reggiano doesn’t pass inspection, it is stripped of its rind and sold as grated “Parmesan” — no longer deemed worthy of the name Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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The cheese on the right is perfect, which is why it has the stamp of approval. The bottom left cheese, however, had mold, which was sliced out; soon it will be grated and sold as “parmesan”
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Cheese!
From there, we were driven just down the road to Antica Acetaia Cavedoni, where the Cavedoni family has been producing balsamic vinegar since 1860. This was probably the most fascinating part of our entire tour. Only 150 families are allowed to produce real balsamic vinegar (aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena D.O.P.), and they all live in this region. Each bottle is made from a set of barrels designated for a specific family member as soon as he or she is born, which is why the barrels were traditionally used as a dowry. Bottles made from these barrels are only sold to the public when that specific family member has passed away. I had no idea balsamic vinegar was so personal!

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Barrels that survived World War II
The highest quality of balsamic vinegar is D.O.P., which is made of only cooked grape must and aged for at least 12 years. To produce one bottle, 10,000 kilos of Trebbiano grapes are used. Families must send their balsamic vinegar to a consortium and pay €200 for inspection. If it passes, they must pay another fee for the bottle, since D.O.P. balsamic vinegar is only allowed to be in a specific type of bottle, and another fee for the special label (a red label for 12-14 years of aging, a gold label for over 15 years of aging). After all those fees, families must pay a 54% tax on any sales. Clearly, this is a passion, not for profit.

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This is the only type of bottle real balsamic vinegar is allowed to be in
After our balsamic vinegar tour, we sat around a cozy table, eager to finally try some food. We started with Lambrusco and Parmigiano-Reggiano, continued to Prosciutto and Mortadella, and finally ended with balsamic vinegar. D.O.P. balsamic vinegar is undeniably sweeter, thicker, and less sour and acidic than the balsamic vinegar most of us are used to, which is a blend of wine vinegar, cooked grape must, and usually caramels and preservatives to fake the fact that the vinegar hasn’t been aged anywhere near long enough. I.G.P. is another type of balsamic vinegar produced in this region, identifiable by its blue/yellow label. It may have more than just two ingredients and can age for a minimum of only 2 months, but the good ones are only cooked grape must and wine vinegar, and aged for at least five years. Condimento falls somewhere between D.O.P. and I.G.P., using the methods of D.O.P. but the ingredients of I.G.P. Anthony and I ended up purchasing a 3-ounce bottle of 15-year-old D.O.P. for $68 and a 3-ounce bottle of condimento for $38 — a bargain after learning about this industry, and after comparing the prices we’d be paying in the U.S.

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Drizzling some over ricotta
Our third stop was a Prosciutto factory hidden in what looked like a normal three-story house. Prosciutto di Parma can only be produced from the hind legs of specially selected heritage breed pigs raised in 11 regions of Italy according to the highest standards, on which they are monitored, inspected, and approved by a consortium. The hind leg is cleaned, salted with only Italian sea salt, and cured for about two months. During this time, it’s massaged carefully to drain all the blood left in the meat. Next, it is washed and hung in a dark, well-ventilated environment. The surrounding air is important to the final quality of the Prosciutto. When ready, an inspector comes in and uses a horse bone to poke into the hind leg at various points and sniff it for quality. Only after the Prosciutto passes can this smell test can it have the D.O.P. stamp. We sampled some Prosciutto di Parma with a glass of Lambrusco, and it was easily the best Prosciutto of my life.

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Looks like a normal house…
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… but it’s really a prosciutto factory!
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If it doesn’t have that Parma stamp, it’s not Prosciutto di Parma
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So different from that Prosciutto you find in America
Our final stop on the tour was an agriturismo up on the hills overlooking the Emilia-Romagna countryside. Agriturismi (“farm stays”) are popular in Italy. A nonna prepared our seven-course meal of pasta, veal, meatballs, chicken, zucchini, potatoes, and unlimited wine. Since we had been spending the past seven hours together, our tour group felt like old friends by this time. In fact, when our tour guide was asked why she wasn’t counting any of the Euros we handed over to pay for the tour, she told us, “If you want to pay me less than you owe, I have failed on my part.” With our bellies and hearts full, Anthony and I were dropped off at the Bologna train station, reluctant to head to Milan. Arrivederci, Emilia-Romagna!

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View from our agriturismo
Tips for future travelers:

If you only have a short time in Emilia-Romagna without a car, stay in Bologna. It’s the largest city in this region and is easily connected to the other towns by train.

In Bologna, hike the Portico di San Luca (the longest portico in the world) and climb the Torre degli Asinelli (the twin towers of Bologna). Both offer great views and a way to work off all the pasta you’ve been eating.

Eat: Tortellini in Brodo, Tagliatelle al Ragù, green lasagna, Mortadella, Gramigna alla Salsiccia, Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano, gnocco fritto, balsamic vinegar, tigelle, and gelato (while gelato wasn’t invented in Emilia-Romagna, the best gelato of my life was at a gelateria in Bologna called OGGI)

Drink: Lambrusco, Pignoletto (Emilia-Romagna’s Prosecco)

If there’s only one thing you get from this entire post, it’s that you should take the Food & Wine Tour with Italian Days. It is hands down the best food tour I have ever been on — and we’ve gone on food tours everywhere (Rome, Cairo, Sevilla, Mexico City, Palermo…). It’s €150 per person, starts at 7 am and ends around 5:30 pm. There were ten of us in total, and we rode in two comfortable Mercedes vans between each site. Our tour guide Arianna was spectacular. I wish she could narrate my life! She had an infectious energy throughout the entire day, and taught us so many things we never would have learned on our own. The tour changed the way I eat food, appreciate Italy, and view the world.

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Since it was my birthday, our tour guide let me saber a bottle of Lambrusco. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my 30th birthday!

Rome (Pt. 2)

Rome, like any metropolitan city, deserves multiple trips. This was my third time in Rome (I visited once as a baby to visit my grandparents, and again a few years ago with Anthony), and each time has gotten better and better. We stayed in a more interesting neighborhood, redid our favorite activities, and checked off some bucket-list items that we hadn’t been able to do last time. Here’s some advice for Rome that we learned on this trip:

Stay in Trastevere. This is easily the most charming neighborhood in Rome, with maze-like cobblestone streets that wind past pretty churches and colorful, crumbling buildings. Trastevere means “beyond the Tiber River”, and those who grew up here have a sense of pride similar to those who grew up in Brooklyn — they consider themselves Trasteverini before they consider themselves Romans. Like Brooklyn, Trastevere is also a foodie destination, with some of the best restaurants in Rome right around the corner from our apartment. It’s convenient to most touristy sites, so we were able to walk almost everywhere.

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Across the Tiber River

Although the secret has been out for a while and Trastevere is now packed with tourists and exchange students at night, we still felt like locals staying there as we entered a nondescript door and walked up three narrow flights of stairs to reach our apartment. Our host welcomed us with a bottle of wine and a binder full of recommendations, which I followed diligently. Our apartment had lovely terracotta floors, vaulted ceilings, and a tiny balcony. We took afternoon siestas and cooked pasta leftovers in the compact kitchen.

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View from our balcony

Visit the Colosseum and Roman Forum as early as possible. Last time, we were there midday, and it was awful. The heat was so bad that I was too miserable to appreciate any history and spent the entire time jumping from shady spot to shady spot. This time, we booked tickets for the first entrance of the day, which meant fewer tourists and much cooler temperatures.

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Outside the Colosseum
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Cross-section of the Colosseum
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Inside, before all the tourists arrive

Two other places to visit as early as possible are the Pantheon and Spanish Steps. The Pantheon does not require tickets as it is a public church, so we got there before it opened and were among the first to enter. The Pantheon is one of the best-preserved Ancient Roman buildings in the world, mainly because it has been in continuous use throughout its history, first as a temple and then as a church. The Pantheon is blatant proof that one can only survive if one adapts. Its most famous feature is its huge coffered concrete dome, with an oculus that opens up to the sky and lets rainwater in. Built two thousand years ago, this dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.

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Heading to the Pantheon
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Oculus
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The emptiest the Spanish Steps will ever be

Visit Piazza Navona at dusk. Though inundated with tourists and street performers, this lively square has always been one of my favorite parts of Rome. It is built on the site of a stadium from the 1st century, and was later transformed into a stunning public square filled with Baroque Roman architecture, such as the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers). Dusk is the most romantic time to come, when the marble glows a soft rose color, Romans and tourists are relaxed after the hot day, and musicians start playing corny American love songs. I even teared up here on our last night, when some guy played “My Heart Will Go On”, a song that I typically hate — but then again, everything sounds better in Italy.

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Fontana Quattro dei Fiumi

Visit the Trevi Fountain in the morning and in the evening. This fountain is what I was most excited to see in Rome. It was closed for renovation last time, so I made sure it was the first thing we did when we returned. At night, it’s magical, but early in the morning, you can better appreciate all the intricate details of the marble and the crisp blue of the water.

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Romantic at night
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Early morning visit

See Bernini and Caravaggio at the Galleria Borghese. Advanced reservations are required, and each ticket includes a mandatory guided tour, which we enjoyed tremendously. Our quirky guide focused on just a few of the pieces throughout the museum and really helped us appreciate the sculptor Bernini and painter Caravaggio.

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Can you believe that’s marble?
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Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne
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Bernini’s David
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Beautiful fresco ceiiing by Mariano Rossi
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One of Caravaggio’s famous paintings, exemplifying his dark and realistic depictions of religious themes

Take a food tour with Eating Italy. We signed up for a four-hour Twilight in Trastevere tour, which took us to seven different places around our neighborhood, from a secret wine cellar that once housed bronze sculptures from the ancient Roman times, to a 90-year-old cookie shop that’s won dozens of awards yet has no signage in front, to a takeout spot that specializes in Roman street food specialties. As usual, the food tour was my favorite activity of our entire stay. It’s a great way to meet other people, learn about the culture, and be introduced to places we’d never find on our own.

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This wine cellar was an ancient Roman courtyard that had been buried until excavation in the 19th century
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Ready for wine!
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Julius Caesar’s favorite dish: pork stew with fish sauce
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Stefania and Giuliano have been running this biscotteria (cookie shop) for decades
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Trying lemon, chocolate, and hazelnut biscotti
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The porchetta, gorgonzola, prosciutto, and beer were all delicious, but our favorite thing was the owner’s son, who hammed it up for the cameras
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Trying supplì (fried rice balls mixed with tomato sauce and mozzarella)
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Roman-style pizza is thin and crispy, baked in a metal pan, topped with nothing but fresh tomato sauce, and served by the slice
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Trying pasta at a ristorante
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Two of Rome’s most typical pasta dishes: amatriciana (guanciale, pecorino, tomato, onion) and cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper)
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Fior di latte and hazelnut gelato from Fatamorgana

I ate carbonara every day but never got sick of it. Our tour guide explained that there’s a reason you can eat pasta every day in Italy but not feel bad about yourself; it’s just made differently here. Less processed.

Here are some of my favorite eateries we tried:

Osteria Da Zi Umberto: This trattoria, just a couple of blocks from our apartment, was filled with locals. Reservations are a must, though we lucked out with a last-minute table, and the carbonara was the best I had on the trip. Anthony tried (and fell in love with) trippa alla romana (Roman-style tripe!).

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Carbonara, roasted rosemary potatoes, trippa alla Romana, and a half liter of house wine

Trapizzino: This is a new trend in Rome. It takes a traditional street food, pizza bianca (plain pizza dough), creates a pocket with it, and stuffs it with classic Italian dishes, such as rosemary chicken or veal tongue with anchovies. It was my favorite way to eat Roman pizza. Trapizzino has been so successful that it’s expanded to multiple locations across Italy.

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Trapizzino

Da Enzo al 29: This popular restaurant is usually booked weeks in advance, but we were able to try it because our food tour guide is friends with the staff. I had a dish of burrata, prosciutto, and grilled eggplant. Da Enzo deserves the hype!

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Grilled eggplant, burrata, and prosciutto

Gelateria La Romana: We revisited this gelateria after discovering it on our trip last time, and we are happy to say that the gelato is still as delicious, sustainable, and dirt-cheap (2.50 euros for two scoops! You’re not going to find a better deal anywhere else!) as we remembered.

Some other tips for dining in Rome:

  1. Stick to trattorias for your main meals. Trattorias specialize in traditional Italian food and are more casual than ristoranti. Order a carafe of house wine and enjoy incredible food for cheap. It’s the best way to experience Roman cuisine, and the rustic atmosphere is exactly what you came to Rome for.
  2. Eat breakfast the Italian way: standing up at the counter, drinking a cappuccino and eating a pastry. Even if your hotel provides free breakfast, I urge you to skip it and head to the nearest coffee bar instead. Those hotel breakfast buffets usually consist of poor-quality cured meats and cheeses, old pastries, cereal and yogurt options, and coffee that no self-respecting Italian would drink. Trust me, they’re catering to lazy Americans. You’ll have a much better experience waking up early and surrounding yourself with Italians on their way to work.

Though it was not my first time in Rome, it was the first time I fell in love with it. I’d always been somewhat intimidated by it as a city, preferring genteel Florence or glitzy Milan. But this time, we did Rome properly. We felt so at home here; some of our most memorable experiences were just watching the World Cup at a couple of our neighborhood spots, cheering with locals and tourists alike. If we ever decide to live abroad, Rome is Anthony’s first choice — and it’s hard for me not to agree.

Palermo

The second stop on our five-country trip was Palermo, Sicily, and it just confirmed (once again) that Italy is my favorite country. This is actually somewhat ironic because many Sicilians and mainland Italians don’t even consider Sicily part of Italy. Set right in between Europe, Northern Africa, and the Arab world, Sicily has been influenced (and invaded) by many cultures throughout history. To say Sicily is simply Italian is as reductive as saying Hawaii is American. Sicily barely saw the Renaissance that Italy is so famous for, yet its diversity in people, architecture, and cuisine exemplifies a cultural richness that cannot be found anywhere else.

We’d been to southern Italy before, so we prepared ourselves for utter chaos upon arrival, but the transportation from the airport to our apartment couldn’t have been smoother. Right in front of the airport exit was a desk dedicated to the Prestia e Comande bus service, where we bought round-trip tickets and were even given a little postcard with the bus route and timetable on it. After a scenic 45-minute bus ride, we got off outside Politeama theater and walked to our apartment, a penthouse on the ninth floor. The jaw-dropping balcony, which wrapped around almost our entire floor, was larger than our whole apartment back in Brooklyn. We enjoyed many breakfasts and evenings up there.

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View from our balcony
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Enjoying breakast

The highlight of our short time in Palermo was easily a four-hour food tour with Streaty. We met our guide, Salvo, outside the impressive Massimo Theater, which is the third largest opera house in Europe and the setting of that climactic scene in The Godfather Part III. (For those of you who haven’t blocked that movie out from memory, it’s where Sofia Coppola got shot and Al Pacino did his silent scream.)

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Massimo Theater

Salvo was a goofy and passionate art historian who handed each of us a “foodie passport” before we started. Every time we tried one of the dishes in our passport, he gave us a stamp! It was a delicious way to learn about the history, customs, and influences of Sicily.

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My foodie passport
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A close-up at the end. Look at all those stamps!

Our first stop was Capo Market, a daily street market full of locals doing their grocery shopping, as well as tour groups like ours. We found a table and tried three Sicilian specialties: panelle (flat chickpea fritters), cazzilli (potato croquettes with mint), and arancina (fried risotto balls). The chickpeas and mint are obvious signs of Arab influence.

Before we left Capo Market, we passed one of the oldest vendors, a hand-pressed orange juice cart. The owner of the cart went through dozens of oranges to make a glass of fresh orange juice for each of us.

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Fresh OJ from the oldest vendor at Capo Market

For our next stop, Salvo taught us how to order food in Sicilian dialect. We ordered sfincionello, which is Sicilian-style pizza — rectangular, thicker, and cheese-less, topped with fresh tomato, oregano, and chili. We brought sfincionello, olives, cheese, spicy sun-dried tomatoes, and bread to a local bar so we could enjoy our food with some wine. This delightful tradition is known as schiticchio. The bartender poured us some sweet Sicilian wine on tap. When we were done eating, Salvo told us to leave the rest of the food right on the bar; it’s tradition to leave food for locals to enjoy — this is so similar to the “Scrounge Table” at Reed College (except we’re feeding hungry Sicilian locals instead of Portland hipsters too cheap to buy a meal plan).

Anthony’s favorite part of our food tour was when we tried Pani ca’ Meusa (veal spleen and lung sandwich) from a cart. The rich meat is boiled in saltwater, cooked in lard, and stuffed into a bun. The Jewish people in this neighborhood couldn’t eat the spleen of animals due to their religion, so Catholics decided not to let good protein go to waste. These sandwiches were delicious, and we were two of the four people from our group of ten who dared to eat it — the ones who refused to eat it were from North Carolina and Georgia, naturally.

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Pani ca’ Meusa

Our final tasting was what everyone was waiting for: cannoli! We passed a man selling Godfather-themed products, and Salvo explained Sicily’s tempestuous relationship with the franchise. Some Sicilians, such as the man we saw, understandably use it as a way to make money. For others, however, it hits too close to home. While we felt completely safe during our time in Palermo, the Mafia still exists — it’s just hidden. Corruption has moved to the businesses and politicians, which doesn’t sound too different from America. Just think The Godfather Part II (“legitimate” crime) instead of The Godfather Part I (mobsters shooting each other).

As we sat by the stunning Palermo Cathedral, Salvo went to fetch our cannoli and returned with a mouth-watering tray of them. I never particularly enjoyed cannoli back in the U.S., and it’s because they’re often pre-filled, sitting in a case for hours. True Sicilian cannoli should always be freshly filled with whipped ricotta (not that sugary stuff you often find in the U.S.) right when you order, and is often topped with pistachio, candied orange, or chocolate chips.

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Cannoli delivery

The Palermo Cathedral was the perfect venue to end our tour. Salvo concluded with a heartwarming statement about the importance of coexistence, since adapting to the natural shifts in populations is a crucial Sicilian tradition. Palermo Cathedral is Catholic, but it proudly incorporates Islamic art and architecture to honor the large Arab population at the time. Apparently, 12th-century Norman soldiers were more progressive than half of America.

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Palermo Cathedral

Other buildings also reflect the diversity of Sicily, such as San Cataldo and its red Arab-Norman-style bulge domes, as well as Palazzo dei Normanni’s extravagant Byzantine interior.

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San Cataldo
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Palazzo dei Normanni

Sicily is a place that everyone should visit. You can’t just visit the Italian clichés of Venice and Florence. If you enjoyed Rome, head further south because you deserve to experience Sicily, too. Most Italian-Americans hail from Sicily, so it’s even more crucial that Americans visit this island to understand such a large part of our immigrant history. Come for the past, but stay for something that Sicily can really teach us about the present — how to grapple with diversity, with the refugee crisis, and with overcoming the hate and fear that seems so prevalent in the rest of the world.

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Sicilian streets
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Clean, well-fed stray dogs, just like in Istanbul!

Tips for future travelers:

The Prestia e Comande bus is really convenient. It arrives outside the airport every 30 min and brings you to the center of Palermo in about 45 minutes. Buy round-trip bus tickets so you don’t have to worry about buying tickets on your way back. The little postcard they give you with the bus schedule is surprisingly accurate.

Obviously, take the Streaty food tour, but for other meals, try L’Anciova for a nice Italian dinner, Cannoli & Co. for the best cannoli I’ve ever had from a shop that’s been handcrafting them since 1024, and PPP-Burger for an interesting Sicilian take on the humble burger.

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Burger with black Nebrodi pork, buffalo mozzarella, apenera honey, arugula, Mediterranean sauce & extra virgin olive oil
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My favorite cannoli

Check out Quattro Canti, a Baroque square at the intersection of two major streets (Via Maqueda and Corso Vittorio Emanuele). The four nearly-identical facades contain fountains with statues of the four seasons, the for Spanish kings of Sicily, and the patronesses of Palermo. Quattro Canti was one of the first major examples of city planning in Europe.

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Quattro Canti

Have breakfast the Sicilian way, with a cappuccino or granita and a pastry, such as a brioche or ciambella (doughnut). Preferably on a balcony.

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