"Fuck it, let's try it." Is usually our standard answer when we're talking about food during our travels. Having tried snake, wasp larva, bat, and even goat's foot during our travels, we're definitely no stranger to exotic dishes. But some of the dishes we've tried in Italy definitely pushed our boundaries. One dish in particular I've even successfully put off eating for 27 years. Scroll down to find out more!
1. Coniglio disossato ripieno al forno con spinaci freschi saltati alla'aglio e olio
(Baked slice herb stuffed rabbit with sauteed spinach with garlic and olive oil)
I have to admit, out of all the exotic meats that we've tried throughout our trip, this dish made me the most nervous. I've made it through 27 years of my life without eating one of these fluffy creatures. So after we ordered the dish I was anxious AF, barely was able to focus on the truffle linguini that came before.
Me waiting for that plate of coniglio:
Based on my research (google lol) stuffed rabbit is an Italian interpretation of an English Sunday Roast. The dish is relatively easy to make. The meat is stuffed with thyme and fennel seed, packing the meat with intense flavour.
When the dish arrived on our table, I was somewhat relieved, it resembles nothing like an actual rabbit. While pushing any thoughts of the animal eating tiny carrots and their fluffy tails, I cut the meat gently and it was admittedly very tender and juicy. The meat was flavourful and not at all gamey. The spinach was bittersweet, perfectly balances each bite of the baked rabbit.
Sadly, it was delicious. Should you try it? Only if you want to. Honestly I couldn't get through more than a few bites. But as a dish itself it did remind me of a delicious and homely Sunday Roast. The layers of the stuffing made for very interesting mouth feel. The herbs flavours really came through the meat and the bitter yet simple taste of the spinach perfectly balances it.
(Roasted pork sandwich)
Ah Porchetta. Where do I even begin with this invention. For those who knows me, pork knuckle has always been my true love. The perfect dance between crunch, salt, and sin, what could be better? Well, Porchetta that's what.
The dish itself is very simple. Savoury slices of roasted pork (with impeccable crackling skin) in between two slices of bread. The preparation of the meat on the other hand however, is something closer to an art. The pig is deboned, seasoned, rolled and then cooked in a pit for at least 8 hours. The process is tedious and laborious, but #WorthIt
It is said to have originated from the 12th century in the city of Arracia, where the Porchetta is served to the masses on a Sunday. Rumour has it that it is also Nero's, one of Rome's greatest emperor, favourite dish. So hey if it's good enough for caesar, it's good enough for me.
Even Aziz Ansari loves a good Porchetta.
Sadly however, not all Porchettas are created equal. We tried several stores in Rome in search for the best one and the one in Panificio Bonci was enough to make my heart sing.
The key to a good Porchetta I suppose is the perfect ratio of the quality of the bread and the Porchetta itself. The bread has to be flavourful to compliment the taste and sturdy enough to stand up to the juice that the Porchetta holds. And trust me, you'd want your Porchetta to be extremely tender and juicy. I prefer the Porchetta itself to have a substantial amount of crunch to it.
Please, PLEASE, go and try out the Porchetta if you're in Italy. The price to delicious ratio is really off the charts. There are also many places that serve Porchetta sandwiches throughout the city, and from my research there are even places that
3. Trippa alla Romana
(Tripe in tomato sauce)
"It's very strong" our waiter said in a very thick Italian accent, "even for me, I add a lot of parmigiana to it"
Ever since we were in Florence, I've always been curious about this dish. Trippa, as the locals refer to it, is also known as Tripe or the first or second the stomach of a cow.
(Image courtesy of swissclubnsw)
Since it's conception it was regarded as a dish meant for leaner time. About a century ago author Pellegrino Artusi noted that it was a dish "poorly suited to delicate digestion" in his cookbook.
I suppose the idea of it ("It's a cow's what??"), and quick Google image might dissuade culinary adventurers from even thinking of ordering it. Which why I guess the waitress seemed pretty surprised when the only two Asians in the restaurant decided to order it. Little does she know we Asians eat almost everything.
The dish arrived and the aroma of the pomodoro sauce took over. I have to admit, visually the dish does look very simple. They've sliced the tripe into small pieces, so it's less intimidating compared than it's original form.
My boyfriend took the first bite and he shook his head.
"Shit," I thought to myself, "we're so screwed." I pulled over the plate closer and took a bite. A smile spread across my face.
"Chey! This is babat!" I said laughing. My boyfriend looked puzzled. Growing up in a small town in Indonesia, Soto Babat (which I now learn is Tripe Soup in english) is an incredibly delicious traditional dish.
The tripe was soft and chewy, the tomato sauce perfectly absorbed by it. It might be weird, but I love the texture and flavour of tripe with just the tomato sauce so I didn't really need that much parmigiana on it. My boyfriend didn't take too well to the dish though. He prefers it softer with more pepper, which I can imagine will be delicious as well. Should you try it? I think so, I personally love it. But do share it with someone, as I find the taste to be very rich, it's a bit hard to finish a whole plate on your own.
(Deep Fried Rice Ball)
I think I can safely say that when in doubt, anything deep fried will probably taste pretty dope. When we first saw this particular street food we assumed that it was croquette, filled with potatoes. But boy were we wrong.
Arancine, which when translated means Little Orange, is said to have originated in Sicily in the 10th century. The most common type is the arancine con ragu, which is a stuffed rice ball filled with meat and tomato sauce then coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried.
As Arancine is considered as a street snack, one can find it almost anywhere in Italy. There are many variations to it, some filled with eggplants and squid instead of ragu.
This one is a pretty safe bet, and a solid alternative when you're feeling peckish but don't want to bite into another pizza. There's even a black one (dyed with squid ink) which we didn't get to try.
5. Salsiccia di Cavallo
Of course I've saved the best for last. I feel like horse meat has gotten a bad rep when a couple of year back IKEA decided to tell everyone that they've mixed horse meat into their meatball. Which got us all like:
(On the bright side they also started selling the leftover meatballs for only 50 cents or something - to clear off the stocks I guess?) But nevertheless, the thought of eating horse meat became something close to a taboo in my mind. So when the waitress at Osteria Bonelli, said it was on the menu we decided to #YOLO and gave it a try.
The Italians are no stranger to horse meat. The author Pellegrino Artusi once wrote, “As for the taste of the dish, I can’t say many bad things, for heaven only knows how many times I’ve eaten horse and donkey meat without even knowing about it.” - same bro. In fact horse meat was central to many Italian traditional dishes and Italy is known as the largest importer of horse meat in Europe.
The plate was considered a secondi and it arrived after our pasta dish. I must say, visually it was very different from what I expected. For some reason, I thought it will come as a steak (Why? I also dunno) So seeing it as a sausage was somewhat intimidating.
The taste however, was surprisingly good. It was not gamey but it's still has a very strong unique flavour. Which I think is also due to the herbs that they've mixed into the sausage. Overall it's a dish that for me, have to be accompanied by plenty of wine and an open mind.
Should you try it? I think so. For me it was definitely an eye opening experience and something that would be very different to our day to day dishes in Singapore. Though I think you should share the plate with someone, because personally I found the flavours to be too strong to finish on your own.
So what do you guys think? Would you try them?
I think the fun in eating while you're travelling is discovering the exotic foods that each places have. Exploring these dishes definitely have expanded our knowledge and interests in Italian cuisines. It also tells volumes about the cultural fabric and the way that people live.
Italian food goes far far beyond the boundaries of just pizza and pasta or a few cured meat platters. No matter how simple the dish is, there's always a wealth of history that is attached to the food and the people who prepares it. My end verdict? Just #YOLO and try it out!