Category Archives: Travel

Food… and Fashion Week in Milan

There is nothing I love more than combining some of my favorite things in life: hazelnuts and chocolate (Nutella!), Yankees stadium and foot-long hot dogs, impromptu dance parties and karaoke, and of course… food and fashion!

It is Fashion Week in Milan from September 22nd -28th this year, and the stars have finally aligned—I am in Italy, I am traveling and I am on a mission. I want to see Milan for the first time, have some great Milanese (north Italian) fare and catch some fashion shows.

We arrive at the Milan train station and are welcomed by a grandiose train station that leads directly to the Centrale metro. To get to the metro, we pass by fancy shopping areas constructed with light marble, small food shops and a distractingly gigantic Cristiano Ronaldo Armani ad. A few metro stops later, we are right in the center of the city, where Milan’s Gothic-style cathedral (Duomo) stands. The interior of the cathedral is beautiful, and can make any non-believer feel just a bit more spiritual. For an additional 5 euros, we climb to the top of the Duomo, which is actually much quicker and less strenuous of an experience than climbing to the top of the Duomo in Florence.

Right next to the Duomo is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele– a shopping area enclosed with glass ceilings, similar to the one in Naples, but with luxury stores such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Prada. The crowd is overwhelming and persistent, as people elbow their way through to the center, where we see a large stage with stairs and mannequins set up. There are three ready to wear (literally…ready to wear) Italian fashion shows lined up for the evening, and we get to catch two of them: Mabrun and Camomilla Milano.


(Faux) Fur is in! And love the full sheer skirt under the heavy jacket.

Camomilla Milano

Looks like colors are in for spring at Camomilla Milano!

Off the Piazza Duomo on Via Spadari is the most gourmet of gourmet grocery stores, Peck.  It is three floors of shiny deli machinery, Italian cured meats, imported produce, delicate chocolates, and freshly made everything.

The first floor is a brightly-lit, open space with long counters for each section. The second floor (no photos allowed, apparently) is stocked with large selections of coffee beans, tea, biscotti, and has a small café area with a few tables for patrons. The basement features a vast wine collection with bottles from 14 euros (the Peck brand) to thousands of euros. There are some super skinny and stylish models milling about in the store, probably taking a break from the fashion shows to take a look at some amazing food. Everything looks fantastic and tempting but there is nothing I really want to get at the time, (except for the 8,000 euro antique deli meat slicer below) since I am busy thinking about the great dinner we are about to have.

I had read some great reviews of the Trattoria Milanese (Santa Marta, 11) and suggest that we go there. It takes a little bit of walking—and one quick stop for directions—before we get there. But alas, it is CLOSED! On a Saturday night! Oh, the heartbreak! We are so hungry and don’t have a Plan B, so we decide to wander around the area and leave it up to fate to find us a good place to eat.  After about 15 minutes of walking, we see a little courtyard and a sign for Ristorante Al Mercante. I have a good feeling about this one, so we run across the street and step into our chance restaurant pick. It is a very warm and inviting place, full of what appear to be local Italians. The host immediately asks if we have reservations… uh oh… can it be that this place wasn’t meant to be after all? The host thinks for a minute and then signals to a waiter, who then leads us upstairs to another dining room, where he takes the “reserved” card off of a table and seats us. Success!

Ristorante Al Mercante

Piazza Mercanti, 17 Milan 20123

Milan, and the Lombardy region of Italy as a whole, is known for its rich dairy products such as milk, cream, butter and cheese. Milanese cuisine incorporates these ingredients into its signature dishes, particularly pasta with cream sauces and risotto, which is fantastic for absorbing all of the rich flavors it is cooked in. A family gathering of about 20 people livens the atmosphere, and makes us even hungrier with all of the great Italian food spread out buffet-style, including a giant wheel of Parmesan cheese that they directly cut out of.

The ravioli with cream sauce and prosciutto is thick and rich. The ravioli is soft and chewy, with a thin meat filling. The sauce is incredible! The entire platter is so fresh and minimally processed that the coloring is a light, creamy white. Great pick by Pietro!

My pappardelle with zucchini flowers and small pieces of fish (below) is very subtle and light. Pappardelle is a type of very thin and large, broad pasta that is soft and almost resembles wonton skins when it’s cooked. Zucchini flowers are delicious. When you see them at the Italian markets, they vary in size and have green stems with bright orange blooms. The pasta is cooked with the two main ingredients- tossed in some olive oil and butter. Because the pasta is fresh and so delicately thin, it all kind of sticks together and you have to cut it with a knife.

Emma orders the classic cotoletta alla Milanese, which is one of Milan’s specialties. It is a very thin veal cutlet of buttery and fried deliciousness, along with a few small yellow potato wedges. I don’t normally eat veal, ever since I learned about where it came from back in middle school, but I feel like I have to make an exception (since I thought that maybe veal was happier here in Italy) and have a tiny sample. What can I say, it is battered and cooked perfectly.

For our secondi course, Pietro orders the grilled calamari. Unlike the calamari we’ve ordered at other various restaurants, this calamari is chopped into larger pieces and is soft, rather than tough to chew. It is seasoned and grilled with fresh rosemary, which makes it super flavorful and fragrant.

Milan is a great cosmopolitan city that is modern, efficient, hectic, and full of stylish people that walk fast– kind of like the New York City of Italy. Brings me a little closer to home. On the slow train ride back, I leave Milan feeling like I just had great mix of it all- a delicious, incredibly satisfying meal; next season’s fashion trends; great company…and to top it all off, food fate was on my side! Mission accomplished!



Filed under Italy, Milan, Travel, Uncategorized

Naples: Southern Charm…or Dirty South?

The southern port city of Naples, or Napoli in Italian, evokes very polarized views among travelers, Neapolitans, and northern Italians. Founded by the Greeks in the 9th century B.C., it is a city that has evolved through a long history of conquests and shifts in civilization, religion, and culture. On the train ride to meet up with Pietro’s family in Naples, I sit next to an older Italian gentleman who starts asking about my trip. During our conversation, I ask whether or not he is from Naples. He looks at me incredulously and laughs at my stupidity, “What? Naples?! Ohhh no no no! No way! I’m from Milan!” and immediately warns me about all the shady characters I might encounter there. Although Naples is not without its share of problems—dumpsters and street corners perpetually overflowing with garbage; political corruption; petty street crime—it possesses a certain southern charm that is not always apparent in northern Italian cities.

For the most part, the people are friendly and open- particularly if you try to speak some Italian first. In fact, they seem very family and pet-oriented (the city is especially pet-friendly…a few restaurants we went to allowed dogs). However, navigating the city proved challenging. Maps are simply unable to capture all of the tiny streets and piazzas that have existed since ancient times. The Neapolitans are always happy to point us in the right direction. But the traffic- oh the traffic. It is said that Naples has the worst traffic in the world, outside of Cairo, Egypt.

From the main train station in Naples, we get a cab and head towards the hotel. The cab proceeds to weave through a mess of cars, buses, mopeds, and pedestrians coming from all directions and heads straight into oncoming traffic on a busy two-way street. At the last minute, the cab swerves over the right lane- a few other cars follow suit, as if it is business as usual. Two-way streets are open to interpretation in Naples. You can go along traffic, against traffic, take left turns directly into oncoming traffic…no problem. There is a mutual understanding on the streets that somehow makes it all work. That doesn’t mean that my life doesn’t flash before my eyes every so often while riding the cabs or crossing the streets.

All pros and cons aside though- Naples has absolutely incredible food. It is the birthplace of pizza, land of the most delicious pomodorini (small tomatoes that grow by Mount Vesuvius), and source of great, fresh seafood.

Ciro a Medina

Via Medina, 19 80133 Napoli, Italy

Ciro a Medina is a fantastic restaurant with a homey feel and simple, reliably good food. I liked it so much that I actually went twice during my week in Naples.

We get two seafood appetizers- the first (above, left) is an insalata ai frutti di mare, or salad with seafood. There is a cold mixture of small clams, mussels, whole shrimp, squid, on top of a bed of radicchio, with lemon on the side. The other antipasto platter (above, right) is olive oil and vinegar marinated salmon and sardines. Both types of fish have a very delicate texture, and the vinegar marinade is not very overpowering, but presents only a hint of acidity. The dishes are both garnished with fresh Italian parsley- fresh herbs definitely enhance any dish.

Restaurants in Naples have different interpretations of pasta dishes, particularly sauces. At Ciro a Medina, spaghetti vongole (spaghetti with clams), the pasta is cooked in a light sauce, in what appears to be only an infusion of olive oil, clam broth, and perhaps butter. The pomodorini are cooked and served in slices, and not in the form of red sauce. As you can see, this dish does not require many complex ingredients- in fact, it only really features three or four. At the same time, it is absolutely delicious, flavorful, and refreshing.

Most of the staff at Ciro speak English, and are very friendly when we ask about the linguistic differences between Northern and Southern Italian. The English word “now” in Italian is adesso while in Neopolitan Italian it is simply “mo” (not sure of spelling). The restaurant is a cheerful place- frequented by tourists as well as locals and sometimes, their small dogs. Paintings of old Italian market scenes adorn the walls.

I notice a basket on the ledge of the low wall on the second floor of the restaurant. It is tied to a long rope, which is tied to a column in the restaurant. The basket is used to quickly transport bread from the kitchen on the second floor to the dining areas on the first floor. One waiter fills the basket with bread, then immediately drops it down to the first floor, where another waiter picks up the bread and distributes it to the diners.

Trattoria Medina

Via Medina, 32 80133 Napoli, Italy

Down the street from Ciro is another great find- the Trattoria Medina. There is one waiter who is in charge of about 10 tables and is working at the speed of light. He quickly gets us our bottled water and rushes over to the basket dangling from the second floor to pick up our bread. In Italy, tap water is not usually served at restaurants. Italians order mineral water, either aqua naturale or aqua frizzante (still water or sparkling water). The waiter hands us a neatly wrapped brown paper package with visible grease stains seeping through. What could it be? A distinct greasy Five Guys brown paper bag filled with amazing fries perhaps?

Well- I think I’m going to have to give this one to the Italians. Upon unwrapping our lovely little gift, we discover various fried treats from fried risotto balls to fried potato and cheese. I personally think it would be a great new food truck idea because who wouldn’t love fried Italian food? It is crazy delicious! Of course we ended up being charged for our gift, but I guess that should’ve been obvious, since it was definitely worth the additional 4 euros.

Now for the pizza. Pizza in Naples is different from what we have grown up with, unless you grew up in Italy in which case you have been lucky enough to experience this from a young age:

This is a pizza with mozzarella, pomodorini, Italian salami, and fresh ricotta cheese. Note: there is no tomato sauce- only real tomato slices, as tomato sauce is added to certain types of pizza (such as the simple Margherita pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil). The ricotta cheese is out of this world. Despite how the mounds of ricotta appear to be taking over the pizza, they do not overpower the rest of the ingredients at all. In fact, the ricotta is very mild, with a creamy and rich texture. The pizza crust is very thin, with a chewy crust. Now that is a great pizza.

On the agenda for the evening is a classical concert at the renown Teatro di San Carlo, founded by the Bourbon King Charles VII of Naples (or Carlo VII in Italian) in 1737. We happened to come across a poster for the night’s performance of Schubert, Mozart, and Beethoven while walking past the theater and decide to get tickets. The event at this glamorous venue is open to the public and accessible at 15 euros per person.










We quickly realize that MTV Italy’s free Summer Music Festival is also scheduled for the same night close to the Teatro, at the Piazza del Plebiscito. There are 15 acts lined up for the concert, with Maroon 5 and N.E.R.D., among the Italian artists. After a memorable and enjoyable night of symphonies from the 18th century, surrounded by royal decor and rich marble statues of battling angel babies, we walk over to the Piazza to check out the scene.

And of course the scene is a 180 from where we were 10 minutes ago- from a hushed, ornate concert hall attended by older cultured types to a large outdoor rock venue with jumping tweens wearing flashing bunny ears and screaming along with their favorite Italian bands. The ground is covered with plastic and glass bottles, empty food wrappers, paper cups, and other litter. The crowds crush the litter and kick it around while they rock out to the songs. One look at the available waste facilities (below) and you can probably understand why this might be the case. It is kind of an organized mess- with glass and plastic bottles piled carefully around the tiny bin- but it inevitably ends up spreading throughout the rest of the venue.


Upon first glance by the unsuspecting visitor, Naples can be quite overwhelming and stressful- chaotic streets with litter and young loiterers everywhere– but like most places and situations, there are reasons why a place is the way it is. How you perceive it depends on how much you are able to accept and try to understand the context. Above all, in Naples you have to roll with the punches!




Photocredit for 5 Guys:






Filed under Italy, Naples, Travel, Uncategorized

One day in Florence…

After a quick train ride from Bologna, we arrived in Florence, the capital city of Italy’s Tuscany region, and birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. We had all visited before, but we had one day (ten hours to be exact!) to go through all of our favorite restaurants and iconic sites in Florence.


Scudieri– Via de’ Cerretani, 2, 50123 Firenze, Italia

We sat down at Scudieri, a classic European cafe with specialty Italian desserts, pastries, and glamorous Viennese chandeliers. Definitely not the usual breakfast establishment I frequented in the U.S.

Croissant at Scudieri

(*ahem my favs Perkins and…Annie’s at Dupont in DC) Since it was a beautiful day outside, we got a table out on the patio, where we were misted with water every 30 seconds by these little sprinklers hidden under the big patio umbrellas. They are meant to keep tourists like us cool, but instead just inspired a debate about the perils of toxic lead water in food. Anyway- day in Florence started with an innocent little puffy croissant. The croissant was crispy on the outside, warm and chewy inside, with a little taste of orange-citrus: the definition of a good croissant, anywhere you go. Paired with a strong macchiato and I was ready for the day.

Pietro got a fluffy prosciutto omelette with fresh mâche. The mache was not seasoned at all because the omelette was flavored with chunks of salty, flavorful prosciutto. You had to get both the mache and omelette in each bite to get the full effect. Delicious.

Omelette with Prosciutto and Mâche

When you walk inside the cafe, you can see platters of small appetizers set up on the counter, and patrons hovering over their espressos while standing up. This is common practice in Italy, as sitting down at a table incurs a cover charge of approximately 2-2.50 euros per person. The platters consist of several varieties of bite-size, crust-less sandwiches, which are referred to as a “buffet”.

Bar counter

Counter at Scudieri

Now for anyone in America (and elsewhere in the world too), a buffet is something entirely different. A buffet is usually: a) all-you-can-eat, b) served in trough-like bins, c) a smorgasbord of food hailing from different countries, and/or styles of cooking. Ah, America. Of course this isn’t the case for some fancier buffets, but these crust-less sandwiches on the counter– these aren’t the buffets I know and love. Although undoubtedly delicate and tasty.

After breakfast, we were ready to re-visit our favorite sites in Florence. We walked over to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, also known as the Duomo. The lines to enter the cathedral are always pretty long, so for 6 euro each, we opted to climb the 414 steps to the top of Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower) for an amazing view of Florence. It is also possible to climb to the top of the Duomo (463 steps), but then you would only get the view of the tower and not the cathedral itself.

This climb might not be for the faint of heart, or the claustrophobic, since many portions of the staircase spiral around in some cramped spaces, but I did see a woman with her foot in a cast and some seven year olds successfully get up to the top, so…basically I think it should be manage-able by most! And did I mention it is totally worth it?

Santa Maria del Fiore, photo credit: Pietro M.

The only advice I have is to bring lots of Purell, or any other antibacterial hand sanitizer. No, seriously. It is a long way up to the top and you are gripping pretty much the same walls that have been around since the 1350s, aka the same walls that have been touched by millions of germy tourists that have made their way through. Think about it.


Il Latini – Via dei Palchetti, 6 Firenze, 50123

Il Latini is one of Florence’s most beloved and well-known restaurants. The interior is rustic, with prosciutto hanging from the ceiling and jugs of red wine on every table. There was an Italian kid sitting next to us who was fiercely defending his dessert from his own father. Sadly, I understand how the kid feels. This is how scary people can get when they come here, it is that good.

Il Latini

We weren’t presented with any menus, as the waiters just proceeded to give us what was fresh at the restaurant that day. First, they served us large strips of fresh, thin-cut prosciutto crudo, accompanied by slices of cantaloupe. You wrap the prosciutto around the slices of cantaloupe and eat it together, for a great savory and sweet flavor combination.

Along with the prosciutto crudo came a variety of other amazing antipasti. The Italian salami was another fantastic example of meat curing techniques and great recipes that have been perfected and passed down through time. Texturally, it was quite dense and tough, as salami should be, but the cured flavors presented themselves when I ate it with the fresh bread. The large, white squares of fat were especially flavorful and provided a softer texture to the overall denseness. They also brought us buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes over some salad greens, and a basket of fresh bread.

Prosciutto Crudo

For the primi piatti, we ordered three different types of zuppa, or thick soup. Many varieties of zuppa are made from leftovers, such as day old bread, meat, or produce, that is still edible of course, and incredibly rich in soup form. We had a tomato bread soup (see below, right); ribollita, a soup made entirely of leftovers which included cabbage, kale, tomatoes, and other ingredients; and a creamy barley, tomato, white bean soup that was infused with fresh rosemary. We were instructed by the waiters to drizzle olive oil on top of each soup before eating, which enhanced its flavor.

For more information on the origins of ribollita…please refer to the Food Explainer.

…The Headliner

I was told that Florentine bistecca was a must have. I did not know that it was essentially a Fred Flintstone brontosaurus steak, but it was glorious! I think it was the size of a baby, which meant we had to hold it up and support its head while photographing.

The steak was unbelievably good– very tender, juicy, and of course flavorful. At this stage of the meal, we were all already pretty stuffed with antipasti, zuppa, and various beverages, but I could not let this steak down. I was craving steak the night before after watching an episode of Top Chef, and all I wanted to do was eat this amazing dinosaur-sized steak, which I did to the best of my ability.

Throughout the meal, the waitstaff was very warm and helpful. They overheard us practicing Italian and joked about how they wanted to take Italian lessons from Professor Pietro, and told us about their Italian cousins in Philadelphia. We had a great time, and ended up getting some more dessert drinks, biscotti and vermouth, and two delicious torts. All in all, a fantastic, traditionally Tuscan meal.

We walked around Florence a bit more, and saw the Palazzo Vecchio, the castle-like town hall of Florence and the Piazza della Repubblica, a city square close to shopping (all the main luxury brands, chains like H&M/Zara, as well as some local Italian shops). As it was pretty hot out, we stopped by the Grom gelateria or gelatto shop, which by the way recently made its way to the West Village in NYC.

By the end of our time in Florence, we were all tired, content, and still full from the super Tuscan lunch extravaganza. We took the train back to Bologna and walked home, and yes we stopped by for a slice of pan pizza on the way.


Filed under Florence, Italy, Travel, Uncategorized