Archive for May, 2011

Non Solo Lesso

As luck should have it, my friend Leo happened to be in Milan while we were there. Leo lives in Shanghai, so this was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. When he suggested dinner at a restaurant that was “known for meat stew” and “not for vegetarians,” I knew it was going to be a great night.  Sure enough, it was one of my favorite meals of the trip.

This dish is called stinco di maiale al forno. When the waiter tried to describe it in limited English, he pointed at his calf. According to Google Translate, it means “knuckle of pork,” but another web site called it a shank. Anyway, it’s leg-related. I especially appreciated the prominent bone, just in case you forgot you were in a carnivorous zone.

Eliza had pumpkin ravioli, which was lovely, if a little lacking in its meat quotient. To keep things equal, karmically speaking, I asked our cab driver to run over a squirrel on the way home. But he didn’t speak English very well either.


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For one, a lot of it looks like this:

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I’m not afraid to generalize. What’s the point of travel if you don’t reflect on the little things that make us different?

So here’s an odd thing about the Milanese. They won’t give you specific restaurant recommendations. They’ll send you in a certain direction, perhaps to a particular street, but when it comes an actual restaurant, they are curiously mum. Luckily, I have some American co-workers who had preceded me in Milan and gave me some tips before we left. Our first recommendation, Antica Trattoria della Pesa, was right on the money.

This is the dish that inspired the title of this post. This was not like any caprese salad I’ve ever had in my life. The tomatoes reminded me of the ones my grandma grew in her garden. Things were off to a good start in Italy. But this dish also bothered me.

Ingredients of this caliber are simply not available in most of the U.S. Why is this? Why can’t we grow tomatoes like this? How has our agriculture become so alienated from our taste buds? I know a lot of people will say, “If you want fresh tomatoes, you need to grow them yourself.” And yes, I’m somewhat sympathetic to this point of view. But fundamentally, I think it’s a lame answer.

I don’t make my own television, computer, or cardboard box. There are other people in the world who can do this stuff more effectively and more cheaply than me. So why do I have to make my own tomatoes if I want good ones? I’m not opposed to cooking. But there are times when this whole eat local, grow-your-own food movement seems like a regression to the middle ages. (I do still think it would be fun to have chickens, though.)

The rest of the post speaks for itself. This was incredible pasta.

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In Italy, you’re not supposed to order cappuccino after breakfast. Luckily, we knew this rule before we arrived. What we did not realize, however, is that there’s a rule like that for everything. At least that’s what it felt like to us. I was in Milan for a couple of days of meetings last month, so Eliza joined me and we made a little vacation out of it.

Milan’s not a tourist city and it has a pretty prickly reputation, so this probably wasn’t what you imagine when you think “Italian vacation.” Still, we had a nice time, ate a lot of great food, and received lots of dirty looks when we unwittingly broke every little rule of Milanese life.

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I am obsessed with queso fundido. Zandunga, a hard-to-pronounce Mexican restaurant on the East side has some of the best in town. As befits a hard-to-pronounce restaurant, theirs features huitlacoche.

Tiger Prawns “A La Diabla” are seriously spicy.

Carnitas in the shape of the Borg starship.

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