Sri Owen's web page

28 November 2006

There is so much to be said about Venice, and would-be writers keep on saying it over and over, so I think I'll stick to the food. First, of course, the market - the amazing Rialto - street theatre newly invented every weekday morning, thronged with people, as filled with action as it must have been when Shakespeare imagined that dodgy loan negotiated between Antonio and Shylock. But nowadays they don't fix business deals on the Rialto, and the tourists and the locals mingle happily as they buy fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and seafood, all brought in (one supposes) from the lagoon and the Adriatic Sea and the great Venetian plain that spreads from here to the foot of the Dolomites. In fact, the lagoon is probably too polluted to give much of a living to any fish, and the plain is heavily urbanised, much of it under concrete. Still, there's quality here, some of it brought from a long way away: fish from the Indian Ocean, tropical fruits, vegetables flown in from Africa. Never mind - the quality is high, the choosing and buying theatrically noisy.


Here I am, choosing fish (with some help from a Venetian friend who is also a cookery teacher) among the stone columns of the fish market. And look at these chillies and artichokes - I don't think I've ever seen stuff as good as this in England.










But soon it was lunch time ... A friend had given me the name of a small restaurant called Vecio Fritolin, and the street address. Except that there aren't any street addresses in Venice; the city is divided into six segments, called sestriere, and in  each sestier the buildings are simply numbered 1,2,3 .. up to however many there are - usually over 2000. After asking various shopkeepers, and their assistants and customers and passers-by (in Venice, everyone joins in), and after an outburst of mild panic in case we missed lunch altogether, we found it ... but don't ask me to find my way there again. I can only assure you it is well worth the effort, and the fun, of re-discovery (in the Calle della Regina). It's in a long tradition of Venetian fried fish restaurants, and both the setting and the cooking are quietly perfect.

CIMG1413.JPG These soft-shell crabs might perhaps have been the same ones that I'd watched, an hour or two earlier, scrambling hopefully around on a market stall while they waited for someone to buy them. The man who was selling them just picked them up in handfuls, like wriggling chestnuts, and popped them into a bag. Roger went for the mixed fried fish, which actually arrived on a sheet of paper, just as they were served in the old days for people to take away and eat in the street.



27 November  2006

I'm going to start off this blog with some words about our recent trip to the Veneto - the bit of north-east Italy between the coast and the mountains. Of course, the jewel of this is Venice, a city we've been to many times, starting in the days when we spent summer holidays travelling round Europe in an old car, with a tent, a Camping-Gaz stove, and one small son, then two ... I still remember buying fresh fish in the Rialto and cooking wonderful al fresco suppers ... but that's all far in the past. I admit that nowadays I like to sleep in a comfortable bed and eat at least some of my meals in the best restaurants I can find (and afford). But I still love to shop in real Italian food shops and markets (including the Rialto), and cook dishes which are part Italian, part Indonesian - food-wise, the two countries, though so different, seem to understand each other rather well.

 Of course, this means I need self-catering accommodation with a good kitchen. My husband Roger and I are lucky enough to know the family of wine producers who, two or three years ago, opened a foresteria - literally, 'a house in the woods', though really it's set among rolling hills that are covered in vineyards. This is the region of prosecco grapes and the light, sparkling wines that are made from them. The foresteria is an old stone building that once belonged to the Cistercians of an abbey somewhere in the district; its new owners have made it into a welcoming place, with spacious rooms, well-equipped kitchens, all mod. con., swimming pool etc. - and wonderful views. It's on a hillside above a tiny village called Rolle, where the  church clock always strikes the hour twice, in case you forgot to count the first time.

CIMG1651.JPG cloud on hill.JPG 









Just a little to the right  of the church in the picture is a restaurant I particularly like, even though it's unassumning, modestly priced, and usually crowded. In fact, it's usually full of friendly people thoroughly enjoying themselves, so what higher recommendation could you have? It's called Al Monastero di Rolle - just Monastero for short - perhaps for the Cistercians, though the atmosphere is totally unlike any monastery I have ever imagined. It operates on two floors; downstairs, one corner of the room is taken up by a great open range, in which the fire is always blazing while the spit turns before it. Upstairs, the same cheerful atmosphere but without the fire. The menu is fixed, so you have no problems choosing; the only problem is to eat all the food that is put before you. There are always two or three antipasti, then of course the primi, the pasta dishes, then the secondo, the main course, and finally the dolce, if you think you can face  another mouthful. The house wine is good local stuff, and at the end you will be offered a generous mouthful of grappa at no charge. Four of us ended up paying 30 euros / £21 / US$40 each for what was, in effect, a real old-fashioned Italian nobleman's feast, after which we retired to bed and slept soundly for eight hours. Be warned: Chef gets quite worried if anyone refuses a course merely because they 'aren't hungry'. The main course changes each night: Wednesday it's a grill, Thursday fish from the Adriatic, Friday a whole roast pig, and so on. Monday they're closed, and Tuesday they open only for a pre-booked party of at least 20. To arrive at Rolle after driving all day along the crowded autostrada, say hello to the staff at the foresteria and settle in, then trundle down to the Monastero for supper, is better than coming home - all the good feeling, and you don't even have to cook.

The other restaurant in Rolle, to the left of the church, is more conventional and more expensive, but also very good, well worth visiting at least once while you're in that rather remote, unspoiled corner of Italy - unspoiled (so far) because it's a protected area, where permission to develop property is hard to get.

 Well, that's enough for today - tomorrow, a few memories of Venice herself....

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