So you’ve booked a self-catering holiday in Italy on a farm in Tuscany or by a beach in Liguria? Enjoy exploring the flavours of Italy with this basic guide to help you enjoy food shopping as part of your holiday experience.
Traditionally Italians shop every day for what they want to eat that day, as freshness is a big concern to them. You won’t find huge fridges in most Italian kitchens, so decide every day as you shop, what you want to eat that day, according to what looks freshest and most appetising in the shops. The shop keepers are quite used to selling just two slices of perfectly sliced prosciutto, or a small piece of pecorino cheese. You can of course just head to a supermarket and fill your trolley for the week, but shopping the traditional way in all the little shops is an experience not to be missed and you will gain more cultural understanding this way, than any amount of museum visiting will provide.
Follow your nose first to the Forno, for crusty white bread, rolls and salty focaccia, a soft olive oil pizza bread cut into squares, that the school children often stop by for as a morning snack. Pane integrale is wholewheat bread and becoming more easily available. If you don’t acquire the taste for the traditional, unsalted bread you can ask for pane salata – salted bread, which is sometimes available as a speciality bread.
Next drop by the fruttaverdura – the greengrocers. Italy has a wonderful variety of fruits and vegetables and you will find whatever is in season and at its best. Italians are distrustful of imported food, the more locally grown the better, so most of what is on offer won’t have been subjected to cold storage and other indignities. May brings strawberries and cherries piled high and bright. Peaches and nectarines follow with melons of all varieties. By the time you reach autumn these have been succeeded by heaps of glistening grapes, luscious figs and juicy pears. Watch the local signoras carefully selecting their fruit and veg and you will get an idea of what is at its best and what should be left another week until it is truly in season, ripe and delicious.
The alimentari now- the general grocers store. You will probably be following the same group of signoras from shop to shop as they do their morning round. Everything is here, from tins piled high, to packets of pasta, with a counter of cheeses and salamis to be sliced to your requirements. You can ask for two slices of prosciutto crudo – cured ham, thinly sliced or buy sliced meats and cheeses by the etto – a generally used term for 100g (about 3oz). If you want to have a taste before you decide to purchase, just ask and a sliver of cheese will be passed over the counter for you to pronounce judgement on. There will also be containers of herby olives and sundried tomatoes to buy by weight. Bottles of mineral water and wine will rub shoulders in a corner.
For a treat stop by the pasticceria for a tray of delicious creamy pastries, then head off for a picnic lunch in an olive grove with your spoils, or treat yourself to a long lunch in a restaurant and keep your shopping for a delicious, no-cooking, light supper on the terrace of your apartment.