Starting off as a teenage vegan amidst my Italian family and while living in suburbia was not an easy feat. Eight years later and in the company of changed minds in my family, with several years of vegan travel under my belt, and living in the big city, this lifestyle is second nature to me. In this blog, I document my culinary adventures at home—wherever home may be—and offer a side of personal anecdotes.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
It's finally happened
This post was written two weeks ago.
after our 15-minute opening performance at the Calici sotto le stelleenogastronomic festival in Labro, I met one
of my friends for dinner. We went to a restaurant that’s open seasonally, a locale
more upscale than what I’m used to or what my wallet would allow. We hadn’t any
choice, as the pizzeria at which we wanted to dine was closed for the day, due
to a broken oven. So, we made do (and to say, “we made do” feels like
sacrilege, since I daresay that the meal we enjoyed there was worth every
up for a second. Allow me to explain; I mean, I did prelude this post with a clip from My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
taking a seat at this restaurant to which my friend had once been, I inquired
about the menu, speaking with the owner in order to ascertain the veganism of
any of the menu items. As I’d been having good luck with using the Italian word
vegetaliana (or vegana), having the person with whom I was speaking immediately understand
the implications of such a label, I put emphasis on the l and reiterated that I didn’t eat dairy products (a silly move, I
must say, since dairy includes only
cow-milk, and goat and sheep milks abound in Italy) or eggs. I assumed that
saying any word that began with vegeta,
regardless of its ending, would speak for itself—that is, it would be clear
that vegeta means “no meat.”
back to the clip (scroll up, if you please, friends).
chef, we figured out a dish to order, a magnificent and delicious dish, if the
oral description could do it any justice—penne with asparagus, tomato, and
truffle mushrooms—and our hunger dictated that we’d order a salad to satiate
our rebelling stomachs. As we swished up the last drops of vinegar with pieces
of gratis dry bread, our pasta dishes
were delivered. I beheld the glorious dish, giant penne at the base of the
beauteous meal, atop of which lay olive-oil–coated pieces of wild asparagus,
delicate truffles, chopped fresh tomato, and—meat? Those crimson chunks
didn’t resemble any fruit or vegetable I’d ever seen, and I’d been fooled by
the texture as well as appearance of many an eggplant and mushroom in the past.
Nay, those pieces were clearly the flesh of an animal. Before the waitress could
step away, I inquired politely: “Ma, scusi, questa è carne?” (“Excuse me, but… is that meat?”)
responded, incredulously yet matter-of-factly: “Non c’è di che. È pancetta.”
(“It’s nothing. It’s pancetta.”)
my dear friends, directly translates to stomach,
in the diminutive form—so, “belly,” insomma.
Even some of my omnivorous friends are revolted by it and refuse to eat it. If
you can, ahem, stomach it, head on over to Wikipedia to learn more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pancetta.
I responded, after several eye blinks to make sure that I was not imagining
what she was saying, “Ma… per me è
qualcosa: sono vegetariana.” (“For me,
it’s something: I’m vegetarian.”)
away to explain to the other chef what the issue was, and this chef’s
explanation, though differing in the words expressed, betrayed the same
sentiment: This isn’t meat; it’s pancetta.
The chefs scurried off after we had agreed on a meal that would be identical,
just served with shaved zucchini (maybe they used the last of their truffle and
asparagus on the meaty primo? Sadness abounds) and tomatoes instead. They left us with the
initial dish for my friend to nibble on, after we’d established that her meal
contained egg pasta, so we couldn’t engage in a simple swap.
my clever dining partner was quick enough to point out how our scene matched
almost perfectly that from My Big Fat
Greek Wedding. Ah, in nine years of veganism, this had never happened to
me, and I am simultaneously amused by its happening in this Mediterranean land.
in advance for the absence of a photo of my meal, but I hope that a wordy
description will suffice. The meal delivered to me about ten minutes later,
after my friend allowed me to dip slices of bread into the shallow ponds of
tomato sauce on her vegetarian plate, was a welcome, meat-free sight. It was so
fresh that I immediately burnt my tongue on the julienned zucchini sprinkled in
a delightfully helter-skelter manner atop the large penne. It was worth it—no,
really: it was so worth it, and it
was worth the wait, too.
interest of full disclosure, let me say that I am cheap—nay, I am frugal. I
will splurge on items that merit elevated expenditure, like sundried tomatoes,
almond butter, and a ticket to my favourite band’s show at a venue in a different city. This
doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally beat myself up mentally for the expense;
I tend to force myself to justify the expense, looping in my brain until I
convince myself, usually successfully, to let
it go. It didn’t take me too long to make peace with myself at the end of
the meal last night: everything from the wonderfully al dente pasta and the piping hot and perfectly salted zucchini to
the deliciously green hue of the olive oil made every one of the sixteen Euros worth it. I splurge on olive oil
when I’m in Canada, and this dish reiterated why splurging on good,
high-quality foods is worth our dollars and cents.
confess that this sentence was uttered by me as we walked home, satiated and
delighted, at the end of the night: “I don’t care if she spat in my food—that
meal was f***ing delicious.”