Thursday, August 16, 2012

It's finally happened

This post was written two weeks ago.

It’s finally happened.

Last night, after our 15-minute opening performance at the Calici sotto le stelle enogastronomic 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 penny).

Let’s back up for a second. Allow me to explain; I mean, I did prelude this post with a clip from My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Before 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.”

I was wrong.

Let’s go back to the clip (scroll up, if you please, friends).

With the 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?”)

She responded, incredulously yet matter-of-factly: “Non c’è di che. È pancetta.” (“It’s nothing. It’s pancetta.”)

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:

Anyway, so 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.”)

She walked 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.

That’s when 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.

I apologize 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.

In the 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.

I will 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.”


1 comment:

Josiane said...

Oh my, it's always something to see the things that, for some people, don't count as meat! I'm glad your replacement meal was totally worth the wait and the expense, despite the lack of asparagus and truffles. A good splurge once in a while is such a nice treat! :)