No, I am not referring to the broccoli – I am talking about the Italian region, Calabria. The other day I borrowed a beautiful cookbook on Jewish cooking all around the world. The book (this is the UK edition – I have it in German) is laced with beautiful pictures by Peter Cassidy and contains sad and interesting stories. The numerous recipes come literally from all corners of the world. Actually the sweets looked like you could die for them, but I am trying to lose weight, so no cakes, for a while (sad, sad world, I know). So I leafed and leafed drooling over the sweets and trying to ignore them at the same time, until I found a stew that looked a bit unfortunate, because it had no picture. The recipe background sounded interesting. Originally from Syria, the family moved to the UK. The story behind the recipe is a funny one: a mother in law trying to sneak some aubergines into the food prepared for her daughter’s husband, who did not like them. Apparently if you peel the aubergines and cook the stew long enough, you are not able to tell what is in it anymore.
In the relatively small town where I live, there are many foreigners. More foreigners than ‘original’ Germans, possibly: I asked a friend of mine if she had heard about integration problems here, and she laughed and answered: well, possibly some Germans have a few difficulties …
The Italian community is one of the largest, and they have been here for roughly two generations: I meet people more or less my age (20-30), who will tell me ‘Anch’io sono Italiano!’, proud of their origins, and then switch back to German , because actually they were born here and the Italian they speak is the home version, rich of dialect influences, which I often don’t understand.
The guy who sells me potatoes every Saturday, together with his German girlfriend, is the smiling and friendly son of a Sicilian couple. A few weeks ago a new type of potatoes appeared, called ‘La Ratte’, twice as expensive as the normal ones. Salad potatoes, long and twisted. Of course I had to try a few – this is potato heaven after all! ‘You are going to see’ – he told me in Italian ‘these are the Ferrari of the potatoes’ – and then he added laughing, in German ‘though I would probably sell more if I told the Germans they are the Mercedes..’
I fell in love with it on my first holiday in Madrid, Spain. I was so lucky to spend two whole weeks at a friend’s home with her family. The most detailed memories I have (it was a long time ago.. ohmy. Don’t make me count the years) are of food: cold horchata soon after arriving, which I did not like that much, but was great for recovering from the heat; falling in love with the street food (my favourite ever: bocadillo de calamares, a crunchy baguette filled with fried squids); and starting every dinner with a glass of gazpacho, cold from the fridge. Sour, refreshing, nutritious, and as heavy as hell. This little beauty can include anything from raw garlic and onions, to a more than generous amount of vinegar and olive oil. And I am one of those who never had problems with raw peppers or cucumbers… Not that I disliked the final result, mind, and I actually tolerate raw flavours much more now than then.
“I’d like to have half a kilo of cherries, please”
“You know” said the old lady on the other side of the counter “I just had them for lunch, they are really sweet. But don’t buy more, or you’ll get problems with your belly!”
“You are right. And what about the prunes? Which ones should I buy?”
“Try the yellow ones – you see, they don’t look like much. They are small and irregular. But do taste one. You don’t need to wash them, they are unsprayed”
“They are an old variety, ripening right now in the fields. Our producers sell them at quite a high price, but I think they are worth it.”
Sardinia boasts great landscapes, lots of historical sights, fresh mediterranean food with a unique and interesting twist, and the most beautiful and clean sea. But above all, what really won my heart was how nice the people were. The other thing that filled my eyes with tears as soon as I arrived there was the smell, and that is really difficult to describe. I tend to forget it as soon as I leave. It is the distinctive smell the Mediterranean Sea has, and that has become the signature of homesickness to me: warm and salty water, completely different from the way the ocean smells, and all the typical bushes that grow by it, rosemary, sage, helichrysum, myrtus, wild fennel. The thirsty, dry land. Dried grass. Olive trees.