During a conversation with an Italian friend the other day, the subject of limoncello came up. By the by, it’s curious how often Italians will end up talking about food or drink–it’s like an Italian version of Godwin’s Law–if a conversation goes on for long enough, someone will mention their favourite pasta sauce. But I digress! I mentioned how I like to drink limoncello with a dash of tonic water and ice.
This drink never fails to remind me of summer days sitting in a café on the edge of a piazza, quenching my thirst while the heat beats my face. This drink is cold, or iced, lemon tea. Tè freddo (cold tea) as it is known, is a popular drink that is consumed widely throughout Italy. It is typically available in lemon and peach flavours, but there also some other varieties such as green tea. Yes, I probably should have titled this post “Iced tea” but the lemon variety is what I tend to associate with this drink–yes, I really ought to try the peach one next time!
I really have to start my post on this wonderful dessert by talking about a gripe of mine. The word ‘tiramisù’ seems to be universally translated as “pick me up”, when in reality it should be “pull me up.” The verb “tirare” (as in “tira mi su”) means “to pull”. The English word “to pick” has several meanings and there is no direct translation into Italian.
Whenever I’m in Italy, I can’t help but notice the difference when it comes to ice cream. Even one bought from the smallest of shops on the most humble of piazzas seems to taste far better than even the most expensive varieties you can find in a typical British supermarket. Why is that? What is the secret ingredient?
Until relatively recently, I never quite understood the appeal in Italy of the espresso. It seemed a pointless drink. Barely a mouthful, it would be over before you’d even started drinking it. How could it possibly be satisfying? However, having an espresso in the morning (or at any other time of day, mind you) seems to be a national pastime of sorts. There is even (and I’m not joking) a National Espresso Institute in Italy, which defines the exact portions and temperatures for making an ‘espresso’.
Of the things I missed when I was living in Italy were the sliced loaves of bread that are a staple of shopping in the UK. When we went to the supermarket, the only thing similar was hidden away on a small top shelf at the edge of the bakery area and labelled something like “American style”. It was expensive too, so it didn’t become part of our regular shopping. On the odd occasion when we bought a small pack, it was like tasting a small piece of ‘home’. How strange that putting together two slices of the soft white bread and spreading some peanut butter or chocolate spread would remind me of life back in Scotland.
On the Alitalia flight to Trieste on my way back to Italy, I remember when the hostesses were pushing the drinks trolley down the aisle and offering a free drink and biscuits to the passengers. Many of the passengers were, of course, asking for their drink in English. It would have been all to easy to do the same but I really wanted to start the trip off on the right foot by speaking entirely in Italian. What on earth was the Italian for orange juice? Succo d’arancia? Was it really ‘succo’? Even though I wasn’t 100% sure, I decided to try anyway. Happily, of course, I was understood and I soon received a little plastic cup and pack of biscuits.