Naples 101

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Although Naples is the third largest city in Italy, it is not as well known as its more popular neighbors to the north, like Rome, Florence, and Venice. That’s why we’ve brought in guest poster Gabriella Sannino to tell us the basics about her adopted hometown. Continue reading Naples 101

How to Eat Fish in Venice

Dining is one of the best parts of the Italy travel experience. Of course, as you’ve probably read before, there are rules when it comes to enjoying a meal in Italy. I hate rules. But I do appreciate tradition, as well as learning about how Italians use and eat different ingredients.

So I was excited when Nan McElroy, author of the Living Venice Blog and the “Instructions for Use” travel series, approached me with a post about eating fish in Venice. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I did and I also hope that her tips come in handy when you’re in Venice for your next dining adventure.

Nosh Venice Fish, But Leave That Lemon Alone: Advice from a Fresh Fish Fanatic

Venice CalamariYou’re town for a few days, for the Biennale, for the Film Festival, for the Regata Storica; before cruise, after cruise, or for the month, and tonight, you’ve chosen the restaurant where you’ll treat yourself to Venice’s precious pesce.

If you’ve done your homework and chosen your eatery carefully, you’ll rarely be disappointed. Even non-fish fans, if they can be tempted, become converts, as often this freshest of fish bears no resemblance to the more common frozen fare — something that, should a restaurant even consider serving to a local, will at best cause them never to return; at worst, incite a heated argument that can end with the guest either storming out or being asked to leave. Harrumph.

Venice has always treasured (if not totally depended upon) its fish, whether from the lagoon or the upper Adriatic, and never tires of finding new ways to consume it and serve it to their guests. You’ll select from baked, grilled, sauteed, raw and even whipped versions of familiar (or less so) species; flat, fat, large and small; shellfish and mollusks, with and without shells, without and without backbones. Traditionalists will opt for the fabulous frittura, often rating various locales’ versions on crispness, abundance, and the fish-to-vegetable ratio — each important when defending your choice for the best fritto misto fried fish platter in town.

Fish Plate with LemonAnd the lemon wedge? A common fish-dish accompaniment anywhere else in the world, but  to a Venetian fish purist an appalling idea. Figurati should a slice wend its way to the plate.

Come mai, why is that? Because (explained the self-proclaimed fresh fish purist), the fish served at your dining table is a treasured thing: it’s just arrived from the sea (or better have), “swimming with its brothers” as they say, only hours ago; it’s expensive (we had to wait years for that branzino to get to a catchable age — not six- or 12-months for a force-fed farm-raised antibiotic-ingesting mutant); and a delicacy, whether a tiny schie lagoon shrimp, a robust rombo turbot, or a magnificent blue or yellow fin wrestled from the Japanese sushi trade.

And you want to put lemon on it? Macché! Don’t even think about it.

Branzino fishIt’s true — where lemons are concerned, what’s obvious to maniacal fresh-fish devotees may not be so obvious to everyone else. If you ask a few of them, they’ll tell you there are actually some fairly logical reasons to let the lemon lie.

First, the fresh fish you find served in Venice have marvelous, sometimes delicate flavors (mostly non-fishy, by the way); the chef has prepared today’s catch to enhance them. If you smother them with lemon juice, what will you taste? In their eyes, the lemon homogenizes these very distinctive fish dishes — and nobody wants that. In fact, lemon is more for fish that’s, well, been around, that has defects to overcome — not for fresh fish flesh. Finally, expert fryers will work tirelessly to serve you the crispiest frittura possible. So what happens when you squeeeeeeze a half of lemon over the mound of crunchy fried fish?

Lemon mush, that’s what. Una tragedia, a real heart-breaker.

In a labor-saving move, or perhaps because they lack the fish-faithful culture of a born-and-raised Venetian, many restaurants have just given in and included the lemon as garnish. There are other eateries though, who will flat refuse to serve you the lemon (along with any sort of grated cheese, by the way), so best be prepared.

Rhombo ChiodatoWhy not compromise? Before you request a lemon wedge, or crush the one on your plate over its contents out of habit, why not simply sample what’s been served to you as is? If you’re eating in a restaurant famous for its fish, you’ll be surprised at how unnecessary the lemon might seem (try a light olive oil drizzle if you must). And — you’ll be immediately categorized as a informed fish fan. (When in Venice, and all that…)

So, will you become Venice’s next fish purist? Who’s to say? In any case, the fresh fish found here is certainly worth indulging in. Enjoy!

Scenic Drive on the Amalfi Coast

Positano Amalfi Coast
Italy is full of scenic drives. There are the honey-colored sunsets of Tuscany, sepia-toned ruins of Ostia, and the snow-capped cityscapes of Torino. But if you want a ride with the bluest of blues then the only place to find yourself is along Campania’s La Costiera Amalfitana, The Amalfi Coast. This coastal road links Sorrento with Salerno and is dotted with candy-colored fishing ports and fortified ancient towers. There is so much to see on this magnificent stretch of road that your agenda should include several different itineraries because it is difficult to tackle it in just one day. So, rent a car and explore the road that is sure to take your breath away as you climb the hills out of Sorrento and head toward key stops along the way to Salerno.

Positano Amalfi Coast
1.    Positano – There is a lovely little lemonade stand just before reaching Positano.  It affords those postcard views you always see of this famous cliff-side town.  The rest stop itself caters to tour buses but ignore the masses and climb down the steps for some of the best photo ops you can imagine.  Parking is extremely difficult in the heart of Positano and after taking your great shots from the rest stop you would be much better off bypassing the center and heading further south.

Furore Room with a View Amalfi Coast
2.    Furore – is an ancient municipality highlighted by a beach at the bottom of a towering fjord, which then rises some 550 meters to the village of Agerola. Furore is at once majestic in its raw beauty with mountains that reach toward the sky and waves that crash along the fortified towers which dot the coastline. Furore itself is comprised of several smaller villages, one of which is the pretty port of Praiano.

Praiano San Gennaro Amalfi Coast
3.    Praiano – is an ancient fishing borgo. (OK, so all of these villages offer fishing but that’s just how it is when you’re a coastal community!) Again parking is difficult but a stop in Praiano is worth it if you can climb down to the piazza in front of the oft-photographed Church of San Gennaro.  Its dome rises before you as you come around the bend and is even more spectacular when viewed from a boat on the water.  You should also make your way down the steep and winding road which leads you to the beach. It may be small in size but is enormously full of charm and the warmth of the locals who greet everyone as old friends.

amalfi coast
4.    Amalfi –comes upon you as a pleasant surprise, as the road directs you to the port and the bustling area around the marina. It is hard to imagine that this tourist-filled area was once a major maritime powerhouse for over 400 years. A leading trading port in the Mediterranean between 839 and 1200, Amalfi has kept many of its ancient traditions alive in the 21st century and has been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Parking here, as in most of the ancient Amalfi Coast villages, is difficult but is best found if you turn right at the central taxi stop and head toward the end of the pier. Then journey up the hill and absorb the view that awaits you in Amalfi’s central Piazza del Duomo. Your first glimpse of St. Andrew’s Cathedral is something not easily conveyed in words or photos.

La Costiera Amalfitana is more than just scenic drive in Italy.  It is a road of dreams and I have but barely scratched its surface.

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Lisa Fantino is an award-winning journalist-turned attorney and nearly fanatical vagabond.  Her passport is always at the ready and she is the Italy travel consultant behind Wanderlust Women Travel and the Italy destination wedding site Wanderlust Weddings; she also writes travel features for MNUI Travel Insurance.

Photos © Emilio Labrador, Lisa Fantino (1, 2), nenita_casuga, toastbrot81