Traveller’s Tales

On a quick trip back to Italy a few months ago, I managed to dine – finally – at Al Moro. The experience was not my most simpatico Italian meal. The mimeographed menu was endless, which made me nervous. Having grown accustomed to only a few, well-chosen things on offer, not all of them written down. And the waiter didn’t seemed inclined to help us navigate the more than 30 piatti del giorno , 23 fish dishes and lists of contorni. Instead, we used the signposts of a dish prepared ‘al Moro’ and confirmed that the house specialities were the better choices.

It was only by chance that we got to sample a rare, seasonal delicacy, notice of which had been squeezed onto the menu, inexplicably, next to the veal tonnato rather than with the other funghi dishes.

Credit to Minchilli, a true aficionado of Italian produce, for teaching me about ovoli: rare, egg-shaped mushrooms which have a short season in the autumn. Sliced paper thin and sautéed, they have a subtle, buttery flavor and a distinctive yellow colour.

I ordered a single serving for the table and it elevated an evening of Italian standards to a higher gastronomic plane. The ovoli were exquisite, and chances are I’ll never eat them again.

Italians know their relationship with food to be a dynamic, social adventure. But what I remember about the breakthrough scene in the film Eat, Pray, Love (which was meant to be a Valentine to Italy’s cusine), when Julia Roberts shows she has learned to order a meal in Italian, is that she sticks to the menu and uses the waiter as a messenger, not a co-conspirator and guide. It showed me she still had some way to go before she fully understood the T-shirt slogan I saw on a little boy in Monti: Life is too short not to be Italian.