Friday, October 15, 2010

One thing I miss

I am often asked what I miss the most in terms of food from Italy: is it the pasta, is it the coffee, is it the meat, is the pastries? I don't miss any of these things. You can find most of them abroad (and surprisingly, you can find more GOOD Italian things in Chicago than in Belgium: cheese, cookies...). And those that you can't find, I can probably make. Of course there is going to be the odd thing that I can't make nor can I find it (budini di riso? Sfogliatelle alla ricotta? Spuma?), but there is nothing that I really crave that I can't find or replicate abroad.

With one remarkable exception: the concept of the "bar".

I missed the bar experience when I was in Brussels, and I still miss it here: a bar is a place where you go to have a quick bite. Most of the times, you will have a coffee or a drink while standing at the counter, and you will pick a pastry or (my favorite) a tramezzino, a soft sandwich made with a special white bread, normally filled with tomatoes, tuna, or cheese or ham.

What's all the fuss, you may say? You can have a coffee and a sandwich everywhere in the world. Yes, but the concept of the Italian bar is missing. It pissed me off like a lion the fact that in Belgium there was NO WAY to have a quick coffee at a counter: you order the coffee, you drink it standing in two minutes, and off you go. Nope: you have to sit down, wait ten minutes before the waiter decides you are worth of taking an order from (service in Belgium is the worst you will find in the whole freaking world). Then another ten minutes to get the coffee. Then ten minutes to wait for the bill. All in all a good 30 minutes wasted for a (shitty) coffee.

In Chicago things are different, but still not quite there: Starbuck's was obviously built with the Italian bars in mind, but although I like it very much, it is a different experience. I found one bar which is very similar to the Italian thing in Streeterville, a nehighborhood in Chicago. But it is still not the same.

So yes, what do I miss as an expat? A bar.

How about you?
a

22 comments:

Ana O'Reilly said...

I know exactly what you mean. We have the same kind of thing in Argentina (we have such a deep Italian influence - even my maiden name is Italian: Astri).

The modern bars and coffee shops are crap for that but the old ones..ahhh bliss! You go up to the bar, order a coffee and drink it "de parado" (standing)

I miss home now!

Speculoosaddict said...

Being Belgian, I know the most logical thing for me to miss would be the fries. But I feel Chicago offers really good fries. I mean, there's even a frietkot in the French Market.
But what I miss is a good bakery in Chicago. A place where you can buy zillions types of bread but also a place where you can have lunch or coffee. I wish Pain Quotidien would open a location in Chicago. They're already everywhere in NY...

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Hi Ana! Yes, I know of the "tano" influence in Argentina...I guess it only makes sense you have the same type of bars!

Drinking a coffee in a bar should take you five minutes. Just a pleasant break in a busy day. It shouldn't be a half hour affair!!!

Speculoos, the pain quotidien would be an excellent addition!

art said...

Not an expat but I wish that we had the bar experience of your homeland here. I'm sure there are some places like you describe here and there. I will always remember being at a bus station somewhere in Italy, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and admiring the uniformed server behind a bar making coffees and serving pastries--at the bus station. Something like that is part of the culture and sadly, I don't think it will ever find its way into mine in the same way.

Superpiccione said...

I have lived in some varied places in the years. Norway, Italy, Scotland, England and Belgium to mention some of the recent ones.
there is one item which I was never, ever able to find, no matter how hard I looked outside of Italy.

Unripe tomatoes.

We are talking about tomatoes which are greenish, verging on the red; these are the best to have in a salad, because they are crunchy and dont justexplode in your hand when you try to cut them. Can you find them in chicago?

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Art, it is true, the bar thing is deeply part of our culture. I guess like pubs in the UK and fast food in the US.

Superpiccione, true, I have never found it anywhere else. We need to go to Argentina, it seems...

As for the tomatoes, I know this will sound odd, but I have NEVER seen as many varieties of tomatoes as here in the Midwest...

Fabrizio Cariani said...

dude, haven't you ever heard of espresso machines
...
*ducks*
...

I'm joking, of course. I actually miss the opposite experience: when I go back to Italy, I miss sit down cafes where I can actually pull out my laptop and work (as well as look at the crowd).

Tuscan foodie in America said...

True, Fabrizio! When I am in Europe I also miss that now...I guess this means I always have somehing to complain...

orangeek said...

did you ever try the 'lavazza' bars in Chicago? or maybe they were 'illy'... I can't remember; there is one near the Sears Tower.
anyway, once we tried with jackie to have a quick espresso right at the counter because we were in a hurry. The waitress was TERRIFIED: she was nervous, seeing us right in front of her, waiting. she didn't know what our intentions were. She probably thought we wanted to robber that place :)

orangeek said...

Willis Tower, btw. :P

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Ah ah - I can totally see this happening! I have been to Lavazza, but as you say, they still want to serve you at the table. Sadly, starbuck's is closer to the real Italian experience than Lavazza...

orangeek said...

starbucks... maybe, besides the espresso they serve! once I asked for an espresso and the guy asked me "double shot?" "no, thank you, just a single". so after a few seconds "oh sorry, I made a double. is it ok for you? same price!" and I "no, sorry, I prefer a single" and he was like "whaat? I give you a double for a price of a single one and you say no???". sti ammeregani... :P

via said...

Did you see this NYT article? Maybe coffee bars like this will migrant into the Midwest: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/25/dining/25coffee.html?_r=1

Tuscan foodie in America said...

orange, I wasn't talking about the coffe per se, just the experience of being able to order something and just leave!

VIA, this is great news! Hopefully the trend will expand...

JT said...

Try ROM, I go to the one in the park at Lakeshore East every afternnon for a "stand up espresso," a habit I picked up in Venice, in an actual cup with a saucer, the whole affair takes a few minutes, they also have sandwiches and gelato which I am sure you could eat while standing. While they do have seating they also have a "table" against the window which is just for standing.

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Hi JT, thanks for the tip! I didn't know ROM. I will pay a visit!

Krista said...

I'm a reverse expat...just moved back to Chicago in August after living in London for 6.5 years. Right now, I'm missing markets...like Brick Lane and Columbia Road and--most importantly--Borough Market. Street food. My office in London was very close to Whitecross Street, which at lunchtime, became this pedestrian zone of food stalls. Particularly fell in love with a falafel stand called Hoxton Beach.

And I miss pubs. Cozy pubs with fireplaces. Where I can curl up with the newspaper and a pint--alone--and that's really entirely normal. It seems like here in Chicago, every bar has a TV screen showing some sort of sport. We need to detach ourselves from the boobtube!

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Hi Krista, welcome! I have never lived in London, although we were almost to move there instead than to Chicago...But you are right about the bars and TV here. On the other hand, the concept of 'sports bar' doesn't exist on the other side of the pond!

Anonymous said...

As an expat... parlare e scrivere in italiano e siccome sono fiorentino mi mancano alcuni piatti per fare i quali e' difficile reperire ingredienti anche in Seattle.Mi manca il lampredotto, la ribollita, il cibreo, alcuni piatti fatti con il coniglio e il PESCE! Gli americani non sanno mangiare il pesce e consumano a mala pena 10 tipi di pesce... che tristezza.

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Ciao anonimo, benvenuto! Anche te un toscano in trasferta? A me quello che stupisce piu' del pesce e' il fatto che per trova' un conigliolo bisogna fare il giro delle sette chiese...

Anonymous said...

Verissimo e quando lo trovi ti chiedono $15-$20 al kg se non di piu'. Anche i piccioni li trovo con difficolta', cosi' come il fagiano e come fiorentino-toscano e' dura. Scusa se scrivo in italiano, ma come ti ho detto... mi manca.

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Mah, io del fagiano e del piccione soffro meno. Mio padre era cacciatore quando ero piccino, ma a mia mamma ste robe non piacevano, quindi in casa non c'entravano.

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