We’re taking this week to get to know each other a little, dear readers. It doesn’t mean there won’t be anything food related, but if you’re here to see what I ate for dinner, check back next week.
If you recognize those words, it’s probably because a long time ago, you were in third grade. And you read Strega Nona. You know, the story by Tomie dePaola about Big Anthony, who doesn’t know what’s good for him and thinks he can make pasta as well as this beloved, grandmother figure. Spoiler alert: he can’t–hilarity ensues.
While in Rome, my goal was, of course, to eat like a local. No neon-sign “OPEN,” or dinner at 6:30 for me, thank you. I’d wander the roads with my husband in tow, till we found a suitable establishment. Somewhere that recognizes the sacredness of gnocchi Thursday, and wine at any hour and every meal. And oh, was I ever discerning. It didn’t matter how hungry we were, if I thought a place was too touristy, it was onward! for the two of us.
It’s how I ended up eating a meal cooked by Strega Nona herself.
My husband and I wandered off on the 27th of December, in search of a sandwich shop about which our friends raved. It wasn’t too close, but we figured by the time we arrived, we’d be ready to mangia with the best of them. And then we couldn’t find it. And then I was starving. And then it was closed. And then I was cranky. We settled on the closest available option, Trattoria Der Pallaro. It looked neighborhood-y enough, but by this point in our trip we found that it was really hard to tell whether you were about to eat a traditional Roman meal, or a touristy bowl of pasta.
We were escorted to a little table upon my “per due” request, and the waiter came over. As the three of us stumbled through some sort of Spanglish-Italian conversation, we established that 1. No, we did not know “how it works here,” and 2. There is no menu at Trattoria Der Pallaro. There is food and they will bring it to your table and you will eat it. The waiter left and my husband broke it down for me, adding elaborations like, “I bet it’s eel,” or, “Tripe is a traditional Roman food, so I’m sure that will be on the table somewhere.”
Remember that I was tired. And hungry. That’s the worst possible Jennie you could encounter. She’s a train wreck. She does not want to entertain the possibility that she might need to eat tripe.
I threw a minor temper tantrum, as much as one can throw a temper tantrum in a small, family-run operation when others are arms-length away. We were seated. We couldn’t up and leave.
And of course, it was the best. meal. ever. All the dishes you see above proceeded out to our table in staggering portions, over the course of two hours. Strega Nona’s husband came over mid-bite of pork, put his hand over mine, and helped me dip my forkful back in the serving bowl of sauce. That’s not rude in Italy? I knew I would like it here! I didn’t touch another bite for a full 24 hours. This meal helped me understand the word sustenance.
This is probably about the place I should insert a knowing comment, like, I’ll never complain about what’s for lunch again. But I’m picky, and so I will. Besides, it will never live up to my Italian lunch to end all lunches.