Italy: Where everything tastes great and nothing ever goes wrong.

Armchair traveller
5 min readJun 13, 2024

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Aperol Spritz and poetry in a little vegan Italian restaurant I know…

The world is a peculiar place. Two million young Italians have left their homeland since 2008, some of them moving to Birmingham. But why? If my armchair experience is anything to go by, they can’t be bored of the food, music, drinks, books or films — and I’d be surprised if they were trying to escape the weather. And yet wherever you go in the world you meet Italians looking for a better life! This is a particularly personal conundrum as my great, great, great, great grandad left Swiss-Italy (Switally™) to move to the UK and so in a way I am too part of the great exodus…

Gnocchi with a nice Italian rose

In addition to joy, the Italians even get some of the world’s best history, a mindboggling array of dates and facts… Their empires include the Roman, the Etruscan, the Catholic, the Venetian and Genoese. They even collapse with style, breaking up into 100s of microstates until… in 1861 the House of Savoy (famous for its cabbages and truffles) brought most of the present states together and then almost immediately went back to Empire building — taking bits of Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia and even Austria into the fold. World War I saw Trento and Trieste included, before Mussolini and his dancing fascists took power and were unceremoniously destroyed. Since 1946 its been a democratic republic… and that is where this week’s book begins, or at least where the first of them begins as I read Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan quartet — four books charting a strong female friendship from the birth of Italian democracy to pretty much the present day. If you haven’t yet read them you probably should, they are beach books with feeling, intelligence, history and anger. They cover politics, sexuality, the complexities of friendship, and the many frustrating flaws of men. Whilst I must admit that by the final book, I had lost love for any of the characters and felt it had all become a bit formulaic I’d none-the-less call the books a publishing triumph…

Sicilian chicken spaghetti with a nice Frappato

…but still not as good as the Italian film le quatro volte. Though not a word is spoken, I was rapt from beginning to end. It stars goats, charcoal and a particularly impressive dog, and if that is not enough to whet your appetite, it tackles the concept of reincarnation with perfection. It was one and a half hours of my life so well spent that I’ll never be the same again. I think it is true to say it was the best film I have ever watched. Michelangelo Frammartino is a genius and I can’t wait to watch more…

Flaming Sambuca

… and I can’t wait to listen to more Italian music, beautiful relaxing Italian music… I only just touched the sides of what is available, not even daring to start listening to opera or rap but none-the-less I have a 62 song 3.5 hour playlist that I put on whenever I need to relax or take myself away from the day to day. And yes it does include Prisencolinensinainciusol

Wines and poetry

…And Ennio Morricone, the soundtrack artist that I listened to whilst attempting to not get hate mail by veganising Sicilian chicken spaghetti. I chose this dish out of the millions of possible Italian regional treats as I had bought my first ever bottle of Frappato, a delicious, light, fruity Sicilian red. We had a wonderful evening but obviously I was unable to create a dish as perfect as when we went out and had actual Italians cook for us… we ate gnocchi, pizza and ravioli, veganised with care and matched with harmonising wines, but nothing prepared us for our final Italian meal… made by one of the Italians who have left the hell that is Italy to come to #BeautifulBirmingham — Pavarotti’s private chef! Though vegan options were lacking, there were great veggie specials on — I remember potato on pizza and lemon on the pasta, I remember a starter of baked bread topped with buffalo mozzarella. I remember wine, and laughter and joy. But I cannot remember the name of a single thing…

Wine, with wine.

…you see it turns out that Italy doesn’t just do incredible savoury food, music, literature, films and wine… it also excels at gelato, tiramisu, coffee and after dinner drinks… These last few weeks have been full of Sambuca, Strega, Montenegro, Amaro and more. Each restaurant seemed to have its own, and it would, of course, have been rude not to try them…

1 litre of limoncello. Done.

And so I have come to my word count, having not even found time to espouse about the joy of reading Italian poetry and trying to get my head around the difference between the regions. But I must stop, thank Italy and the Italians for their travelling ways and for sharing their bounteous culture with us all, everywhere, all the time. And now I head to Jamaica!

Italian vegan nutella!
Pavarotti’s dinner with wine
CALZONE! Oh how I love Calzone…
Vegan aubergiene parmiagana!
all vegetarian and vegan pizza restaurant. This is a lasagna pizza!
Giggle…

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Armchair traveller

Near-zero carbon travel through books, drinks, food, films, music and the magic of living in multicultural #Birmingham.