The Value of Authenticity

In today’s world authentic objects are being eroded by economics, globalization and the perception of value.  Some though still hold on to the values, processes, skills and knowledge to continue to create authentic products (and ideas) everyday.  To some these objects have become so rare and scarce that they have turned into luxury goods.  What was available to many in the past because of circumstance are now available to a few because of globalization and the value placed on traditional methods of production.
Making Pasta

Globalization and cheap travel have created a mobile world where people are able to move (mostly) freely and openly.  Italy, as always, represents a destination of a lifetime for a lot of travelers.  The art, food, history and natural beauty draw throngs of tourists to its cities and countryside each year.  Visiting cities like Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice you are confronted by Italy, past – present – future.  From the ancient churches and buildings, to the Chinese people running pizza shops to the Africans selling knockoff designer handbags in the streets, as well as the old men enjoying an early morning drink together, chatting about the day.  People seeking out the true Italy, or Italy off the beaten path will have a hard time discovering the undiscovered, especially in the before mentioned cities.  It is left to people to create their own undiscovered experiences in the places that have already been discovered.

Seeking authenticity in Italian art and architecture people choose to go to Venice instead of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.  People chose to come to see the true David statue in Florence instead of a picture online, or a postcard sent by a friend.  What are they looking for?  Are they seeking out their own experience, or merely to see it, and report back?  If you come to Florence and find out that the real David has been hidden away in a vault somewhere, a lot of people would be let down.  To go to Venice and find that the beautiful facades of the buildings are actually hidden behind “look alike” pieces of fabric, a disaster.  We value authenticity in these observations – art, buildings; pieces of culture that have existed for many centuries.

Pisa

So why do tourists in Italy accept and are willing to pay for authentic art, architecture and physical culture like this, but when it comes to food will settle for frozen pizza, spaghetti & meatballs and fettuccine Alfredo as well as so called authentic Italian food prepared by immigrants from other countries?  What isn’t transmitted to these people, despite the large amount of guide books and travel pages on the internet, is that in Italy, food is regional and that although many Italians disregard this and also eat pizza in Venice, they at least have an understanding that pizza in Venice will not be, by any standard, real or authentic.  Whereas for some, the same pizza will represent their entire knowledge and quest for pizza in Italy, resulting in their elation as the best pizza in the world, given the beautiful surroundings, atmosphere – a reaction that is based more on emotion and hunger.  Some people think to eat well in Italy you have to spend a lot of money.  This is not necessarily true and there is evidence to prove it.  You can spend a lot of money, but that doesn’t guarantee you more authentic food.  Some people are merely indifferent.  Taste education is a process, a long process that is also a result of your culture, but one that can also be learned later in life.

Authentic, local, well made Italian food is affordable for most tourists.  Those who are willing to pay €20 a person for a museum pass but much less for food are missing out on a very important, critical piece of Italian culture and history.  The food of a place is so strongly linked to the society, culture and people that to overlook it amounts to missing out on a greater cultural understanding, not to mention, some amazing food with real flavors, true to season and place.  Economy creeps into this picture because people perceive value differently when thinking about art vs. food.  To pay for unauthentic art is not possible for the tourist, but to pay for unauthentic food is not only possible but also probable.  Research into what is an authentic place to eat, and what to order takes more time than to map out a walking path to the Pantheon.

Slow Fish-23

The value of authenticity is being changed by economy, but globalization, by other extenuating factors.  People have their own priorities.  For some, it is art, for others, food.  Perhaps a better priority is seeking authenticity, whatever that means to you, in your travels.

This post is my submission to be part of Team Florens and the theme that is presented here will be one that is discussed and debated during the Florens 2012 event.

www.fondazioneflorens.it.

 

 

 

Italy

It’s not everyone’s ideal, but sometimes it is mine.  To think of these things reminds me of Bra first of all, and how, after you’ve spent your life in other parts of the world going back to a place where this type of living is offered is a comforting thought.  I might add a good local market.

“In a small town, we don’t just want a congenial barber and a well stocked news stand.  We want professionally made coffee and a proper pizza.  We want a couple of streets to stroll down, an avenue to jog along, a pool to swim in and a cinema for a bit of entertainment.  We want a functioning courthouse, a reassuring hospital, a consoling church and an unintimidating cemetery.  We want a new university and an old theatre house.  We want football fields and town councillors we can pester in the bar.  We want to see the mountains beyond the level crossing when the weather’s good and the air is clear.  We want footsteps on cobbled streets in the night, yellow lights to tinge the mist and bell towers we can recognize from a distance.  We want doctors and lawyers who can translate abstract concepts into our dialect — my father can — and people with a kind word and a smile for everyone…We want all these things and in Crema we have them.”

By: Beppe Severgnini

Scannabue — Turin

You don’t need to look far in Piedmont for a good meal.  Between the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato regions, there are a host of famous, well know restaurants that range from the traditional to the gourmet.  For some travelers, it seems that the capitol of Piedmont, Turin, is just a stopping off point more than a place to linger.  Turin is perhaps overlooked as a food destination.  For those do venture into the orderly and somewhat rigid city of design, cars and culture you can be sure that the food is good, sometimes surprisingly so.  The regional foods of the Piedmont are slowing making their way onto the menus abroad.  Carne cruda is becoming a regular as well as vitello tonnato.  The new trend, or movement here it seems though is crafting traditional Piedmontese dishes along with one or two from other regions, normally the south (Calabria, Sicily, Puglia).  The concept is to utilize local and seasonal ingredients from Piedmont, to make dishes normally associated with other places.  It is an excellent and welcome site when menu fatigue sets in and one is done trying each variation of plin con burro e salvia or tagliatelle al ragù.
 

On a cool night in autumn, we visited Scannabue Restaurant in Turin. Arriving early, we were politely asked to wait outside under the heat lamps, and if we like, we can order some wine to have before dinner.  The wine list, which is heavily reliant on Piedmont for it’s reds and whites, was very reasonable and well conceived.  It has a fine representation of the better producers of the Lange, Roero and Monferrato areas, with a few smaller and distinctive producers.  Choosing a Nebbiolo from a winery that we had never heard or tried, Cavallotto we settled into the bottle.  It was full of the traditional, classical tastes of the area: spice and dried fruits, black cherry, a hint of leather in the nose and the finish.  Impressed with the quality, the price, it is a reminder of just how many good wine producers there are in the area.  The wine list also gives a nice mention to a few select wineries that are organic or biodynamic, just the right amount to please those looking for these types of production methods.  If you were interested in drinking something Tuscan, there are several choices as well.  The list of red wines totaled over 100 and was complemented with a nice selection of whites and sparkling wines from Italy and France, paying homage to the neighbor to the North.

 

Scannabue is a small restaurant, which can feel crowed by the 20 or so diners that fit into the dining room.  It is cozy without being plagued by the need to appear too special – it is quiet, reserved and charming.  Set on one corner of a four way stop, the windows open up to a beautiful and stately church overlooking the small corner of Turin.  It is unassuming on the outside, with nothing more than a name scrolled over the door.  The owners, three young entrepreneurs have turned it into a restaurant of distinction for its ability to manage excellent Piedmontese cuisine.  During the day it functions as a café and after the kitchen closes at night, it’s a wine bar.  This is not only a reflection on the difference between eating in the countryside versus the city, but also the changing face of the traditional osteria catering to late night drinkers as well as those seeking a meal.

 

The people of Piedmont are quite strict in their dining.  Most restaurants serve many of the same dishes. The difference comes in the local variation of the preparation, which doesn’t deviate from the original concept of the dish, but instead lets the chef create one that is unique to each establishment.  Scannabue doesn’t hesitate to include on their menu excellent hand pulled tagliatelle, tripe and braised ox cheek in Barolo. I located the pasta con le sarde and made my choice, trying a dish of the south in this northern city. This was, without doubt, prepared in a way that would rival many in Sicily.  It was teeming with ingredients at the peak of freshness; cherry tomatoes, fresh pasta and anchovies.  For my secondi, ox cheek in Barolo.  Here, I realized that the best way to utilize the bread on the table as to soak up the rich and aromatic sauce of Barolo and herbs.  Tender enough to eat with a spoon, the cheek is a very fine piece of meat with a perfect combination of fat and muscle.

 

Dessert is never to be missed in Italy, and in Piedmont especially where you can find classics like panna cotta, pears braised in Dolcetto or torta di nocciole with zabaione.  These are all well prepared at Scannabue, but in autumn you often find desserts made of chestnuts.  Chestnut cake, dry, but with moistness provided by olive oil is more than excellent.  The woody and smoky flavor of the flour gives the cake a unique taste, without being overbearing.  But what would a meal here be without cheese.  Piedmont is known, at least in Italy, for being an excellent producer of beef and dairy.  Some of the best cheese, butter and milk in the country are available here.  Scannabue is very keen to showcase some of these cheeses in their menu giving the diner an excellent assortment of high altitude, pasture cheeses from the Alps such as castelmagno, raschera and cevrin.

 

Piedmont will always represent excellent quality in food and wine.  The challenge is keeping menus fresh while still representing the traditions of the region.  Not all restaurants are taking on this new way of approaching their menu, with a touch of other regions, opening late as a wine bar or taking advantage of local ingredients in new ways.  It is always nice to have a change, or at least an option for change, once in awhile but with the added respect of the traditions and heritage of the region.  Scannabue is successful as a Piedmontese restaurant for this reason.  Turin is not a town to be overlooked for food.  Beyond Scannabue are several other restaurants that are also catering to the traditional and the modern diner.