On the way from Tuscany to Switzerland we stopped for lunch in Parma to check out the cheese. Witness the big Parmesan cheese on display on the street into the old part of town. I've edited out my friend posing beside it in a Homer Simpson drool. Mmm...big parmesan cheese.
Parma was bizarre. It was a weekday lunchtime but the whole town was completely dead! We only had about 90 minutes, so after a fairly mediocre pasta lunch (bit disappointing, that), we wandered around the streets. The Duomo was closed for lunch and there wasn't a single soul in the square or neighbouring streets. It was freaky, like a nuclear bomb had exploded and taken the entire Parma population with it. In reality, everybody was probably home having lunch and a siesta, but it gave a strange, other-worldly feel to the place. We also discovered it's possible to wander Parma without a map, and still find your way back to the bus.
Despite the fairly mediocre pasta from the cafe near the Duomo, they did a pretty good insalata caprese: tomato, mozarella, olive oil and herbs. Every example of this I tried in Italy was good; their tomatoes are just so much better than what we get here. It's hard to go back to lacklustre tomatoes now, and I do know at least one person who has switched to the expensive, vine-ripened variety since his return, even though it's causing pain in his hip pocket.
Some discussion on herbs: I know some of us were disappointed when the insalate came with dried oregano rather than fresh basil, but I think it's pretty standard. I've had it with dried herbs made by Italian relatives, so I don't think it necessarily means it's a more low-rent version (although in this cafe, it probably was!).
One of our friends decided to wander the local market instead of sitting down for lunch, and found a stall with interesting antipasti being made into rolls. Having had more than her share of bread and cheese in the past few days she waved her arms around and managed to indicate she just wanted fillings, not bread. Her point came across and she said it was one of the best lunches she had on the whole trip. Wish I'd joined her! Check out the other local food speciality: Parma ham. Ooooh yum.
Back on the bus, a few people who decided to sight-see rather than sit down for lunch had a picnic enroute. One guy had bought a container of local parmesan he passed around the bus. I took the shot with my phone to send to envious friends ('I'm in the Italian countryside enjoying local parmesan...such are the travails of my life...') as part of my series of SMS photos of European cheeses...
It was excellent cheese. The guy with the shirt sleeve took out his pocket knife and cut up a few local apples to eat with it. Perfect combination.
Confectionary garnering the most comment on the trip. The baboon's bum cake. Apparently a local Parma speciality that unfortunately resembled the genitalia of an ape. We all took bites of this, and naturally in totally mature, grown up style, have a series of 'bum eating' photos.
It was as sweet and garish as it looked. I have no memory of anybody volunteering to finish it!
Unusual soft-drink of the day: Fanta Chinotto flavour. I'm told it was very good. I love seeing examples of local tastes needing to be represented by multi-national companies. Can't see that Fanta marketing that bitter taste to the Americans!
Labels: Foodie Europe 2006