Volume 11. “Mangia!”- Meeting My Italian Family

Growing up, I always thought we lived an Italian lifestyle. We had a big family and ate spaghetti with meatballs. We put emphasis on both family and food. These were my thoughts of ‘Italian values’ before arriving in Italy. Here, I have discovered that food is a huge part of the culture and families are close. However, there are huge differences from my initial thoughts. For example, I have discovered spaghetti with meatballs is NOT a dish found on the menu. Also, when you think of a ‘close family’, it does not necessarily mean ‘big’. Most Italian families have no more than two kids. When I talk about close families, it is in proximity. Many times families live in the same building on different floors or on the same street. What I thought made me Italian, in reality was was nowhere near the authentic Italian life.

This past weekend, I decided to retrace my roots. I traveled to Sicily where my grandpa’s family is from to meet my relatives and truly experience the authentic Italian lifestyle.

Before I go into any details, here are a few lessons I learned…
1. ‘Mangia!’ means eat in Italian
2. Thou must not refuse to eat food
3. Thou must eat all of the food on your plate
4. Thou must pace yourself when eating
5. Life revolves around food

It was a wonderful experience to meet all of my other family, I had always dreamed of doing this and now I cannot believed it happened.

Flying was gorgeous, we flew from Torino to Trapani on an hour and half flight, the entire way had blue skies. Looking down on Sicily we could see the mountains and countryside farms. Some of my family picked us up from the airport and drove us into the city center to have espresso and a quick bite for lunch. My family kept saying ‘mangia mangia!’ but I had just ate on the airplane so I opted for a light meringue cookie. They interrogated me to know exactly when and what I last ate before letting me off of the hook!

Expecting them to just drop us off at the Airbnb and meeting up later for dinner, they came with us to check into the room and befriended the front desk man. To my surprise, they paraded behind us to the room and made themselves at home. They told us we must join them at their house. So we dropped our bags and went to their house in a tiny Fiat. Their house was conveniently located right next to their brother and sister. After entering any of these houses, they would immediately give us a tour… even showing us the closets! Keep in mind, none of these people spoke English. I believe they did not even speak Italian, they spoke the Sicilian dialect with their hands constantly moving. I only understood 30% of what they said but I used google translate and hand motions communicate.

The next day, we went to their house for a big lunch with appetizers, first, second, third courses and dessert with espresso. I honestly would have stopped eating after the first course but I was encouraged to ‘mangia mangia!’. After the second course, I thought I could not possibly eat more. I left the rest of the food on my plate but received a very negative response from my family. I have no idea what they were saying but she said ‘bravo’ to everyone with clean plates, then turned to me with a stern look saying, ‘mangia mangia!’. Although I felt like I was going to explode, I kept eating. The food was wonderful but I am a tiny person and probably ate my weight in potatoes, lasagna, artichokes, olives, beef patties, salad, cake, and cookies. It was insane!
Every meal after this was the same, but I learned I must always have food on my plate or else I would have to eat more!

My favorite part of the weekend was visiting the little house my great grandpa was actually born in. We also got to walk through his 200 olive trees. One of my great grandpa’s brother’s sons still makes olive oil and tends a beautiful garden with pomegranate, persimmon, cauliflower, tons of artichokes, garlic, peas, tomatoes, pears, lemons, oranges, and so many more crops. My family picked a five gallon bucket full of lemons and gave it to us to take home but I had only brought my backpack and was afraid I could not take all of them. (What would I do with five gallons of lemons!) I mean I really love lemons, I even enjoy eating them (yeah I know it’s weird but they are really good) but I was much happier when they transferred about 4 kilos to a bag. My family told me as I was leaving, “A lemon a day keeps the doctor away.” So that is my plan and I could not be more proud to eat lemons from my great grandpa’s trees. After this experience, I have the goal of having a lemon tree when I am older. If I live in an area that is too cold, I will have to build a greenhouse! This experience was priceless and I plan on staying in touch with them so they can one day visit me in America!

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Buenosera 🙂

Volume 10. The Biggest Food Fight in Italy

Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnivale… all of these are different names for the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Depending where you are from, depends how you celebrate the holiday. This year, I traveled to the little town of Ivrea to participate in their Carnevale celebration, ‘Battaglia delle Arance’ (battle of the oranges).

Yes. You heard that right, this town devotes an entire day to have a food fight… A dream come true for me (if you don’t know me, you should know I have an obsession with food). I arrived two hours before the battle and visited each square where the battles would take place. The potential energy was real, countless pallets of oranges lined the squares but no one touched an orange until 2pm. It has always been my dream to have Sicilian oranges flying around me so, I could reach out to catch one (or five) and eat them!

The battle, although sounds and looks unorganized, I learned was very strategic. Rules and specific teams existed, including two different types of teams. Teams on foot and teams in horse drawn carriages. The teams on foot were stationed in different squares through the the town. The battle began after a carriage entered the square. The carriage would travel through the crowded square, while pummeling oranges at their opposing team (and vice versa). Once the carriage made its way around the square the battle was over and would leave to the next square as a different carriage team entered so the battle started again. Judges were present to determine the winning cart and the winning square. I have no idea how the teams actually scored points, but it was very fun to watch and participate in!

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At 2pm, the first oranges were thrown. From this point forward, there was a consistent battle throughout the town. The sweet citrus aroma filled the streets. As a bystander, you had to wear a red hat or else someone would yell ‘capelli’ and throw oranges at your head. I saw many black eyes so, I opted to wear the red hat.

Two hours into the battle, I could not believe it was still happening. The streets started to disappear, replaced by orange mush.

Wanting to get in on the action, I headed toward the center of a square to see the battle up close. I had my red hat on so no one threw oranges at me on purpose however, I did get hit a few times. When you are so close to the action, it is nearly impossible to not get hit! After watching so many people toss oranges I ditched my red hat so I could participate, throwing oranges at the carriage. Wading in six inches of orange slush, my boots were covered with orange. My jacket, previously navy blue, looked brown. It was a glorious mess! I caught oranges out of the air to then rip them open and eat the juice before discarding the rest of the fruit on the street.

An hour before the end, I was surprised to see a few pallets of oranges still left, I had stepped on so many oranges and felt like I ate so many more, I thought they would have run out by now! I looked around to see numerous black eyes, bloody faces and completely wrecked clothing. Everyone was having fun and was super happy to be in Ivera celebrating Carnevale. This type of event would never work in the United States! It was a wonderful experience, I would love to be a part of it again. When I get back in the States and am asked what is something I did not expect about Italy, this event will be number one in my mind. I never expected to participate in a huge food fight. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Buenosera xoxo