Turin: A gastronomic delight
Turin may not be the first city that jumps to mind when one plans a vacation to Italy, but after a visit there last October it has won a place in my gastronomical heart. Located in the northwest of Italy bordering the Alps, Turin comes with promises of fresh white truffles in the fall and some of the best chocolate in the world. With appetites fit for foodies, 4 days to spare and a pasta-loving toddler in tow, my husband and I decided to visit this industrial city in search for some authentic regional cuisine. As we had already been to Venice where the focus was seafood, and Florence where meat and rich pasta were the stars, it was fascinating for us to experience Italian cuisine that bore little resemblance to the hearty fare we had come to associate it with.
Our first meal in Turin was dinner at a small cafe. We had insisted that our hotel concierge suggest a place frequented by locals. With such few days to spare we did not want to get caught in any tourist traps. I am glad we did so as we dined that night on a spectacular meal the highlight of which was “Agnolotti”. This is a dish very specific to the region comprising parcels of pasta stuffed with beef, much like ravioli but the difference lies in its sauce. Ravioli is usually accompanied by either a heavy marinara sauce or creamy alfredo but Agnolotti is served in a delicate sauce made from the broth of the meat that is used for the stuffing and a touch of butter, topped with freshly grated parmesan. Cheese is never used to stuff the pasta and the sauce is always light in order to not over power the taste of the pasta parcels.
Day two, we decided to focus our food search on the precious white truffles of Alba. I wish we had left this for later, as once we found menus with truffles we were hooked and this was a very expensive habit to nurse. Some may regard truffles as the Birken of fungi, however I disagree as Birkens are highly over-rated. White truffles are anything but. I admit, a part of me wanted to not like them to come back from the land of the white truffles claiming that I cannot understand what the hype is about, but sadly this was not the case. Something about the earthiness of the white truffles made me want them on everything that was served. My gluttony was chided by one of the chefs who explained that truffles must be enjoyed only with something that has understated flavours such as plain buttered pasta or fried eggs. I did have my way by requesting them on my steak but realized how erroneous it was. The beef completely overwhelmed the truffles and it was a waste of some hard-earned euros.
Truffles are either black or white, with white being more precious. They are extremely rare and are a product of a symbiotic relationship within the roots of certain trees in specific areas during specific times of the year (typically September to December) Truffle hunters, accompanied by dogs, that have been especially trained to sniff out truffles are the only people who can find them. We were very interested in going on a truffle hunt but as the toddler may not have enjoyed four hours of a dog sniffing at trees we decided to leave it for a future date.
Clearly Italian’s take their food very seriously, and Turin is no exception. Most meals focused on fresh local ingredients and menus everywhere reflected different nuances of the seasonal produce. It comes as no surprise that Turin is also host of a biennial “Slow Food” festival. The Slow Food movement is a great reaction to fast food and has a global focus on preserving food traditions and food sources across the world and paying back to the cultivators.
Turin is also the place where the first version of chocolate as we know it today (solid bars) originated about 300 years ago. Earlier, chocolate was available only as a beverage. We had to obviously grudgingly indulge in this part of history too. The city is famous for its spectacular chocolate and hazelnut combination called “Gianduiotto” which is also found as an ice-cream flavour. The Ferrero SpA factory, which manufactures Nutella and Ferrero Rocher chocolates, is in this region as well. Turin hosts the annual chocolate festival which is nothing short of a two-week long chocoholic’s paradise with chocolate makers from around Europe providing chocolate education and plenty samples.
Four days just did not seem enough to try everything but to avoid further expanding waistlines and decreasing finances we had to finally bid farewell to this city of unexpected treasures. As far as the toddler goes, the moment we landed on Italian soil, he had decided he was over pasta and the entire duration of our trip insisted on eating chicken fingers – for every single meal. Gotta love my unpredictable gourmet!
Aida Khan is a freelancer based out of Islamabad who travels frequently around and out of Pakistan in search of fabulous food. Her most recent assignment is creating healthy concoctions for her toddler’s discerning palette.
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