When taking an overnight flight to Europe from the United States, the first day’s lunch is often the worse meal of the entire trip. This is especially true when circumstances combine to make for a difficult arrival. And my arrival in Milan for a three week sojourn in Italy was no exception. First there was the extreme turbulence that prevented breakfast from being served until 15 minutes prior to landing. And of course there were the usual delays with baggage and customs. Then there were problems with one of the rental cars at Malpensa Airport which caused an hour delay while we waited for Hertz to find a working car for us. And finally, there was the exhausting 2 ½ hour drive from Milan to Rapallo, just south of Genoa on the Italian Riviera. To me, Italy is the Shangri-La of the culinary world, so the last thing I wanted to do was to start the trip off on the wrong foot and have a bad meal. Or end up going someplace ridiculous, like I did when I arrived in Geneva on my first trip to Europe back in the 1970’s when my jet-lagged brain decided it was a good idea to have my first meal in Europe at a British hamburger chain.
Anticipating these difficulties, and being fully aware that my decision-making powers would be severely compromised upon arrival, I decided to make prior arrangements for lunch. That way the first meal in Italy for my group would be a success. Oh, did I mention that I was leading a group of nine family members and friends? Yet another reason to plan in advance, rather than wandering the streets aimlessly in search of a restaurant that would accommodate such a large group.
After a discussion with the Manager at Hotel Italia & Lido, my hotel in Rapallo, she recommended Parla Come Mangi, an Enoteca in the heart of the pedestrian quarter of Rapallo that does private events. So, I contacted them and arranged for a private tasting in the store before they opened to the public. And what could be better than a sampling of local cheeses, cured meats and an assortment of Italian wines surrounded by local cheeses, cured meats and an assortment of Italian wines?
Parla Come Mangi, a traditional botega-enoteca, was founded in 1997 and is a family-owned business that is now in its 4th generation of shopkeepers. It is an old-school store where the shopkeepers are not merely clerks, but craftsmen who are knowledgeable about every facet of the food products that are available for purchase. As we walked into the shop, we received a hearty Benvenuti from Guido, who was, as the hotel manager promised, a “real charmer who speaks fluent English”. He is also a great showman (something he picked up during his training as an actor) whose enthusiasm for food and wine was immediately obvious.
Guido explained, “We choose natural products from talented artisans throughout Italy, products that give us an emotion and which make us live better and richer lives.” These products are not simply ordered from a catalogue, Guido continued, but are selected personally. “I do quite a bit of traveling, visiting farms and vineyards and talking face-to-face with the producers. We love to shake the hands of the artisans that we buy from.” As for the wine, the shop has over 1000 labels, selected with a constant desire to improve the selection. “We are never content with the status quo and search out the most interesting wines from the Italian peninsula. And we love to have our guests experience wines from passionate artisanal producers, such as Nino Testalonga, who makes a wonderful Rossese di Dolceacqua from Northern Liguria,” a town and a wine that I’m quite familiar with. (See my blog “Been There, Drank That and Bought the Tee-Shirt“.)
Sorry to say, a lack of sleep was being to take hold by the time we sat down for lunch, so I don’t remember the specifics of the cured meats and cheeses that were served. I do remember that everything was delicious. And in conversations with Guido afterwards, I learned that the cured meats were from local butchers and all the cheeses were raw milk cheeses from Liguria. My recollection of the details about the wines were equally sketchy. We started with two whites from 2015. First was Vetua Vino Bianco, a vermentino from Monterosso on the Cinque Terre, a region just a few miles up the coast. And the second was a 2015 Valpolcevera Coronata , a wine produced in the area west of Genoa and is a blend of Bianchetta Genovese, Vermentino and Albarola. The first wine was a darkish yellow color but was light on the palette. The second was lighter in color but a bit heavier on the palette. Or was it the other way around?
Next we had a pair of red wines from Azienda Agricola Santa Caterina, an organic producer in the Magra River Valley in Eastern Liguria, not far from La Spezia. I think one was a Sangiovese and the other a Canaiolo. Or was it a Merlot and a Ciliegiolo? As I said, my memory is a bit vague on the particulars of each wine. But I do remember this: The wines were not only a perfect accompaniment with the cheeses and cured meats, but were just the thing I needed after my long journey. In short, the perfect antidote for all my ills.
The name, Parla Come Mangi comes from a popular Italian idiom that means “speak as you eat”. In other words, cut the bull, drop the legalese and political rhetoric and just say what you mean. And while our journey from New York to Rapallo was not as circuitous as the journey to Shangri-La as described in James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon, the end result was the same. We had arrived at a paradise where the wine and food was heavenly and people talk plainly and simply about the joys of life. Parla come mangi in perpetuum!