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A Tale of Two Tomatoes in One Italian City

A Tale of Two Tomatoes in One Italian City

There is a lot we can learn from the Italians.

How to dress. The civility and common courtesies extended to others. And of course ... how to eat.

Phil LempertI spent the last week of July through the first week of August in Milan (Milano, for those purists!). I visited many food stores as you would. From the tiny one-man fresh pasta shop to the Carrefours that rival any Wegmans or Publix — and every type of store in between.

And, of course, there were the restaurants! At least three a day, underscoring the reasoning for multiple eating occasions from morning till midnight.

Milan is an interesting city — just under a million and a half residents and spread out over a vast area with many neighborhoods, similar to those you might find in Manhattan or Chicago. This time of year, the locals stay put and prepare for holiday — while the streets are full of tourists looking for fashion bargains.
Who is who is obvious, especially at mealtime.

After a visit to the Milan Cathedral at Piazza del Duomo and the adjacent Civic Museum of Contemporary Art (with an extraordinary Modigliani exhibit -- there through 2015), we stopped for lunch at a nearby cafe. In the 97-degree temperature a glass of Italian Chardonnay and a caprese salad sounded perfect. But I was disappointed. While the mozzarella was delicious, the sliced beefsteak-like tomatoes were tasteless. Here in Italy? I was to find that these were not local, but hothouse tomatoes from Belgium. The customers at this restaurant, at this location, one of the major tourist areas in Milan, were mostly foreigners and many Americans and they preferred and requested the sliced tomato presentation.


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A few days later, in the very local Piazza Repubblica area, I tried again. This time my caprese salad was extraordinary. It was served in a squat Ball type lid jar with buffalo mozzarella cut in various wedge shapes in a light tomato sauce with pieces of basil throughout, placed on top of a thin bread on the bottom of the jar. This time, delicious (locally grown) cherry tomatoes were throughout — each one more scrumptious than the next. Clearly, among the best tomatoes I have ever eaten. I returned the next day for more. And then they were closed for holiday through September.

We Americans shouldn’t be concerned that our own influence on Italian cuisine has gone unnoticed. There were the ubiquitous McDonald’s and, of course, practically every menu, even at the local places, listed a gluten-free pasta dish. What we should all learn from the Italians is simple — it’s not about the latest trends ... it’s about the taste!

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