How’s it hangi… oh wait, that’s not a polite thing to ask. Sorry. I’ll try again: How’s your whole (comedic pause) family? Good? Good. Mine too. We’re all very good in fact, thanks for asking. We’re settling back in and getting caught-up on work and school after our… whirlwind… family trip!
That’s right… It’s #familytrip part three, Yo!
Excitement! Fanfare! Anticipation!
Part One is all about the airport and airplane food that we ate along the way during our inter-continental, overseas journey. “We” being an 8-member family unit that consisted of my mom and step-dad, my sister, bro-in-law, and their two offspring, and then me and the ever-ready-for-travel, Dawn Roe. First we flew en masse to Scotland, and Part Two of the #familytrip series covers our experiences with haggis, meat pies, and afternoon tea while in The Borders region of that awesomely cold and overcast country. I liked the food, I loved the weather!
Then we went to Venice, where it was so freaking hot and humid, it was like having a drunken Gondolier hump your entire body all day long, while breathing heavily in your face… and he has really bad breath… and you’re both naked… and there are cigarette butts stuck to you. Good lord. How do people exist in that kind of heat? I’ll never know. The guy who let us into our — thankfully climate controlled — AirBnB apartment said, “You’re lucky you weren’t here last week, when it was really hot.”
I thought of that later, as I was melting into a puddle of human goo at The Venice Biennale… “You’re lucky,” my brain said to itself, “…luckyluckylucky … could be hotter… guy said it was hotter last week… super lucky…” Then I died.
Anyhoodles… I’m getting way ahead of myself! I should explain once more that after a week in Scotland, we all split up into smaller units, and that’s when Dawn and I flew into Venice, Italy, where the very first thing we did was leave. Y’see, we wanted some Bavarian culture, because we’re both of Germanic descent, so we hopped on a bus, and then a train, and then another train, until we were way far away from Venice in a very international Northern Italian city called Bozen-Bolzano, located up there in the Dolomite Mountains. What an interesting place. We realized shortly after arriving that Venice doesn’t have as much culture as other places in Italy so we had to travel to find all the things to do. While we loved the holiday, if we were to go to Italy again, we would look to do some Tuscany Tours rather than go to Venice again. But, in the moment, we were just happy to get away from our AirBnB.
Because, first of all: Mussolini.
There was a giant bas relief monument to the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini about two or three blocks from the apartment building we stayed in. I just wanted to get that out of the way, because… well, it was weird.
Y’see… it turns out that originally the city was part of Austria, and then it was basically given to Italy through some political shenanigans around the time of WWI, so when Il Duce came into power, this weird monument was built. Of course, the modern day Austrian population of Bozen-Bolzano is a leeetle resentful about the whole dealio, and has tried to have the monument removed, but a majority of the Italian population is all, like, “No way, Schnickelfritz, it’s a part of our heritage!”
Now, where have I heard that before? Minus the Schnicklefritz, of course, and with maybe an “N-word” thrown in there somewhere. Knowmsayin’?
Strangely, we saw a bar in Bozen-Bolzano called “DUKE’S Booze ‘n’ Country Country Bar,”(sic) which seemed to have an image representing “The General Lee” and a Confederate flag on the signage. Ahhh… World. You so crazy. And stupid. It looked like Duke’s had gone out of bidniss BTW.
Okay okay, I know I know, I’m supposed to be writing about food, not geo-political strife and race relations, so if you wanna read more about Bozen-Bolzano’s unique history, including the secessionist movement, and its current status as an “autonomous” zone, you can click HERE. [pdf]
I think it’s important to point out that, while the signage in Bozen-Bolzano is all in German and Italian, it is truly an international city, where people from all over the world have chosen to live, and many languages are spoken. There were parts of the city that have Middle-Eastern, Indian, Pakistani, and North African stores and restaurants. The cafe that I frequented, for example, was run by a young man who seemed to be of Asian origin, and spoke fluent Italian to the customers while watching Asian-language melodramas on a tiny TV.
On my first visit to this young man’s cafe, I hoped that English was also among his repertoire of languages, so I tried to order a “coffee, please.” He gave me a confused look… and an espresso. Damn it. Not what I wanted, but I took it anyways. After observing the other customers speaking Italian, I realized in a moment of total clarity that “Cappuccino” is an Italian word. Tadahhhhh…. I threw back my espresso, returned to the counter, and said with a new sense of pride and dignity, “Un cappuccino, per favore!” My guy still looked slightly confused — apparently my accent really sucks — but he grasped the crucial meaning, and brought me that hot cup of caffeine and dairy known all over the world as a cappuccino. Perfect.
I eventually learned how to say “Another cappuccino, please,” and I never looked back. “Un’altro cappuccino, per favore,” I said, over and over again. I soon added “un croissant” to my repertoire and I was good to go all over Italy. At least for breakfast. Other meals proved more difficult at times, depending on the familiarity of the culinary terms, but we were up for the challenge!
When it comes to food, there are basically two kinds in Bozen-Bolzano: Italian and Austrian. Guess which kind we thought was better?
It was the Austrian food that we enjoyed the most! After a kind of ho-hum pizza experience the first night (canned mushrooms?!? Please.), and an absolute TANK of an experience at a fancy Italian seafood restaurant, we abandoned that ship, and went OG, eating roasted meat ‘n’ potatoes, cheese, slaw, pickles, and sausages served by authentic Austrians… or sometimes Italians dressed-up in cheesy Austrian costumes… and even one Asian guy in lederhosen. I’m telling you, Man, it’s allll mixed-up in Bozen-Bolzano. It’s really cool that way! Except for the ethnic tension of course. Which you don’t notice so much as a blissfully ignorant American. “We’s just here to sample y’alls’s sausages, Sir! Schprechen zie English at all?”
One Saturday we sauntered past the Mussolini monument and went to the open air food market. Holy. Fucking. Shit. This market makes even the biggest farmers market here in Asheville look like a lemonade stand in comparison. As in: it was HUGE, and had all kinds of amazing food, from tons of fresh produce, including many kinds of mushrooms and things I couldn’t identify, to cured meats out the wahzoo, and candy, candy, candy, nuts and spices and every muhfuckin’ thing you can think of. Fresh fish was on display and being vended out of giant-sized refrigerated trucks that opened up from the side and folded out into awesome display case/counters. Oh, and cheese. So much cheese. I love cheese. I wanted to bury my face into the stanky piles of awesome cheese everywhere. Of course, on vacation, you can’t just buy a ton of groceries, so I took a ton of pictures instead, and will have to eat that cheese in my dreams.
Dawn had done some recon earlier, so she knew exactly where to take me at the market: Straight to The Bratwurst Ladies! Two blond, blue-eyed women, perhaps mother and daughter, slingin’ hot brats like nobody’s biz. And, plus, too, also, as a total bonus, they spoke English!
“Where are you from?” asked the one prepping our food.
“America,” I answered.
“Ah, so you only speak English,” she replied, smiling.
“Yep,” I said, wondering to myself, “Do those damn Brits speak French or some shit?”
The brats were frickin’ awesome, and came with the bun on the side which is traditional in Austria. We got one done in the usual way, and one with curry on it. Both were piping hot, and really tasty, and the experience was super positive all-around. I mean, c’mon. Friendly, attractive, Norse Goddesses serving hot sausages and fresh bread? Yeah, man. I’m down with that.
Here’s the B.I.D. on the rest of the food we ate in Bozen-Bolzano:
• Pizza and Seafood Salad – As I said, I found the pizza to be fairly mediocre, but the seafood salad was pretty good. All-in-all not a great meal, but we were really hungry on our first night in a strange town, so I think we just chose poorly. We could have looked harder for a better place if we tried, but it filled us up and wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t awesome. Y’know? The service was really great though, as it was almost everywhere we went in Europe, despite the fact that tipping is not a big thing over there. Our server spoke English, and When Dawn asked her to recommend one food item we should eat while we were in Bozon-Bolzano, and she said “Speck.”
• Speck – Speck is a hard, cured meat, that somewhat resembles bacon. In fact, I learned that the word “speck” only became popular in the 18th century, when it replaced the older term “bachen”(AKA bacon), so whaddaya fuckin’ know? We travel half-way around the world, and the locals recommend we try some bacon. Of course I ate “speck,” and of course I frickin’ loved it. It’s definitely different than the bacon we’re used to around here, harder, smoother, meatier, and full cooked, you can eat it room temp or hot. I had it both ways. I preferred it hot.
• Appetizer Trio – Dawn made reservations at a fancy seafood place that was recommended to us by a native, and what can we say? It was a shitty experience. It started out with the server speed-pressuring us into our order, so that it was placed and he was gone before we even knew what hit us. He more or less bullied us — albeit with an ingratiating smile — into ordering two “small plates” and two entrées. Dawn’s seafood trio appetizer consisted of an over-cooked scallop that looked like it had spent a week under a heat lamp, and some extremely mediocre seafood salad that did not impress her in the least. The tuna tartar was the best bite on her plate, but it wasn’t as good as she’d get here in Asheville, at a place like, say, Imperial Life, or Curate.
• Caprese Salad – Dawn’s “small plate” was actually on the smallish size, but mine was frickin’ huge. It was a caprese salad with “ham,” as they say generically over there for any number of cured pork products. It was basically a giant platter with enough meat, cheese, and tomato slices on it to make myself three sandwiches. As I’ve said in the past, complaining about getting too much food might seem a little weird, but I was planning on tasting a lot of different things that night, not loading up on on first dish to hit the table. I’m more and more opposed to the whole “doggy bag” thing too, especially on vacation, so I powered it down. Groan.
• Ravioli – The main course that Dawn was pressured into getting was a “lobster ravioli” that mostly consisted of rubbery strands of squid, some blowed-out looking pasta, and 1/2 a pound of salt. I’m telling you what, this dish was so frickin’ salty, it acted as a desiccant, mummifying our taste buds on contact. Coupled with that, after a little while, the server disappeared so that water and wine ceased to be forthcoming. I literally had to wave one of my dried up, withered little mummy hands at the server, something I hate doing, in order to get more vital liquids placed on our table. They lost a whole ratings-star on the Stoobie scale for that.
• Lobster and Spaghetti – My dish was also very salty, though not as bad as Dawn’s. The lobster was cooked well, and so was the pasta, but the plating was treated very in-artfully for such an upscale restaurant. The lobster itself looked fine, but was kind of oddly placed on the plate, without any apparent design esthetic to the over all composition of the dish as a whole. The spaghetti looked kinda terrible, like a tangle-up blond wig that someone threw-up on. The flavor was good, nothing to rave about, and again, I can’t stress enough. Salty. Very very salty. We desperately needed beverages.
• Cheese Dumplings – Okay, so after that turdly experience with Italian food, we ventured into the Austrian realm, and had these weird “dumplings.” They get some points for not being horrible, and for filling my empty stomach, but they were sticky and super dense, and heavy as fuck. They tasted fine, but not something I would recommend or ever eat again. I’ll take a point away from myself for opting to eat at a fairly touristy looking place. Maybe the dumplings elsewhere would have been much better. Lesson: Never look for a place to eat when you’re really really super hungry. Rash choices get made.
• Roasted meat and potatoes with slaw – This may have been the most comforting meal I have ever eaten in my life. After all the stress of traveling (I really hate flying), and the heat (not like Venice, but it was pretty dang hot in Bozen-Bolzano), struggling to be understood, and walking endlessly up hills and through crowds all day long, every bite off of this plate was like getting a hug from someone I love. The roasted meat ‘n’ taters with grilled onions and gravy were cooked just right and hit all the right buttons. There was even some speck chopped up in the mix. The fresh chive and radish were a very welcome bit of freshness after all butter, salt, and heavy pasta from the night before, and the pile of what the menu called “slaw” was light and fluffy and delish, and didn’t contain a trace of mayonnaise or vinegar. After cleaning the plate, I said to Dawn, “I feel human again.” Thanks, Bozner Bier Haus!
• Meat, cheese, and pickle board with bread & horseradish – At the bier house, Dawn got a meat, cheese, and pickle board that she said was very good. The bites I took from her plate were great, and the bread came with butter and olive oil and was frickin’ delicious. There was even a small amount of salad stuff on the cheese plate, which was a nice touch. It was a lot of food, so we wrapped-up some of the sausage for the next day, when it really came in handy after two long and stressful train rides back down to Venice for the Biennaaahhh… ah fuck, I totally forgot that I was gonna write about the food in Venice too, and now this post is getting too dang long, so I guess I’ll just have to extend #familytrip into a four-part series after all. Sorry about that.
NEXT time: Venice. I promise. The food was fantastic.
Ciao for now, meine freunde!
There are some bonus videos of Bozen-Bolzano on my YouTube Channel if you’d like to see them.
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Stu Helm is an artist and writer living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.
One of my fondest memories of Europe are those fabulous weekend markets. The one smack dab in the middle of Florence (Forenza) was my first introduction. Every City needs a town square large enough for a weekend market.