Back to Torino

apero

Wait just a minute. It’s been about a week since I got back from Torino, and I told you about all the stuff I managed to jam in my craw at the Salone del Gusto, but I also spent a fair amount of time visiting some of the chocolate shops and caffès in this great city. Man cannot live by cured pork products and sheep’s-milk cheese alone, can he?

He must eat ice cream, and on occasion, drink.

gelato

The day of my arrival, I didn’t wait a minute. Moments after I tossed my suitcase in my hotel room, I made a beeline for Caffè San Carlo (Piazza San Carlo 156) for a couple of scoops of gelato, which I remembered so fondly from a previous visit. They didn’t remember me, even though I thought I’d made quite the impression that last time, when I stood over the giant gelato machine and tried to climb in.

Or maybe they were trying to forget?


And I even used their gianduja gelato for inspiration in The Perfect Scoop. But alas, I had to be content to remain on the street-side of the ice cream counter.

hazelnuts gianduja

I don’t like to speak in superlatives, since I think if you’re gonna say something, you’d better really, really mean it. So when I say that the hazelnuts from Piedmont are really the best I’ve ever tasted—believe it. If you’ve been lucky enough to grab a handful yourself, you’ll likely agree. And when they’re toasted so they’re crunchy, highlighting the roasty hazelnut flavor, you’ll understand why the hazelnut-chocolate paste Nutella is the most popular spread on the planet, even surpassing peanut butter. Although in peanut butter’s defense, I think it might have a chance if they added chocolate to it.

messy gelato eater

Because Torino is laid out in a square grid, it’s pretty hard to get lost. Still I managed to do it. Twice. The first was when I arrived. Because I hadn’t been to Torino since the Olympics, when I got off the train, I was awestruck at how the city had changed.

It was like a completely different city!

sugar

Because actually, I was in a completely different city. Well, I was in a different part of the city, and after wandering around for about an hour, looking for something even vaguely familiar, I realized I’d landed at the Porta Susa train station, which isn’t as centrally-located as the Porto Nova train station, which was 4 blocks from my hotel. When I passed all the French people waiting for taxis at the Porta Susa station, I strolled pass them with my suitcase, thinking, “Suckas!…I’m walking to my hotel!” Until I realized later that I really needed a taxi, too.

I’m not sure what the French word for “sucka!” is, and I don’t think I want to know. But they probably said the same thing about me as they drove past in their comfy cabs. Although I don’t think I really do want to know the French word for “sucka!” because if I was aware of it, I’d probably start hearing it a lot more than I realize around Paris.

Italian candies

Being a good traveler, I planned well in advance for my return to the train station, and I dutifully noted there was a direct bus from my hotel. Yay! But I didn’t realize that it didn’t come during the daytime hours, and arrived at the station that crazy morning, sweating profusely, with 157.8 seconds to spare before my train back to Paris.

Ooops. Now where was I? Oh yes, beautiful Torino. It really is a lovely city and just 5-ish hours from Paris by train. And being close to the border, the city is somewhat French-influenced, with the exception of the chaotic, hard-for-Americans to-figure-out bus system. Aside from its stately beauty and its fantastic hazelnuts, gianduja, and gelato, its got quite a reputation as the home of the aperitivo. And drinking one (or two) was a habit I quickly adapted to.

vespa

I took a tour of the Torino caffès with a local guide, who was a whirlwind of information about the bars and apertivi. For some reason she took a special interest in me and my traveling companion, and wanted to tell us—in private—about a “special bookstore” in Torino that she was sure we’d be interested in visiting, followed by a wink. I didn’t quite understand what on earth she was talking about and I must be slow on the uptake, until we passed it later, and she winked at us again. It wasn’t the kind of bookstore where one needs a roll of quarters, which I’d assumed it was, thank goodness. But there were a few racy books discreetly placed in the window.

Good gosh, do I really look that desperate?

Laura

She probably took her cue from when I got all excited and began photographing a poster for an upcoming Liza Minelli concert, and she presumed we were “Friends of Liza“..wink…wink…

punt e mes

Drinks, especially aperitifs, are important to Torino, as many were invented there, including vermouth—even though the chauvanistic French Wikipedia site shows a bottle of Noilly Prat, French vermouth.

Going out for an aperitivo means that one can stroll around the city, stopping from bar to bar, and drink a Punt e Mes, Campari, or Cinzano and stock up with the copious nibbles at the bar, enough to make a meal, albeit one composed almost entirely of carbohydrates. Still, you can’t complain about food that’s free, especially when your mouth is full of it!

vermuth proscuitto crudo sandwich

Not all are free though, so don’t be sticking your grubby hands on anything you see lying about. This ain’t The Olive Garden, boys and girls. I take a cue from the locals, and if they’re grabbing, so do I. The bars and caffès also make tiny sandwiches that aren’t free, but are inexpensive and delicious, and are the perfect little bite with something to drink. Curiously, the dainty white finger-sandwiches were an idea imported from America, since the plain tea-sandwiches do marry rather well with drinks. At least I think so; I’m not sure if marriage between a drink and a sandwich is still legal anymore. But if it’s not, let me know when it is so I can sign up for a ménage-à-trois.

oranges

In addition to being a wealth of knowledge about the local “bookstores” (wink…wink…), my guide also took us to a very special aperitivo spot, Mulassano, (piazza Castello 15). It had the most gorgeous water fountain I’d ever seen, delicious coffee, and a special wall-clock where the undecided who are fighting over who pays the check can push a button and if the hand lands on an even-number, you pay. If it lands on an odd-number, the other person pays. Or vice-versa. Since the Torinese are very discreet, which thankfully means you won’t see many Versace or Dolce&Gabanna duds around here, it’s a little vulgaire to be seen in Torino arguing about something so trivial as money.

water fountain pepino

Aside from a lack of clothing with gold chains, sexually-charged slogans sprayed across the back, and zippers in totally inappropriate places, Torino is known for chocolate, and there are some great chocolate shops around town. Guido Gobino and Peyrano are the best-known, each representing the new and the old guard, respectively. Plattì is lovely, too, although the prices have soared and my friend almost passed out, rightfully so, when they went to ring up his two jars of gianduja paste, and the tally was a whopping €30 ($40).

I offered to buy one off him, to cut his losses—at €10 a jar, but he wasn’t having any of that. I was just trying to help out a friend…sheesh!

hot chocolate

But you can’t leave Torino without having a mug of the sensationally-smooth and rich hot chocolate the city prides itself in. Many of the caffès in Torino are considered historical monuments, with museum-like status, which means it’s perfectly acceptable to just go in and take a look without buying or drinking anything. But with hot chocolate this gorgeous, why not indulge in a cup? History is overrated, anyways.

Even more famous than the chocolate itself is il bicerin; a glass of hot chocolate with coffee topped with a plateau of whipped cream. Being an ugly American, and one who is less-interested in history than in eating chocolate, I kept calling glasses vasos, which is Spanish. In French, they’re les verres), so it’s natural to assume that the word in Italian would be similar. No dice.

A wine-like drinking “glass” in Italian is “bicchiere”, which is quite a stretch, if you ask me. Not to quibble about the quirks of languages, no one could quibble with a steaming-hot bicerin, served in a stemmed glass, especially when the temperatures were dropping day-by-day and we needed something to stave off the winter chill.

ham sandwiches

Even though we were totally stuffed after eating everything at the Salone del Gusto, we managed to make it to Eataly on the last day. And even though I was already loaded down with Italian goodies to bring back (hooray for train travel with no luggage restrictions, but boo for city buses that don’t come when you expect them to), I’m glad we did. For when we arrived, out front, there was four blazing ovens, manned by men baking farinata.

farinata

Like my dearly-beloved socca, they were fire-roasting the giant crêpe-like pancakes, made of chickpea flour. We had one, and it was pretty great. Not as great as the ones in Nice, though, since it was missing the obligatory glass of rosé over ice as an accompaniment. Still, I wasn’t complaining. (It was that overstuffed mouth, again, which was preventing it.)

Eataly is a big, multi-leveled shop full of great artisanal foods from all across Italy. I did notice a few items that didn’t quite fall into the category of “small-producer”, but for the most part, it was pretty interesting and a must-visit in Torino. I kept thinking it’d be great if they opened Francily, in Paris, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way, does it?

So I’ll just have to go back from Torino from time to time. Although it’s going to be a while. I unpacked boxes of pasta made with coarse farro flour, some crazy heirloom polenta I’m going to try making ice cream out of, enough coffee to keep me awake for a full year, solid, and two luscious jars of chocolaty gianduja paste, which’ll probably last me through this week. If that.




Related links:

Tuscan and Torino Treasures

Grom gelato

Molto Gelato (Gelato in Rome)

What is gelato?

Gianduja and Gelato

Slow Food’s Salone del Gusto: Part I and Part 2

Pocket Coffee Haiku

Molto Gelato in Bologna

Torino Official Tourism Site: A good portion of their site is about the great food & drink in the city

34 comments

  • David
    Everytime you describe one of your trips I just want to strap on my traveling shoes and alight to the destination you describe…You make Torino sound so wonderful (superlatives!)

  • Ack, my first comment failed, which is just as well as it had a spelling error.

    I wanted to say — yes – David’s prose is so exquisite, but his photographs are also gorgeous, as usual.

    My husband is from Turin, and every time I go there, I thank God for the cafés and culinary/coffee/chocolate glamour, because the rest of that town is so GRAY!!

    One note: Turinese will tell you you ain’t tasted nuthin if the only hazelnut spread you’ve had is Nutella. Nothing mass-produced for them, so your friend did well to spend a small fortune, whether he purchased at Bicerin or elsewhere. I still don’t understand why he wouldn’t let you purchase at a discount! : ) Nice try though.

    Thanks for another beautiful piece and all the in-depth coverage you provided of your trip to the Salon.

  • What a great view of this lovely city. For some reason, Italians seem to discount Torino but it’s one of my favorites…you’ve captured a lot of the reasons why! :)

  • Loved reading your post on Torino David. Although I lived in Italy for 8 years many years ago and travel back to Italy on a yearly basis for our vacation I was only in Turin once and that was for the Olympics. reading your post really inspires me to head back and really explore the city properly!

    Deb

  • *dies*

  • I feel like you’ve made me run an epicurean marathon. Lord Almighty David! How do you ever manage to not roll out of of trains and into taxis. And how do you EVER manage to tear yourself away from places like Torino? You’d have to bring a crane to take pry me out of there. Finally, I would let you buy me a jar of gianduja. I would. What’s a little gift of paste between friends that I should deny you that pleasure? ;-)

    Lovely post. You had me swooning from start to finish. And the photos? Just gorgeous.

  • Thanks for the gorgeous walk down memory lane. We stopped in Torino two years ago on the way back from a week in Piedmont and can’t wait to go back. We still wax nostalgic about an amazing lunch at a local Foccaceria we stumbled upon.

    Delectable photos, as usual. Merci!

    Laura in Burgundy (from over at http://www.grapejournal.blogspot.com)

  • I studied in Torino in 2003 and have visited it twice since then. It’s one of my favorite cities in Italy for so many reasons.

    I was struck by your photo of farinata, my favorite Genovese dish. I recently moved back from Genova and miss farinata and real focaccia like you would not believe.

    Thanks for the great post. Go to Genova sometime!

  • En français, “you suck” = “tu es nul,” non?

    My mom tried speaking Spanish in Italy, too. They just laughed.

  • David, I don’t know what the purple thingies are, but I know I MUST HAVE THEM. They appear to be next to sugarcoated verveine leaves, so I’ll just go ahead & presume they’re some sort of violet-flavored sweet?

  • Rick: I’ve been to Genova and love it, but want to spend more time there than I did. It’s really an intriguing city, although I wish they’d get rid of that roadway that cuts across the seaport!

    Halie: Yes, but that’s more of an insult, rather that saying; “You loser!” I don’t know if there’s a direct translation for that.

    Charlotte: I’m not quite sure what they are since I didn’t taste any. I believe they’re molded sugar, usually a couple of cups of sugar with a few teaspoons of water to dampen them, that’s set in molds, then released. I think you can find a recipe online to try ‘em at home…or go to Torino yourself! As if you needed an excuse…
    : )

  • Your writing is delicious!

  • Beautiful post, I just love traveling with you via your blog. We are planning a trip to Taormina next year for a family wedding… I don’t suppose you have any plans to visit Sicily before next September, so I can model my food itinerary after yours?

    I’ve not yet been to Sicily, but am planning on going…someday! My pal Judy of Divina Cucina has some edible info on her site and I’m thinking of tagging along on one of her tours through there, someday… -dl

  • Oh..Gawd, David. Eataly I get..but Francily? Work on that one.

    Loved the tour..and being in your head on it!

  • Get me on the next flight to Torino!

  • Though I can’t currently afford a trip to Italy, I certainly feel as if I just went, thanks to your lovely vignettes and photos. You really captured Italy the way a food lover sees it, through the local dishes. Thank you for taking me along with you!

  • Ooh! We have a local brand here that produces a chocolate-peanut butter spread! Very much like Nutella. Lovely stuff! On bread with raspberry jam, slathered over a ripe banana… or just straight licking it out of a spoon!

  • In french, “suckas !” means “blaireaux !” :)
    the french word “blaireau” is the same kind of thing than “beauf (beau-frère)”. If you call someone like that here, it means something like : ” looser, stupid and inept, not even nice, below average for his behavior and appearance”.

    the word “minable” that means “so much under the average that it’s nearly pityfull” can replace “blaireau” but minable comes from a scale between good>bad (more quantifying), and blaireau is just a plain analogy insult, (speaking to imagination).

  • I love reading your blog! It’s so entertaining as well as educational.
    Thank you!

  • Ciao David, thanks for your nice description of “some” of the reasons to visit and live this “unusual” italian city. Mauro – Turin (Torino)

  • I love all your posts about Torino. I enjoyed going back though your links to your previous posts as it is so wonderful to read such positive posts about what I consider our under rated city. I live out in the Province of Torino in the mountains, and most of our guests usually enjoy a day in the city and are pleasantly surprised to find what an interesting city it is, although it is very quiet July and August, but better to go hiking in the mountains that time of the year anyway. Thanks for a few more places for me to discover thanks to your in depth coverage.

  • Marla: Yes, it is a fantastic city, and so much less-explored than places like Rome and Florence. There are few tourists there and the pace is much more relaxed.

    Plus there’s all that gianduja gelato just waiting to be licked up!

  • Ok, Torino is now on the December hooky trip to the Italy. And I’ll try to keep the gelato off of my shoes!

  • David I’m working on a film project set in Torino so I have to make a trip there sooner or later.

    After reading your posts, I’m thinking sooner.

  • I so enjoyed reading this post and always love the photos…. the line of aperitif glasses, the hot chocolate, etc., etc. You are tempting me to travel to Italy for the first time!

  • It has been far too long since the last time I traveled. My last trip to Italy was a year ago. I think you’ve started something. . . or at least made my very hungry.

  • Thank you for your insightful and always entertaining posts. My parents are from Slovenia and I have had the good fortune to be exposed to travel and varied foods since childhood- your blog brings back many memories as well as piques my interest for future travel. Reading this entry made me wonder why most Americans have not embraced the bitter goodness of aperitifs??? My husband and I are puzzled by this…

  • David, you are so bad.
    Why torture innocent readers, that are not in Torino right now?
    Your descriptions of food and cafes and eateries are so lively, I actually can smell them. The photos are so beautiful that one has the urge to reap them put of the screen and eat them.
    Did I mention you are bad?

    Thank you

    veredgy

  • Oh, I’m going to get a heart attack! I’m full of jealousy and envy!!! You live THE LIFE!

  • Your photos on this entry look gorgeous!

  • Eataly – how deliciously clever!

  • David,

    I have such a great visual of you trying to climb into the gelato machine. Priceless!

    Thanks for the tour of Torino, and for the laughs… I needed both.

    And, I LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! The clever marriage/menage line. That’s my brilliant boy with his shining wit putting a big smile on face, and during one of the toughest weeks of my life, too…

    Thank you, David! Your the rockinest candy around!

    Love ya,

    ~ Paula
    (from Ambrosia Quest)

  • How ’bout Francilicious, rather than Francily?

    XOXO,
    ~ Paula
    (from Ambrosia Quest)

  • I just read this entry and wanted to let you know about peanut butter from Peanut Butter & Co. It’s a restaurant in Greenwich Village and they also package their peanut butter. I see it in grocery stores in the NYC area. They make an absolutely delicious dark chocolate peanut butter. Their cinnamon raisin peanut butter is also amazing.

    One more thing to try next time you’re in New York.