Italian Breakfast

Even though it’s just next door, every time I go to Italy, I wonder why I don’t go more often. Before I moved to Europe, I used to wonder why Europeans didn’t travel to other countries more often. And now I’m one of them. I think it’s because just to go anywhere, whether it’s a 45 minutes flight or a 4.5 hour flight, you still need to schlep to the airport, arrive in a new city, find your bearings, and by the time you’ve finally figured out most of the good places to go, it’s time to head home.


It also doesn’t help that when I returned from this trip, two airlines were striking at Charles de Gaulle airport, the RER train was closed for some unexpected (and unexplained) reason, prompting a few thousand of us to be bused to a deserted train station in the middle of nowhere, to wait in the cold pre-winter air until a train showed up nearly an hour-and-a-half later, well after midnight, making the trip from the Paris airport back to the city (which is a mere 23 km, or 14 miles), nearly four hours – or three times longer than the flight to Milan.

Italian tomatoes

But the good news is that I learned a few new “choice” words in French from my fellow passengers, who were stranded along with me, whose demeanor was getting worse and worse as they realized they were in danger of burning through the last of their cigarettes. And thankfully the train arrived just as the station was turning off the electricity and shutting down, so none of us had to sleep on the train platform.

Because I needed to make a short trip somewhere to stay au courant due to a quirk in my always-quirky mileage account for the next year, I decided to hit Milan, a city I’ve never been to. And since Sara was going to be there, I took her up on her invitation to show me a bit of the city for the weekend. A perfect host, Sara has lived in Italy for nearly a decade and not only does she speak perfect Italian, she knows some of the best places in the city as well. So I put myself in her capable mani (hands).


Two things I always forget about Italy. One is the thirty-second breakfast, which is a shot of espresso at the bar – a tablespoon of coffee lining the bottom of a warm cup, downed quickly with at least one packet of sugar – and then it’s out the door. And two, how great the food is. Restaurants are more free-form than elsewhere, and while things can get scattershot, generally speaking, if you’re out of touristed areas and in neighborhoods, the patrons will take care of you. The check may be scratched on the back of a piece of paper, menus offer contorni, sides of vegetables, and at gelaterias and outdoor markets, they’re happy to offer tastes. Which, of course, makes you buy. It’s a win-win situation, if you ask me. (Unfortunately, no one in Paris is asking me.)

tangerinemarzipan pears

We began breakfast every morning with Sicilian pastries to accompany our coffee, just because – one, I need something to eat when I get up in the morning. And two, well…does one need an excuse to eat Sicilian pastries?

Italian grapes at market

True, I needed to dial up my sweet tooth for some of the goodies, like the crispy ridged sfogliatelle overfilled with creamy gianduja (chocolate-hazelnut paste), tiny cork-sized babas soaked in rum, croissants stuffed with pistachio cream, and tiny bites of panna cotta.

Italian gelatosmoked mozarella
cassata sicilianamarzipan figs

We explored the city, including a few gelaterias. Although everyone in Italy has an opinion about who makes the best gelato in their city, we were pretty happy at Il Gelato Centogusti and Leonardo, which has an especially good chocolate gelato made without dairy, capturing the brusque taste of raw cacao. In case you go to Italy, you never get just one flavor of gelato – it’s always two or three per cup or coppetta. And because I worked in restaurants for most of my life and probably ate just 2% of my meals during those years sitting down, I’m not a fan of eating while standing up anymore. (Not that I had a choice before.) Yet I tend to agree that gelato tastes best when consumed while upright and walking.

Italian signmostarda

Milan isn’t a city that’s as picturesque as other cities in Italy. To me, it seemed a little less-homogenous and is more of a city of particular neighborhoods, like Berlin. And like Paris, once you know the vendors in your neighborhood, and at your market, you tend to patronize them because they become friends and they will take care of you.

Fried foods in Milano

Still, in the central area, there’s Peck, which is one of the most famous food stores in the world. It’s truly eye-popping and the meats and cheeses are lined up like jewels, and the cheese counter is stacked high with lots of cheese you won’t likely come across elsewhere. The rare white truffles, which cost €8200 per kilo (about $5800/pound), surely would give a Bulgari jewelery shop a run for their money. Sara told me the gelato was quite good, but I was afraid to eat in the magnificent store lest I drip something on a truffle or something, although there’s a caffè upstairs.

octopusroasted pork
Italian hot sauceswordfish

Yes, I live in France, where the cheese is pretty wonderful. But Italian cheese is a whole ‘nother – and different – story. Even Parisians have discovered burrata, a fresh Italian cheese with an elastic exterior. When cut open with the side of a fork, a rush of creamy cheese curds comes spilling out, tasting of a pure milky whiteness so fresh, you can feel the tears spilling out of your eyes at the exact same flow rate.

But one night we had stracciatella di burrata, which is only the soft, squiggly insides of the fresh cheese, served on a bed of peppery arugula. Fortunately the rest of the table was Sicilians completely engrossed in the soccer match on the televisions, another feature of neighborhood places in Italy, and they didn’t notice me and Sara not offering to pass it around the table.

fresh mozarellaporchetta

There was more mozzarella action at the outdoor market where she scored some balls of mozzarella, sold under the table…so you had to be “in the know” to get them. And boy, was I glad to be in such wise company. Because when I cut into my first round of the cheese, slicing right through the springy exterior, inside was a barely-set custard of cheese, tasting (again) of the freshest possible milk. It’s something that makes the whole world stop when you put a forkful on your mouth. And for a few minutes, we ate those dreamy mozzarella balls…until we worked out way over to the wisps of salumi.

salumi with marmalade

Salumi (charcuterie, or cured meats) have become pretty popular in America and I always feels like a dip when I go elsewhere and people tell me that I have to try the salumi there. I know it’s good and I really appreciate the fact that people are making it wherever they live. Yes, it’s very good in France (and Spain and Portugal, and elsewhere), but I still think that the coppa, salami, and prosciutto in Italy are the game to beat. (Jambón Ibérico from Spain gets a pass because it’s just plain unsurpassed.)

I also like the Italian markets. The ingredients are nearly always lively and fresh and from the region, and there’s plenty of greens, such as kale, turnip greens, and broccolini to gather up and take home. Like the Italian shoppers, I sometimes bring some back home with me to France, to sauté in olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and toss with orecchietti (ear-shaped) pasta, whose little divots catch all the rivulets of spicy oil and greenery.

Laghispleen sandwich
spleen sandwiches in Milanchocolate and yogurt gelati

I don’t have a grand list of restaurants to share. Because Milan isn’t a heavily touristed city, you kind of need to rely on locals to tell you where to go. But close to the Duomo is Antica Focacceria, where a specialty of the house are the fried snacks, like cauliflower, square sheets of cheese, and breaded rice pellets. And the other specialty is spleen sandwich (not a typo) which we ordered as part of a trio of focaccine. I’m not a big innards kind of guy, but each little sandwich was piled with a juicy mound of what tasted like braised beef. Everyone else in the restaurants was eating a sandwich, and as they say, when in Milan, do as the Milanese do. It was quite good and although I’m not racing out to find a spleen to braise for lunch tomorrow, but I won’t pass it up the next time I’m offered a try.

Another good address downtown is Princi, which has beautiful hearth-baked breads – some with raisins or walnuts – and others were integrale (whole wheat) or di campagna. I’d just had lunch and didn’t have much of an appetite, but I couldn’t resist trying a slab of the focaccia smeared with tomato paste, although the curt counterperson insisted I buy the last of the remaining corner, and if I finished it, I would not have had room for the chocolate and yogurt gelati I snuck in at OttimoMassimo.

lake como

I drank tons of Italian coffee at every possible opportunity, like a madman who was about to be sent to a caffeine-free purgatory at any minute. In fact, on my last day I had two double espressi for breakfast, then a single espresso. Now if that doesn’t qualify me for Italian citizenship, I don’t know what does. Then after lunch, I had another double espresso. I think I was tanking up for the plane home, but I also needed a bit of energy to recover from a long lunch up in the mountains to La Polenteria, above the grayish near-wintery waters of Lake Como.

polenta machine

Italians obviously love polenta, enough so that not only are there machines devoted to the constant stirring of the stuff, but as the name suggests, particular restaurants that specialize in polenta dishes, as well as those with taragna; polenta stirred together with dark bits of buckwheat.

Polenta with cheese and candied fruit

But first – of course – we started with a generous cutting board heaped with salumi, a plug of goat cheese served with a heap of polenta and some candied lemon wedges, and a pile of coarse, housemade buckwheat pasta tossed with bits of potatoes and cabbage.

Italian red winebuckwheat cabbage pasta
salumiItalian woman and her dog

Then came the out plates heaped with polenta, mine topped with chunks of braised wild boar, Sara had spicy sausage ragù, and our third diner chose the star of the meal, a lighter polenta topped with strips of veal and incredibly flavorful porcini mushrooms.

Polenta with spicy sausage
Polenta with veal and porcini

When dessert time finally rolled around, we stopped clutching our stomachs for a moment to dive into a frozen coffee semifreddo, served in a somewhat reasonably portioned demitasse cup.

apple walnut cake with quince jellycake

There was also a soft wedge of Torta alla nocciola, a light walnut cake, and my favorite, Torta di pere, mele, noci con farina di castagne (apple-pear cake with nuts and chestnut flour) served with marmellata di cotogna (quince jelly).

coffee semifreddodessert plates

Each bite was better than the previous one, and before we knew it, we’d pretty much scraped the plates clean, leaving only a trail of translucent quince jelly in our wake. Which disappeared pretty quickly, courtesy of someone with a very fast fork, which I wielded quickly when the others were scoping out the location of the nearest espresso machine. Which fortunately, in Italy, is never very far.

artichokes at market


  • November 1, 2011 12:11am

    Oh my yum… Your pictures of those polenta dishes have got my mouth watering. How fortuitous that you have a friend in Milan! If only I were equally lucky :) Reply

  • November 1, 2011 12:13am

    The Husband and I recently booked our flights to Italy next year and we land in Milan, so this perfect post of yours will be going straight to my Evernote Italy notebook. Thanks for your very excellent timing, David! Reply

  • Amy
    November 1, 2011 12:28am

    Thank you for not posting a halloween recipe. Reply

  • Jane L
    November 1, 2011 12:28am

    You make us wish that we were there trying all these Yummy and beautiful food. Thanks, Jane Reply

  • Autumn
    November 1, 2011 12:39am

    This is perfect timing David. I will be flying there in two days and desperately needed a lunch spot to hang in while waiting for a friend to rescue me. Let’s just hope I can order something without sounding like a blathering american. Reply

    • November 1, 2011 12:47am
      David Lebovitz

      One place I didn’t get to was Luini, which is reputed to have amazing sandwiches. But one thing I’ve learned about traveling – no matter how much you want to go, it’s impossible to do everything. But you might want to give them a try as well.

      And you should never feel bad about feeling like you’re sticking out or uncomfortable; most people in other countries travel as well, and/or are used to foreigners and travelers. And I’ve found Italians often try to make themselves understood when they are talking to people that don’t quite understand their language (although my dream is to learn it!) Reply

  • November 1, 2011 1:04am

    I think not just Europe but in many/most other regions people don’t travel to neighbouring countries because its close to home and they can always visit later, and later never happens. I was surprised that so many Norwegians have not visited Stockholm, and so many Swedes have not visited Oslo. But thats probably for another reason. Reply

    • November 1, 2011 9:22am
      David Lebovitz

      I also think it’s because it more time involved that at first appears. If you travel by train, it can be a twenty hour trip to go to a seemingly neighboring city. And if you travel by plane, like I did, my return trip home took a grand total of seven hours – which would have taken eight, but my friends dropped me off at the airport in Milan. So if you just have a weekend, it’s kind of a big trip. There are trips from Paris that are a bit easier, such as to London and Torino, but going farther afield requires a bit more time and energy. Reply

  • November 1, 2011 1:13am

    This post captures everything I miss most about Italian food from when I lived there: the cheeses, pizza a taglio, the little places with specialties – gelato, foccacia, etc. And the cingiale (wild boar) – Madonna! Il cingiale! A revelation when I first had it in Florence. I’m so pleased our local Boston restaurants have started to use it here and there but really, nothing compares to eating in Italy. Reply

  • November 1, 2011 1:20am

    Brunate! The most gorgeous view. I grew up in Cernobbio and our nanny was from Brunate – her family run La Polenteria, makes me teary eyed-just to read this! Milan is definitely an acquired taste. Best shopping and Peck, well, it’s just wonderful. It’s also one of the only places open during Feragosto…. which saved us one year before the long drive back to Belgium…. Reply

  • November 1, 2011 1:27am

    Thank you for sharing your trip to Milan – even the unpleasant things! This post made me feel as if I had experienced it myself. Reply

  • Kelly
    November 1, 2011 1:42am

    Sicilian pastries, chick pea fritters on the plate of fried food and the spleen sandwich? You need to get to Palermo. This is the food you see all over town.

    I wish you had written this before I went to Milan last November. Reply

  • November 1, 2011 2:34am

    Just discovered sfogliatelle – all the way here in Perth, Western Australia. Thank goodness we have lots of Italians here but the salumi is never quite the same as in Italy. Thanks for the trip to Milan and back (from my cubicle). Reply

  • November 1, 2011 2:44am

    Those pastries at the top of the post are just gorgeous Reply

  • November 1, 2011 2:49am

    Ahhh, the memories. I lived in Milan for most of my twenties. I’ve since moved back to Australia and how I miss my Italian life. It’s like a beautiful love affair has ended, I want to go back and revisit the memories, but every time I see pictures, here stories, dream about the food… it is all so painful knowing that that part of my life is over.
    It’s been about nearly 10 years now, and I’m still not over it! Reply

  • November 1, 2011 2:50am

    I was in Milan one year ago, and too see that food again makes my stomach grumble… Reply

  • Dee
    November 1, 2011 3:11am

    Oh, my. I just can’t stop thinking about getting on a plane. Reply

  • Jennie B.
    November 1, 2011 3:34am

    I *LOVE LOVE LOVE* Peck. Was there in 2007 and the service upstairs in their cafe was superb and the food to die for. Not to be outdone is their actual uber-up-scale grocery store beneath which makes you wish you were independently wealthy so you could spill gelato onto a white truffle just so you could take it home. Spill on it, you buy it method. Anyways – great to see you mention Peck since it has a special place in my mind and heart. Mille Grazie! Reply

  • November 1, 2011 3:44am

    David, thank you as always for sharing your thoughts and travels. I was particularly struck by your observations about Italian cheese.

    It is easy to overlook the role that pastoral agriculture and cheese making has played in Italy’s history — particularly in the south.

    Dating back to feudal times, shepherds and their sheep migrated along a regulated system of wide grassy tracks in Southern Italy, known as tratturi. These tracks started in the mountains and ended in the grassy plains along the coast.

    The movement of the herds was governed by the season. In the fall, the herds were moved to the coastal plains to take advantage of the temperate climate. In the spring, the herds were brought back to the higher elevations to graze.

    This “system” was life sustaining, and provided the peasants with milk, cheese and wool. The annual migration of the herds also provided the necessary infrastructure for commerce, travel and communication.

    After the unification of Italy in 1860, sweeping land “reform” prohibited grazing on public land. And with the loss of traditional pastoral agriculture, most of the south plummetted into poverty, starvation and despair.

    This tragedy ultimately contributed to the exodus of 500,000 people from the Abruzzo Province alone — many of whom landed in NY at Ellis Island. My family was part of this exodus between 1896 and 1906.

    It is nearly impossible to consider Italian history without thinking about the importance of cheese. And it never ceases to amaze me that such a simple food — peasant food, really — can be so complex, ethereal and life sustaining. Reply

    • November 1, 2011 9:29am
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks Michelle: Living in France (and enjoying French cheese!) I’m often overshadowed by other cheeses, including those from Italy. While you can get some of them elsewhere, like many of the best products, often they’re made in smaller quantities and can’t be shipped, so you need to go to the “source” to get them. As you mentioned, cheese was a way to preserve the bounty of milk and to sustain people.

      For those in Paris, although you can find some Italian cheeses in various places, there are the Cooperative Latte Cisternino shops (I think there are 3 in town) that sell Italian cheeses and other products including burrata. Reply

  • November 1, 2011 4:30am

    It all looks fantastic! Such beautiful ingredients. I think burrata and salumi followed by gelato is my idea of the perfect meal. Reply

  • Ron Shapley
    November 1, 2011 4:45am

    Hi Dave……..As usual the photographs are grand !!! But……I’ve never seen an Italian breakfast like that !!! Usually a bread basket with hard rolls and crackers and a cup of deep, dark coffee…….. You live a charmed life and I enjoy reading about it.. Reply

  • November 1, 2011 4:49am

    I always enjoy your posts about the places you visit – especially the photos. You have a gift for describing a place so vividly and your photos seem to show the real essence of a place, at least to me. So many people take pictures of the monuments and “main attractions” so to speak, but I really enjoy seeing the more mundane things, like the elegant lady walking her dog, for instance. Bravo on another excellent post! Reply

  • Linda H
    November 1, 2011 4:53am

    One characteristic of Italian people that I especially love is that they are helpful and pleased with you when you try to speak Italian, not snarky because you aren’t doing it completely correctly. David, you should learn Italian. It’s so much easier than French. It’s a pleasant language to learn and fun to talk to the Italians. Reply

  • Mariangela
    November 1, 2011 6:17am

    I was hoping you would have gone to Luini – the panzerotti are legendary – ate them throughout high school. The queue can be legendary but moves quickly. Also, at Xmas, Sant Ambroeus near San Babila has the best homemade Veneziana and panettone! Reply

  • November 1, 2011 6:31am

    I love all the pictures, they are some of your best photo-journalistic work. Thanks for the fly on the wall view. Reply

  • chala
    November 1, 2011 9:16am

    I am lucky to live about half of the year about 100 kms north of Milan. Have not been too often to the city, but will take your notes when we go the next time to have some decent food…. thank you for sharing! Reply

  • November 1, 2011 10:36am

    David, it’s such a pleasure to know that you have been in my city. I really love Milan, and it’s great to see that people abroad can appreciate what can we offer. I write about food and places since 2008 and know I have focused my attention on this town. Let me when you come back, I have a lot of things to show you! Reply

  • November 1, 2011 11:09am

    Luini makes great panzerotti (a kind of fried dough pocket with tomato and melted buffalo mozzarella in it) but for a great sandwich in Milan next time you have to go to Panino Giusto. Reply

  • Marta
    November 1, 2011 11:49am

    a few notes from an italian: “housemade buckwheat pasta tossed with bits of potatoes and cabbage” (usually swimming in butter and cheese) are called pizzoccheri – if anyone wondered.
    You mentioned kale – and I wonder if it’s what is called “cavolo nero” – I didn’t know kale even existed before I started reading a few american blogs about food, but by the look of it, it could be cavolo nero (apparently here is sold mainly to do a dish from Tuscany, ribollita, but I’m not from tuscany so it does not end up on my table…).

    Generally I would recommend to try to identify what’s the origin of a product: espresso is around the same everywhere in Italy (but probably someone from Napoli would say it’s not true), but polenta is eaten only in the north (don’t ask for it in Sicily!) as burrata is something not traditional in Milan.
    Visiting a city as Milan, you can get practically everything from everywhere, since a generation or two ago people started to move to the city from the rest of Italy and people took with them their food and tradition as well. But, in case you are interested in italian food, I suggest to get an idea of italian geography as well… Reply

    • November 1, 2011 3:26pm
      David Lebovitz

      I’ve been fortunate enough to visit various parts of Italy, from Trieste, a port where coffee was traditionally imported into Italy, to Torino, famous for its hazelnuts and gianduja, as well as the aperitif liqueurs (like Cinzano and Martini Rossi), since many of them were invented there. So yes, I did get an idea of the geography of those parts of Italy and wrote about them since the coastal area was important for coffee importing and the Northern mountains were the right climate for hazelnut growing.

      On the site, I’ve used the geography of Italy as a context for those places – as you mentioned, Milan is a big city and like most cities (including Paris), you’ll find many of the food items and customs from other parts of the country represented, because many people have migrated there. And I brought back several bags of coffee to Paris…from Naples! Reply

  • Cathg1g2
    November 1, 2011 11:57am

    Sicilian pastries and an espresso for breakfast, a given.
    Your pictures are magnificent! I could have popped one of those lil babas straight into my mouth. Reply

  • Susie
    November 1, 2011 12:41pm

    Would it be really annoying to ask you if you might have a recipe for the Torta di pere, mele, noci con farina di castagne? A quick google search hasn’t turned up much of use and it sounds so delicious.

    Otherwise, thanks for such a fantastic blog and such perfect recipes. It still amazes me that the internet can offer up something like your expertise for free, there on my computer, whenever I need it. Reply

  • Jenny
    November 1, 2011 1:53pm

    What a great expression of the joy of food in pics. For some reason, it makes me grateful that I, a commoner but living in this age and place, can enjoy delicious foods like this. Well, that is, with enough time, set aside money, and inclination, I can eat so so well. Lucky! Reply

  • November 1, 2011 2:50pm

    Stunning pics as usual David!
    Love lake Como, been on it, in it and around it! Never spotted George Clooney though (think he has a pad on the lake).
    Those pastries look truly scrumptious. I’ve been meaning to have a go at making Sfogliatelle for ages but I’ve not had one to know if I get it right!
    As for the travel, just count your lucky stars you were not stuck on a plane, on the tarmac for over 7hours like some unfortunates recently! There was some recent press coverage of it that made me cringe. Reply

    • November 1, 2011 2:56pm
      David Lebovitz

      I am pretty sure Mr. Clooney sold his place on Lake Como a few years ago. I hear you on the “joy” of being stuck on a plane on the tarmac, although I suspect when Mr. Depardieu took a whizz on the plane, they now speed up the flights. At least the ones to France! : ) Reply

  • November 1, 2011 3:02pm

    I am glad you had a great time in Italy, and yes, food is amazing there. I wish American chefs would travel to Italy so they would know how real Italian cuisine is, I miss it.

    One word about Italians traveling abroad…..for some is laziness and the thought that nothing is better than their home country, but every country has those people, right? The other reason is monetary, average Italians are not particular wealthy, they have to watch what they spend. Third, and this is my opinion only, but I think I am not too far…Italy alone has so much history and artistic richness that it will take a lifetime to visit is all. Italians don’t think of traveling to as many cities as they can when they take a vacation, they want to stop and smell the roses, see places, not go on a roller coaster drive. Their country offers infinite vacations and culinary adventures, by the sea, in the mountains, by the lake, in the wine country, in ancient worlds, you name it, why travel far when you have it so close?

    I hope you get to travel to Italy again. May I suggest the Alba region, which is not too far from France, and has unbelievable food and wine for the next trip? Reply

  • November 1, 2011 3:22pm

    Thanks for sharing the story. Reading through the lines it reminds me how much I’m blessed to be living in a culinary paradise – all of which tends to be forgotten from time to time. We live 70km from Milan in Switzerland and at least once a month visit Como. For sure will try la Polenteria :)

    Do be sure to reserve. We were there on a Sunday and it was full, and you don’t want to drive up that hill and find they can’t serve you! -dl Reply

  • November 1, 2011 4:55pm

    LOL!! I LIKE that pic of the back of the lady and the dog. And it’s great to see this as I wasn’t overly impressed as I didn’t know where to go when I was in Milan last. At least now, I will have a general idea when I go next. Reply

  • Caroline
    November 1, 2011 4:55pm

    We spent a day in Milan this summer unexpectedly and had an amazing time. It was a Saturday and everyone was out, doing what Italians do best: eating and socializing. We found Peck by accident since it is across the street from my daughter’s favorite store in Paris: Laduree. After loading up on macarons, we visited Peck and were stunned by what the goods sold there, especially the Parmesan cheese display! Thank you for giving me a little reminder of an unforgettable day. I could go back right now…. Reply

  • November 1, 2011 4:55pm

    Now why don’t my photos turn out like that? It all looks gorgeous, feel like hopping into my car tout suite and why is the Italian coffee so good? Reply

  • Debra
    November 1, 2011 4:57pm

    What a feast! Thanks for giving me something to enjoy while I’m between trips to Italy. Reply

  • Jane Ridolfi
    November 1, 2011 5:06pm

    OMG what a great great mouthwatering post! Hope all is well JR Reply

  • Kelly
    November 1, 2011 5:14pm

    Random question, but I have always wondered: what camera do you use? Your pictures are always so crisp and lovely. Reply

  • merle
    November 1, 2011 5:17pm

    Hi David and thanks so much for sharing your wonderful trip to Milan. I have only been there a few times the most memorable was the first with our ten year old grandson. We arrived late evening at the Marriot with a hungry boy and asked the staff for a good family place to eat and ended up in cafe that served all pink food! It was years ago and sometimes i wonder if it was jet-lag, but there you go – what a way to remember Milan. Reply

  • Simon Wilder
    November 1, 2011 5:18pm

    What a lovely, evocative post, David. The thing about Italy (unlike France, sadly) is that it’s difficult to have a bad meal. (Stay away from tourist restaurants with €30 pizzas, of course). I’ve had the most amazing ceci e pasta or pasta con levre at the scruffiest looking places. And they use a lot of salt, too, which makes the leafy veg especially good.

    Also, in Italy, they like you to book, especially in the evening. And may I recommend Italy for the Gourmet Traveller… It’s full of good advice. Although heavy, and I don’t think there’s an iPad edition yet, it will improve a trip to Italy immeasurably. Reply

  • November 1, 2011 5:25pm

    Fabuloso! I loved every yummy word! Reply

  • November 1, 2011 5:27pm

    Loved the Jenny Craig ad at the end of this post! Reply

  • November 1, 2011 5:29pm

    Italy is amazing in all ways, food, culture, clothing……..
    It truly is the place of love…..

    m Reply

  • November 1, 2011 5:30pm
    David Lebovitz

    Simon: Yes, one is never assured that you’ll find a good meal in France no matter where you go. In Paris, you can no longer just walk into any café or bistro and have a good, honest meal – especially at a low price point like you can in Italy or in Asian countries (except for French bakeries).

    Kelly: You can read my Photography gear post to find out what I use. All these shots were done with my cheapie 50mm 1.8 lens, which is really lightweight and easy to tote when traveling.

    angela: The coffee is much better in Italy because they take care when making it (flushing the machines, using good quality coffee, using the proper techniques when making an espresso) although a few places in Paris are now offering good coffee. But I generally just make mine at home nowadays.

    Laura: I think you’re right. Like France, Italy is a very rich (culturally) country and you can go from one end to the other and experience a wide variety of cuisines and climates. So people tend to travel within their borders I presume. Reply

  • November 1, 2011 5:52pm


    What a good idea you had, except for getting back to Paris Beautiful photos, as always. During ten of my twenty years in “La Mode” I went to Milano twice a year and loved every bite of it, this was before the word foodie was invented. I remember discovering aragula, it could not be found in Paris at the time (the early 90’s), I brought some back! And the tramezzini (the “finger sandwiches” filled with mayonnaise and shrimp) and the Salumeria on Montenapoleano (probably Peck) and the dinners at local restaurants with my friend Alfredo, especially “La Griglia”, his usually sardinian hangout. You make me nostalgic. Torino is another gastronomic treasure, have you been ?

    Hope to see you soon,

    Paule Reply

  • November 1, 2011 5:52pm

    I’m heading for my first trip to Italy in February and my first stop is Milan – this post made me much more excited about being there than I was previously and, as usual, your pictures are gorgeous! Yipee! Reply

  • November 1, 2011 5:56pm

    I would have no other choose but to eat everything . . . except that octopus squid looking thing Reply

  • Lee Poteet
    November 1, 2011 5:57pm

    David, the bit on the under the counter mozzarella brought back memories of summer trips to Rome with my Roman uncle and Texan aunt. It is a sharp but wonderful memory that will not go away. I loved the whole post and am saving it for my daughter for the next time she and her husband make a quick trip to Italy. Reply

  • bambi breakstone
    November 1, 2011 6:19pm

    always fabulous……………….. you make me want to travel the world and just eat…. which I would do if I could….
    Please tell me what camera you are using……… Your images are so clear……
    thanks for everything ………. Reply

  • Mary
    November 1, 2011 6:32pm

    Next time I will read your postings AFTER I have eaten my lunch. My 1/2 cup of yogurt just isn’t cutting it today. Your photos captured the food and mood perfectly…delizioso.

    Heading to Paris in a few weeks. Can’t wait. Hope Metro/trains are running then. Reply

  • November 1, 2011 6:32pm

    David STOP please STOP, I cannot take it any more. I now desperately need to go to Italy, but sadly the timing sucks. We used to live in Milano, and when we had to move after a mere 11 months I wept (can you blame me?). I am wondering though why you did not have the traditional cappuccino in the morning… also I am missing those gorgeous artichokes. I have always favoured those little Italian ones, braised slowly with potato, garlic and parsley they are buonisimo! Reply

  • November 1, 2011 6:37pm

    OK, I have to know–what was with the sexy devil? Reply

  • Margaret
    November 1, 2011 6:37pm

    Oh I love to saute lucinato kale in olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes — now have to try it with ear shaped orecchietti pasta — sounds yummy — thanks David Reply

  • Margaret
    November 1, 2011 6:38pm

    also think lemon zest would make a nice addition to the kale and orecchietti pasta…. Reply

  • JimmyJay
    November 1, 2011 6:54pm

    I once tried Burrata after reading someone raving about it. I thought it did not live up to the rave review & the price. Perhaps my palate is too simple for such gourmet things. Reply

  • November 1, 2011 7:02pm

    You’re killing me, David. Those photos are pure food porn.

    I’m glad you had sfogliatelle, which IMHO beats out any French pastry I’ve ever had.

    So glad you had your coffee fix there and lived to tell about it all.

    Mangiamo! Reply

  • November 1, 2011 7:47pm

    Italian food (the kind in Italy, not the U.S.) is unbeatable, in my opinion. And I agree with Cynthia, your pics are pure food porn. Reply

  • Carolyn
    November 1, 2011 8:13pm

    Beautiful pictures! What a great post – I love reading your blog. But I swear I gain weight just looking at some of your photos. Reply

  • November 1, 2011 8:19pm

    I read your blog all the time but I rarely comment. I had to this time. Everything just looks so good, especially that cafe semifreddo–I want one now! Also interesting, buckwheat cabbage pasta (?). Reply

  • Chris Engel
    November 1, 2011 8:32pm

    I also would love a recipe for the pear, honey chesnut cake. It would
    be wonderful to bake for the holidays. Reply

  • Norine
    November 1, 2011 8:37pm

    Oh I love traveling alone. I find that the natives are always inclusive and warm, wanting you to experience the best of their area. A friend often buffers that experience. It makes you really get acquainted. There are so many special places overlooked by the crowds. And everyone likes to hear their town is the greatest as you gawk around. If Milan offers the least to tourists in Italy, it must be overwhelming to visit other towns. Those food pics have me racing for the kitchen :-). Mozerella cheese? The American stuff is rubber. I’ll have to rethink that. Reply

  • suedoise
    November 1, 2011 8:37pm

    As for arriving in Paris do skip that awful RER B train going from the airport and use the clever alternative: book a shuttle taxi often a minivan you share with others picking you up at the airport and taking you to your door whether you are staying at a private address or at an hotel.
    You must book in advance, at least 24 hours. Costs you around 25 euros one way, There are several firms doing this, do compare prices, pay in advance via internet on your credit card. I always use this service.
    When taking you to the airport they want to pick you up three hours ahead of your flight. Reply

    • November 1, 2011 9:24pm
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks for your suggestions. I sometimes do take taxis or the shuttle vans, but the vans may take a while as well since I’ve been left sitting in a van at the airport, waiting a considerable amount of time for other passengers to land since they are shared shuttles. The Roissy Bus and Air France bus are alternatives, but although the RER can be kind of in disrepair and somewhat sketchy (especially at night…), it’s normally pretty quick. I mention some ways to get from the airport to Paris at my post, Paris Airport Transfers. Reply

  • ranchodeluxe
    November 1, 2011 8:54pm

    Just give me the Italian coffee…just thinking about it Is torture! Great post. Get thee to italia often, David! Reply

  • suedoise
    November 1, 2011 9:03pm

    As for heavenly Italian specialities I hope you know that hot hot spicey sugary mustard with pieces of fruits confits (do not know the English for confit)
    called MOSTARDA.
    Wonderful with meat and meat stews. I use the MOSTARDA with ice cream as well.
    And with cheese.
    Can be had at Italian food shops in Paris.
    But they do not have it at all at La grande épicerie (of the Bon Marché store)
    however true that they carry a great deal of Italian goodies there. The reason must be that the French have not discovered the virtues of the MOSTARDA. Nobody´s perfect. Reply

  • November 1, 2011 9:05pm

    yum yum…
    the trains didn’t work because SNCF didn’t have enough drivers…. or so they said! It took me over 2hrs for a trip of normally less than 60′ last week!
    a French question is: how many expressions are there for not using the word STRIKE?!

    your report on Italian food made my mouth water; my overwhelming memory above any other good stuff is the marvellous espresso – I think that’s when I knew that Italy would be my chosen country when it comes to good, fast, honest minuscule coffees!

    another sublime experience was the courgette flowers, to be bought for ‘trois fois rien’ right outside the house we lived…. divine.

    salume or salami, as we call it – once you have eaten the real Italian salami, you’re spoilt for the rest of your life. I am the living proof…. amo tanto!!

    aaah, need to visit the kitchen for some substitute Italian food – and gelato!
    mille grazie Reply

  • Marta
    November 1, 2011 9:08pm

    @ David: my remark was meant to stress something for your not european reader – I was sure you are pretty aware of differences among italian regions and cities! It’s something I am pretty sure can be applied to France, too.
    Hope you’ll have the pleasure to discover this country furtherly in the future.

    Big fan of yours,

    Marta Reply

  • November 1, 2011 9:14pm
    David Lebovitz

    Chris and Susie: Perhaps you could contact the restaurant and they might be willing to share the recipe with you?

    Kiki: I’m not sure what’s happening with the SNCF. It used the be the jewel-in-the-crown of France, with excellent trains and punctual ones, at that. Let’s hope that things improve in the future. Would be sad if the train system didn’t maintain its previous standards.

    Marta: Thanks – and yes, Italy is a wonderful place, with so many great places to visit. Glad I’ve been able to see some of them. Hope to see more in the future..

    ranchodeluxe: I usually plan my trips to coincide with my coming to the end of my Italian coffee stash! : ) Reply

  • Tina
    November 1, 2011 11:20pm

    “does one need an excuse to eat Sicilian pastries?”
    “overfilled with creamy gianduja ”
    ” I’m not a big innards kind of guy, but…”
    I am so happy reading your posts, David!
    Thank you so much. I may never visit Milan in person, but now my world is a little bigger and richer because of your words (not to mention because of reminders to eat gianduja). Reply

  • Lien
    November 2, 2011 12:02am

    i’ve never seen polenta like this in the US :-( … the salumi, ice cream, rolled meat, and pastries make me cry … i think the salami from Fra Mani and prosciutto from La Quercia is pretty good over here. Italian gelato is unbeatable, imho, when i was in Venice i had a huge scoop of gelato everyday (my favorite is gianduja and nocciola) even in the freezing weather of february. Now in LA there is an excellent gelato place called Gelato Bar that could rival the good ones in Italy but the price is twice as much. Reply

  • Lien
    November 2, 2011 12:05am

    The little baba is so cute! Reply

  • Margaret
    November 2, 2011 12:35am

    Gina DePalma of Babbo fame posted her recipe for a pear and chestnut cake on the babbonyc website or you can google it. It looks heavenly… Reply

  • November 2, 2011 1:31am

    Look at you taking pictures of Octopus – so brave. You’re lucky you flew out of Sydney before the Qantas strike which caused havoc this week (tho most overseas visitors would be happy to be stuck in Sydney I’d imagine). Reply

  • November 2, 2011 2:22am

    Good Lord that first photo is mouthwatering! Reply

  • November 2, 2011 2:29am

    being 100% from Naples on both sides of my parents, this post is just beautiful! everything looks so amazing, it is my dream to visit one day and just eat my way through the country! Milan looks like it could be a very happy time! Thank you for the wonderful post !! Reply

  • November 2, 2011 4:23am

    This was a culinary extravaganza for the eyeballs….I cannot imagine how much fun it was to do it in person. You lucky soul! Reply

  • November 2, 2011 6:17am

    I tried picking out my favorite photo and then was overwhelmed with so many beautiful shots! You lured me in with the pastries, David. Looks like you had a great trip! Reply

  • November 2, 2011 6:44am

    The first time I visited Milan I didn’t understand what would draw people there. It certainly didn’t have the same charm that I had associated with Italy. The second time I got out of the city center a bit and found a few gems that made me think the place might not be so bad. We have another trip to Italy soon and when I’m in Milan I plan to visit some of the places you’ve mentioned…..will there be a Milan crush in my future? Fingers crossed. Reply

  • wendy
    November 2, 2011 6:54am

    You are always so delightful to read!

    Thanks for bringing smiles to so many people’s faces!

    And thank you for teaching us so many new and interesting things! Reply

  • Peter Longenecker
    November 2, 2011 5:05pm

    David, re: salumi: you mention “Jambón Ibérico from Spain gets a pass because it’s just plain unsurpassed” — probably right, but my wife and I spent three days north of Parma just so we could experience culatello at its source, and it is still number one with us. Reply

  • Yael
    November 2, 2011 6:09pm

    I enjoyed this post very much, as it gave me a chance to reminisce about my own trip there in August. We spent just a few days in Milan after a beautiful week in the countryside of Piedmont (and i have to say the desserts we found in that area may be the best I’ve ever had in Italy). If anyone is interested, consider paying a visit to Ristorante Solferino while in Milan–we had an outstanding meal there, including a perfectly cooked grouper in saffron cream sauce that I don’t think I’ll ever stop dreaming about. Reply

  • November 2, 2011 9:20pm

    I’m home from Rome and on my way to Milan this evening. You’ve whetted my appetite! Yes, Milan doesn’t have the choice of restaurants that Rome has and lacks in historical charm, but it has fashion and gelato. I also shop at Peck….it is glorious and food in Milan is much cheaper than Rome. You were lucky to have Sara show you around. I think I’ll skip all of the expressos and have a few gentle cappuccinos. My friends will thank me!!

    Lake Cuomo is as delicious as all of the Italian desserts. I will try La Polenteria…it looks wonderful. This trip though, I may head to Bergamo.

    Thanks for sharing and letting us tag along. Reply

  • November 2, 2011 9:36pm

    This was such a delight to read! What wonderful photos of the food :) Reply

  • November 2, 2011 9:54pm

    Gorgeous photos as usual David.

    I’m off to Genoa tomorrow and if I find food half as good as this I’ll be a very happy girl. Fortunately I’ve got a local guide too, so here’s hoping.

    On the subject of Italian cured meats, have you tried Culatello di Zibello? Absolutely fabulous. I get it in London from Reply

  • Sarah
    November 2, 2011 9:57pm

    I sort of want to take a knife and fork to my computer screen… and I agree with sentiments that I’m glad you didn’t post a leftover halloween candy recipe :) Reply

  • November 3, 2011 12:22am

    Gorgeous pics… love the ones of the salumi… who knew meat could be so attractive?

    I’ve never been to Milan, but it looks so appealing. My two weeks in Italy years ago were not enough… Reply

  • Bee | Rasa Malaysia
    November 3, 2011 3:22am

    Same thing here: when I lived in Malaysia, I hardly travel to the neighboring countries, but now all I dream of every day is Bangkok, or Bali, or anywhere in Southeast Asia!! Reply

  • Dave Wheeling
    November 3, 2011 5:37am

    I love Milan. Hope you had a chance to go to Garbagnati, the bakery a half block from Peck. It is great. We always get a pastry there to eat on the train back to Rome. Beautiful photos, you are spot on about the salami. Reply

  • Christina
    November 3, 2011 2:40pm

    Hi David! Would you mind sharing the location of the outdoor market you got the sold-under-the-table mozzarella from? It sounds awesome! Reply

  • November 3, 2011 3:26pm

    haven’t been back to Milan in ages, thank you for such a lovely report.
    When is your foodie travel book coming out? Reply

  • Marie
    November 4, 2011 7:19pm

    For pizzocheri, use savoy cabbage, when you do it yourself it’s easier to control the butter/cheese ratio :) It’s a dish that suits perfectly for cold autumn days I think. Mostarda is on of the things I shudder at, together with tibetan tea… Reply

  • November 5, 2011 3:10am

    Wow, lovely photos and a great post! You’re living out my dream of city hopping and eating well along the way. Between the pastries, salami, polenta, etc. I don’t know which I’d like to try most. Absolute heaven! Reply

  • Caitlin
    November 7, 2011 1:18am

    When I lived in London we went to other places in Europe all the time. Everyone did. Plus, the beauty of Europe is you can get the train everywhere so you don’t have to deal with airports if you don’t want to. The Man in Seat 61 website is a great resource for planning train travel in Europe, Reply

  • November 7, 2011 10:41pm

    I only spent one afternoon in Milan before but I will be looking out for these places next time I go. I really like your foodie city guides. I hope one day you’ll make it to Budapest and so maybe I can take you around – I’m sure you’ll like the local food here as well. Cheers! Reply

  • Melissa
    November 8, 2011 11:01pm

    Hi David,

    Where did you buy those beautiful mini pastries? Now that I’m living in Paris (originally from Toronto) I’ll have to go to Milan for a long weekend. Reply

  • November 9, 2011 7:14pm

    Your post made me smile..I am Milanese and I love my town from the very deep of my heart because I know its life, its rythms, its secrets. So it was very funny and curious to read about Milan from someone else’s eyes.
    And yes, cheese and coppa are great :D

    Alice Reply

  • Federix
    November 9, 2011 8:44pm

    Hello! I followed the link to your blog from JustHungry, and what a nice discovery it was! I really enjoy your posts, but I felt somewhat obligated to leave a comment since I’m italian, and reading about one of our cities from a foreign perspective is always a pleasure. (please excuse any grammar mistakes!)

    I’m happy your stay in Milan was good (I live in Rome, by the way!), but I would like to point some mistakes in the italian terms you wrote – nothing big, mind you, and I hope it does not offend you, maybe it could be useful to you?

    So, here we go.

    The ice cream in the cup is called “coppetta”, while “cornetto” is a type of pastry.
    Salumi – they re actually called “affettati” especially when there’s prosciutto involved :D
    The ear-like pasta is “orecchiette” – to cook with “broccoletti” of course!
    ….and that’s all. Hope it was useful for your international dictionary! (man, long post is long ahah)

    Keep up the good work! Reply

    • November 9, 2011 9:29pm
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks Federix. I obviously need to brush up on my Italian! I do use broccolini with my ‘ear-shaped’ pasta. But perhaps it’s more traditional to use broccoletti – which I will try to find. I love all those Italian greens! Reply

  • Federix
    November 10, 2011 12:39am

    Oooh I see – I clicked on the link in broccolini: that’s “cime di rapa” !!! It’s a delicious speciality of Puglia. Didn’t know that was their english name, I learned something too, awsome! :D Reply

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