Blog: Italian gastro research

Catherine Sleep | 13 October 2004

I’m fresh back from a marvellous week on the Italian island of Sardinia. Never off the job, here are my food observations (well, mainly food):

The seafood is as good as I’ve experienced anywhere, and much fresher, more diverse and better value than on our own island, Great Britain. Octopus, squid, mullet, snapper, eel, salmon, white fish, all manner of shellfish: all were readily available, simply prepared and delicious.

At a local market I was delighted to see hordes of locals jostling for their place in the queue at the local cheesemonger’s stall, or bartering over the most magnificent display of fresh vegetables or cured meats. I have got used to seeing impressive displays of market food on trips to less developed countries that don’t yet enjoy all the ‘benefits’ of supermarket dominance, but it was heartening to see a real passion for local food in an EU member state.

Ice cream was ubiquitous and excellent. Although what is that blue variety called Puffo meant to taste of? The wide choice of flavours reminded me of an ice-cream-mad friend who spent a year in Russia as part of her studies in the early 90s. To celebrate her 21st birthday she and a group of friends took the 40-hour train trip to Moscow where a Baskin-Robbins had just opened. “Thirty-one fabulous flavours!” she kept singing all the way there. Imagine the look on her face when they finally arrived to find just two flavours were available – one of which was vanilla.

On a less positive note, I was riled by the many restaurants in Sardinia which impose an obligatory service charge, of 15% or in some cases even 20% (this is high for Europe, although I gather it’s standard in the States). This practice bugs me because it deprives me of the freedom to reward good service of my own volition. I was also taken aback to see the occasional tourist add another 10% to the bill, probably not realising that service was included. In my view, by imposing a service charge the restaurant has chosen not to leave tipping to my discretion, so I don’t tip. It puts diners in a difficult position and is hardly fair on good waiters either.

Leaving food to one side and turning to the locals, my trip confirmed that Italians score full marks sartorially and make the British tourists look positively sloppy (although not as hopeless as the Germans – ooh, those socks with sandals are a hard habit to break, aren’t they?). I also noticed an unusually high number of youths zooming around on motorcycles. There was an equally high number of youths hobbling around on crutches. I suspect the two are linked.


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