Italy. Where the rich, red tomato sauce flows like water. Where the refreshing scent of an earthy green basil leaf wafts off of each and every Margherita Pizza in the area. Where smooth, shiny forks twirl the finest steaming pastas in all of the world. Where stunning rows of perfectly aged olives and grapes line the countries orchards. Where the most delicious vivid, red and white wines are sucked down with each meal. It still baffles me how and why we ended up dining in confines of someones home, eating a crisp, crunchy crostini covered in amysterious glob of what seemed to be cat food!
After being informed that the only vehicle that Hertz had left was a box-like grey van operating only manually, my Father was very distressed. The van lacked air conditioning, and was a bit uncomfortable. Our family named it the “Electrician’s Van”, because it seemed as though it wasn’t really outfitted for tourists.
During August of 2006, our family made their way down to Umbria, Italy for a once and a lifetime experience to celebrate my Mom and Dad’s 40th Birthdays. There we rented an exquisite Farmhouse for a month, expecting to absorb knowledge about the history of the area, and more importantly, sample the delectable cuisine Umbria had to offer. The Farmhouse gave us a God’s-eye view of the small town of Todi at dawn, as well as at dusk.
To arrive at our “palace”, our electrician’s van had to be driven across a series of windy, thin roads lined with the most beautiful tall, lush, beady blackberry bushes as far as the eye could see. As a result of the crooked roads, most everybody in the van was queasy and carsick.
While we sampled some fantastic, classic cuisine during our trip to Umbria, nothing compared to our cat food extravaganza. As we drove through the dusty, winding empty roads of Umbria, we spotted it. Hidden away among the numerous houses of Umbria, the Z family accidentally uncovered the lost treasure of Italy. As we passed through the doors of what seemed to us to be someone’s home (although there was a small sign outside), we noticed the dozens of wiry, mangey, possibly stray cats spread out among the restaurant. They were everywhere. Wherever you stepped, the raspy meow of a cat rang hollowly in your ears.
After sitting down at what looked almost like a Kitchen Table, we were greeted by a beyond kind woman who, you guessed it, spoke absolutely no English. Although it was hard to understand what we were going to be eating, we made out that it was a set 5 course meal. As plates and plates of incredible homemade food came flying to our table, one course stuck out in my mind. This course was in fact the “cat food” crostini. Although we weren’t sure exactly what we were dining on, we guessed as a result of the surplus of cats, that were in fact eating cat food. Believe it or not, the “cat food” crostini was surprisingly delectable and I ate everyone’s! This became a joke in our family because I was an experimental foodie even at 7 years old.
Although the rest of the trip to Umbria was a blur in time, this particular moment shines bright in my mind, and will for the rest of my life.