We were weary travellers, heading towards the end of our long, leisurely journey around Italy by the time we arrived in Piova Massaia, a small, sleepy village in Piedmont. In the darkness of the night, we were searching for the accommodation that we had booked online. We decided to stop off in the only place where the lights were still on, to replenish our quickly fading energy with some caffeine and to connect to some Wi-Fi. It was an unassuming, small establishment which I figured was a simple coffee shop. What happened from then on was totally unexpected.
Before we left to rest after a long day of travel, a gregarious, red-headed Italian woman boldly insisted that we return there to eat. A few days later, we decided to take up this offer because why not?
Introducing Bar Centro Locanda della Buona Notte.
Not long after being seated for our meal, we quickly felt that the atmosphere was relaxed, home-like, welcoming and warm. In this family-owned trattoria, you arrive as a stranger and leave feeling like you are a part of a family. We soon learned that all meals are prepared with love by the passionate and immeasurably skilled Nonna. She intuitively decides what she wants to make for the day and that is what her family and her customers will eat. I simply told them that I didn’t eat meat and they worked around that with ease.
It was love at first bite
From our first meal, it was love at first bite. I started with a seafood antipasti salad, Marko had an assortment of dried meats and we both had homemade breadsticks. My next dish was a hearty bean stew, served with tasty polenta pieces. Marko was treated to a perfectly seasoned vegetable lasagna which of course, I treated myself to a taste of. At this stage, I was well and truly full. Marko had some room to spare, so Nonna cooked him up a ‘porchetta’. It was a very tender, thinly sliced pork steak, topped with Nonna’s minty and zesty sauce. This steak didn’t need a knife and it melted in his mouth. Marko nearly lost his mind over that last dish. Then, Nonna bought out a slice of heaven, something I will never forget. A banana cake, with rich chocolate pieces and a hint of sea salt.
This is what we came to Italy for!
We were enamoured and overwhelmed by this experience. This is what we came to Italy for and we thought we would never find this food utopia that we dreamed of. We found that in Italy, as foreigners (keep in mind that Marko is also fluent in Italian), that it was almost impossible to get beyond tourist food. I will give some tips on how to do this at the end of my post.
We thanked the lovely family for their mind-blowing experience, for giving us a taste of Italy della Nonna. As I was somewhat tipsy from some wine, I emotionally relayed this gratitude via Marko-translate. Nonna told us to come back the next day for ‘the best pizza you will ever have.’ This is the foodies equivalent of winning the lottery. We could not say no.
‘The best pizza you will ever have’
On this day, where the promise of ‘the best pizza we would ever have’ would come to fruition, I was filled with excited anticipation. I had previously eaten many delicious pizzas and pizzettas in Italy but I knew this would be different. After all, it was pizza by Nonna! Marko and I visited museums in Torino and quickly rushed back for our feast.
We started with a beautiful spinach frittata. We were then introduced to the best pizza we have ever had. Mine was topped with spinach, fries and mozzarella. Marko’s pizza was topped with spicy sausage, fries and mozzarella. We finished off the meal with some more of that unforgettable banana-chocolate cake and some candid conversation with Lina and her mother, Nonna. They taught us a lot about pizza and where to find good Italian food.
A life-altering foodie experience
As a pizza lover, I am forever changed by this experience. Since October 2018, when this took place, I have had 4 pizzas. 2 takeaway and 2 made by Marko, using techniques that Nonna passed onto us. This is big coming from a former fast-food fiend, I always prefer the homemade pizza now.
Here are my top tips for finding the best food in Italy
Some of these tips come from Italians themselves, others come from our experiences.
1. The best, most authentic Italian food you will find when dining out is in a trattoria.
The trattoria is where you will have the best dining experience for the best price. In restaurants, you may sometimes have amazing food but it will usually come with an amazing price tag. Like the time Marko and I paid 6€ for 2 cans of coke and 4€ for breadsticks that we thought were complimentary, this was in one sitting. That really turned us off dining out.
Trattorias are less formal and have a more casual type of dining. They don’t normally have menus. You will have wine from decanters instead of a bottle. Italians typically go back home from university and work to have homecooked lunches, they value homemade cooking. You are more likely to find this type of cooking in a trattoria than a restaurant. In the case, where we went to the family owned and run trattoria, we had the most authentic Italian food because it was food that Italians actually eat, not food from a ‘special’ tourist menu. The closest you can get to homemade cooking is the closest you can get to authentic Italian food.
2. Get away from the popular tourist destinations
If you read my
scathing honest posts about visiting some popular Italian destinations, you will know I was quite disappointed with some of my experiences being a traveller in Italy. I am under the impression that in the places that have a neverending flow of tourists that the locals often love to hate them. They don’t want you there. But they want your money. In these places, you are at risk of being sold inferior foods for exorbitant prices. Like the time Marko and I paid 6€ for a few pieces of fruit from a roadside seller on the Amalfi Coast, who deliberately sold us rotten fruit. These places are great to sightsee but if you want an authentic Italian food adventure, it is nearly impossible in these places. A typical sightseeing trip will not lead you to the best food.
When you visit a small trattoria, patisserie or cafe in a small town or village, they will be usually thrilled to have you there! I don’t know about you but I like to dine in places where the staff are inviting. Trust me it is worth the trouble to get ‘off the beaten track’ (by that I mean simply away from the popular sites and cities), you will find hidden gems as I did many times.
3. See where the locals go – with your own eyes.
Once when we were driving towards our accommodation in a small town in Naples, we came across a bustling dessert place, Zio Savino Qualità. In the middle of the night, this patisserie had people coming and going, lines of people patiently waiting for their treats. We didn’t know what they sold but we pulled over our car and got in line. That is when we tried ‘Graffe,’ a long, doughnut-like pastry filled with cream of your choice, a speciality of this region. This ended up being one of the best desserts I tried in Italy. We also had some delicious fried snacks from a roadside seller for the same reason. We observed the locals and followed suit and we never regretted doing this.
So, put down your guide book, get off the tourist trail and see where the locals are eating and go there!
4. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Be curious and take a chance.
I think in Western culture we can be a little obsessed with how something looks externally. Rustic is scary, we want some sterile restaurant with modern trappings. ‘Omg it is so cute, let’s go’! ‘They have gelato shaped as flowers, fun!’ No!!! You can keep those preferences back home but come on, you are in Italy, try something different. Go and dine in that unassuming trattoria, buy snacks from a guy with a little food cart, go to a farm and buy your cheese. Take a chance!
PS. This applies specifically to Italy and doesn’t apply globally.
Have a foodie adventure!
If you are a foodie visiting Italy, I implore you to go out of your way to not just sightsee but make a food adventure your priority! Furthermore, please do yourself a favour and visit this incredible trattoria in Piova Massaia. It cost us around 20€ per person for each of our unforgettable dining experiences. If you are looking to stay the night, they also have their own bed and breakfast.
Other recommendations for Piedmont
If you are in this region please go to Cherasco and buy Cherasco kisses from Barbero. This region is well known for its hazelnuts, the Cherasco kisses are a treat with dark chocolate and hazelnut pieces. Barbero has charming, vintage interiors, that reminds me of the candy stores in the original ‘Charlie and The Chocolate Factory’ movie. It is definitely one of the most beautiful sweet stores that I have ever come across! I also highly recommend visiting Turin, it is a beautiful cosmopolitan city with many world-renowned museums.
Thanks for reading!
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