Brand building through storytelling

Food for the soul

Every time my whole day falls apart, I know there’s always one last chance to set things right. It’s called dinner. And I’ll bet my wooden spoons that when it comes to warming the soul, a simple blast of down-home flavour is sure to beat a chef’s creation last with hard-to-find ingredients. Hold the truffles and bring me the pizza!

My husband and I were in Italy, celebrating 27 years of marriage in the land of truffles and tiramisu, when we were seized by a yearning for pizza. We could almost taste the toppings that spelled comfort—thin slices of golden potato, chunks of juicy sausage and fragrant rosemary sprigs. We deserved our share of comfort: the last day of our trip had brought nothing but trouble. The mysterious loss of a thick wad of lire. An hours-long drive through promised “showers” that turned out to be a blinding downpour, while our rental car slid over the accumulating ponds like a puck on a hockey rink. The rush-hour search for an airport hotel in a roman suburb full of one-way streets, all flooded. By the time we found what seemed to be the one hotel in Lido di Ostia, we were ready to settle for anything. The place looked as if it had barely survived gang warfare, but why fret about décor when we had one last dinner to savour in Italy?

It’s often said that you can’t get a bad meal in Italy, and we’d been repeating the mantra. In a remote mountain hamlet, a bar not bigger than a walk-in closet had offered ambrosial involtini (veal rolls bursting with cheese and prosciutto). In chrome-table cafeterias with blaring TVs, we’d eaten pizzas crowned with fresh wild mushrooms and peppers roasted to perfection. We had yet to find a pizza with potatoes, sausage and rosemary. But as we picked our way through the sodden streets of Lido di Ostia, with the wind savaging our umbrellas, something told me we were going to luck out that night.

Then I saw it—our pizzeria! In the window, a smiling proprietor tended a wood oven (a sign of old-world authenticity, I told my husband). Four generations of an Italian family were exclaiming over their pizzas. This place was “locally popular,” as guidebooks say, hence the chrome table and blaring TV. Then menu listed at least 30 toppings, including potato, sausage and rosemary. As we gave our order to the kindly waitress, who clearly didn’t see many tourists, I pictured myself telling friends back home about the little gem we’d discovered (“Tuscany? Yes, we had some lovely meals there, but if you want to find the ultimate pizza, you have to go to Lido di Ostia”).

While waiting for our dinner, we remembered that home cooking takes time. What finally emerged from the wood oven was a truly breathtaking concoction sure to enchant any diner under the age of six. Instead of thinly sliced golden potatoes, our pizza was heaped with—could it be?—frozen French fries. I prodded hopefully at the stringy cheese, but uncovered not a single sprig of rosemary. (The less said about the sausage, the better.)

To find another restaurant, we would have needed waders. But that’s not why we ate the whole thing. The real reason is the restorative laughter that we shared between bites—and the sweet sense of triumph that came with it.

Early in our marriage, we’d have tried to blame the day’s disasters on each other. But after 27 years of feasts and fiascoes, it doesn’t matter who was carrying the money when it vanished, or whose brainwave it was to eat at the one bad restaurant in Italy. Years from now, when we’ll have forgotten what we ate in the fabled restaurants of Tuscany, we’ll still be telling the tale of our dinner in Lido di Ostia. And you can bet we’ll still be laughing.

First published in Chatelaine, February, 1998. Copyright Rogers Media Publishing. Used by permission.

Posted by Rona

Leave a Reply

Stay up-to-date with Rona.

To see what’s on my mind these days, friend me on Facebook.

Miss my old site?

Visit the archive to find your favorite blog posts and Chatelaine editorials or browse my published articles. Sorry, I’m not blogging anymore.