When I arrived in Sorrento two weeks ago, I have to admit that I had average expectations for the food of southern Italy. I thought that, of course the pizza, pasta, and seafood would be exquisite but outside of these preconceived “specialities” I did not expect the plethora of fresh ingredients that became presented to me daily, being as ingrained in the small coastal town as the Italian language itself.
The limoncello maker in the Old Square we visited on the SAI tour was my first experience with the love-filled relationships that Italians hold with their food and drink. The way he tenderly held each lemon and made quick, precise cuts to preserve every bit of the fruit including the peel, putting each part to use whether it be in candies, chocolates, or the deliciously sweet yet dangerously alcoholic limoncello, showed me the utter passion that Italians have for cooking a brewing with local ingredients.
As I started to find the local supermercados and discover these fresh, local ingredients for myself, I truly began to understand their passion. Cheeses hanging from the shelves, and legs of ham aging in each restaurant that would one day become the delicious prosciutto. Of course, every street is lined with lemon and orange trees and you can see all the local fruits and vegetables grown on elevated groves and gardens above the sidewalks; there is something special about being able to see where your food is grown. I was overwhelmed with options until I realized: I have almost four months to try everything.
Shopping for ingredients in Italy is surprisingly unfastidious when your knowledge of the Italian language is very little. I made a deal with myself that I would buy a different type of meat, cheese, seafood, or pasta each time I shop at the supermercado in order to properly experience each food type. I ask local Italian mothers which ingredients pair with which and they are always so happy to share with me their favorite meals. They describe both the ingredients and the cooking process with love and in great detail, always leaving my mouth watering. Italia already has my heart and my stomach. Buon appetito!
Lydia is a spring 2017 Sant’anna (Sorrento) student from the University of Arkansas.