Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Friday, June 10, 2005
 
Food

Sorry about the lack of bloggage; am back home now and will unpack travel journals as I unpack my souvenirs: predictably, mostly chocolate.

Readers of my Japan blogs will remember the adventures I had figuring out if food was vegetarian, but I didn't really have that problem in France. Knowing French meant I knew the food wasn't vegetarian. So it's perhaps little surprise that my new favorite restaurant in Paris is, in fact, Italian. Cesar Pizza in Les Gobelins, besides having an antipasto of perfectly grilled vegetables on a bed of impossibly crispy radichio, also had a charming team of linen-shirted waiters who all greeted me with a "Bonjour! La chere jolie vegetarienne"("Good Day! The dear pretty vegetarian!") every time I passed the place. The walls are decorated with mirrors and Venetian masques, bringing to mind Neil Gaiman, and seated in the back I had a fine view as the staff kissed and hugged regular customers in greeting and farewell. They plied the dining couples with wine and bread and delightfully bitter olives while these couples did, in fact, gaze soulfully into each other's eyes. In front of me, one evening, a fairly young man, with a salt and pepper beard he seemed to have grown merely for philosophical gravitas, seemed practically on the verge of proposing to his frilly-bloused date when her cell phone rang. This kept happening all around me, to both genders, and I had to wonder how excessively romantic a French tableau I would have found before the days of mobiles.

My favorite Italian restaurant, so far, however, is thankfully in Rome. Being paranoid about getting tickets to a fortuitous performance of Vivaldi's "Quatro Stagioni" (more on that later) Ruchira and I found ourselves hungry and with time to kill near Republicca. We wandered into a relaxed cafe decorated with black and white photos depicting a more hectic cafe. We dined on risotto, and a cheeseless pizza with a paper thin crust. Ruchira didn't really need to try out her Italian, the waiters all spoke English, but a third language did come up. The South Asian guy behind the counter, operating the Pizza oven, wanted to know if we spoke Hindi. No, we said, Bengali, and in Bengali he responded, asking us about our vacation. (We were less surprised when the Indian restaurant we went to near Notre Dame was partially staffed by Bangladeshi Bengalis, giving us three languages to talk to them in, but still resulting in confusion over whether we wanted our water "with gas.") 20 years has this Bengali pizza baker lived in Italy.

The previous night our waiter on the cobbly, curvy Via Veneto was pretty excited when he found out we were from one of the places he's been to outside of Italy, going on and on about how beautiful San Francisco is. (He reminded me of Rowan Atkinson--maybe I'll give the Roman Blackadder a spin.) Well, yes, we agreed, but we thought we'd see something else. Even so he was surprised when we were surprised--shocked, really--that the apple juice he brought Ruchira was green. "Here in Italy we have green apples! Don't you have green applies in America?" Well, yes, but their juice isn't usually green. I feared a terribly skinny concoction, but I got a taste, and it seemed smooth as cream. My orange juice was the sunny hue I'm used to, but the laughing British couple next to us said they'd gotten a shock at lunch when their orange juice came out the color of blood.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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