Friday, October 18, 2013

Verona: When Food Saved the Day

To start reading about how this trip was conceptualized and how it all beganclick here.

Every now and then, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. In my case, it was about time it did considering my travels had been flawless so far.

The first hitch happened minutes after I reached the city. I had decided to walk the three kilometre stretch from the train station to the Airbnb apartment where I was to be put up. As usual, I was trying to save two euros on a bus ticket only to later spend sixty at a good restaurant-- I had my priorities right.

The beautiful Verona!

Suddenly, one of the wheels of the suitcase I'd been lugging around came off its socket. My 30 kg three-month old American Tourister was now just a heavy box I was compelled to carry.

Then came the email from the wine importer who was supposed to show me around. Something important popped up and she had to leave town for a few days.

It also didn't help that the forecast for the following 48 hours called for intermittent rains.

These may seem like minor glitches but since my trip involved moving from city to city every two days, it felt catastrophic.

Lovestruck wall at Juliet's House

Beautiful lettuce from the market at Piazza dell'Erbe
The silver lining on my dark Veronese cloud came in the form of Giorgio, a 23 year old pharmacy student who I'd met through my couchsurfing host Isa in Bologna. He insisted that I hang out with him and his friends for the weekend. By this point, I had traveled to almost a dozen places and desperately needed a break from my culinary explorations. I said yes immediately.

Scene from the barbecue 

Jamming during the barbecue

"There's only one rule. You have to eat with your hands"

On night number one, Giorgio's friend Veronica hosted a barbecue at her isolated farmhouse up in the hills of Verona. As expected, I donned the chef hat and braved the flames for these people I'd just met. The initial fumbles over the language barrier quickly turned into chuckles once some wine and juicy ribs were served. There was enough good music, laughter and conversation to last into the wee hours of the morning.

Bitten by the kitchen bug, I offered to cook the whole bunch of them an elaborate dinner the second night. The menu of fish moilee, baingan bharta, chicken jalfrezi, pulao and raitha was a huge hit. I had by this point cooked more than half a dozen Indian meals on this trip, which is more than I usually do in an entire year. On the bright side, this meant that I got to eat enough desi food to keep me going amidst all the unfamiliar albeit delicious European fare.

Hanging out with Giorgio and the group, I realized that they weren't so different from me and my friends. Giorgio who had spent several months volunteering in an orphanage near Pondicherry was still fascinated by India. "I constantly crave some sambhar and shrimp fry over rice," he kept repeating. Pietro was the wacky prankster who had more fun eating with his hands than most people do in India. Giulia who kept trying to converse with me in her broken English was thoroughly amused by this strange Indian chef traveling across Italy. And Veronica, Martino and Paolo were the more responsible ones amongst the lot who seemed to keep everyone in check.

It reminded me of my own college days when we hosted dinners and barbecues late into the night. The conversations weren't so different and food and drink were always central.

Wine tasting at Cantina Valpolicella Negrar

View from the winery at Valpolicella
Having cooked for these near perfect strangers twice in two days, it dawned on me that food can be a powerful medium for cross-cultural interaction. Cooking transcends nationality, and sharing a meal brings people together regardless of language or race.

Could food be the solution to world peace? Perhaps not, but I'm sure it could help.

And just in case you're wondering, the rain didn't hamper my time in Verona, and I did get the chance to visit a fabulous Amarone winery in Valpolicella. As for my faulty suitcase, I'm still working on that--one painful step at a time.

1 comment:

  1. Food transcends all cross cultural barriers :) rightly said Thomas!