Less Is More: Rome’s Coffee Culture @BethFishReads #weekendcooking

Putting in a full work week after our big anniversary trip to Rome has brought it home to me that I’m not actually an Italian woman with the means to eat out all the time and the leisure to walk off multiple two- and three-course meals every day.

But, while returning home has meant less food at mealtimes, it also means more coffee!

stack of four books by Elena Ferrante and coffee in a mugMy cheap souvenir coffee mug from Rome and my great birthday gift from my husband. He didn’t realize I read My Brilliant Friend on the plane ride back, but now I don’t have to buy the other three!

Since we wanted to have a relaxing vacation, we decided to stay in one spot instead of traveling around. Of course, Rome has such a huge amount of art and historical and religious sites (and the Pope!) as well as numerous romantic spots (not to mention food! and wine!) that it’s already an appealing tourist destination, but something else that attracted me to the idea of Rome was hearing that it had a “coffee culture”.

So Romans are serious about their coffee? I pictured sipping brews from different coffee bean blends in the mornings at the counters of coffee “bars” all over the city, and sampling local wines with dinner (and lunch, as it turned out). What could be better?

Here’s where the importance of doing your research in advance comes in.  I did know that in Rome, caffè means espresso. Strong, black coffee — that’s great, just the way I like it. I even knew that espresso cups are very small compared to American coffee cup sizes, but we two caffeine-dependent travelers discovered to our dismay that you don’t even get those tiny little cups filled when you order “due caffè” (two coffees). Two sips and you’re done!

espresso in cup with a cannolo in backgroundTeensy-tiny espresso with a great big cannolo in the background! This is a tourist concession, too, because espresso is supposed to come after the meal, not with dessert.

Amusingly, we finally realized we needed to learn how to order two “double espressos” so in the second half of our vacation, when we had finished our (large) lunch at a restaurant near the Vatican, my husband valiantly asked for due caffè doppio, and we thought we were all set. But the waiter stumped us by asking in his halting English if we wanted it in a “bigger cup or regular cup”.

Since there was PLENTY of room left in the regular espresso cup for twice the amount of espresso, we said “regular cup”. To our dismay, we received two cups with the same amount of espresso in each as usual, just double-strength! Oh, well, I guess it gave us the extra boost we were looking for for our afternoon at the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s!

Mouse over these photos from the Vatican and Vatican Museums to enlarge them or to read my riveting captions:

Eating Rome by Elizabeth Minchilli (see my last Weekend Cooking post) has a whole chapter on how to drink coffee in Rome and there are also many blog post with better pictures and full explanations and even a Kindle e-book on the subject, so I’m not going to go into detail here, except to say that we didn’t want to cave while we were there and start ordering “caffè Americano” all the time, although we did drink it greedily each morning from the “American-style” buffet breakfast buffet at our hotel each morning. (The big urn labeled “coffee” was espresso with boiling water added to fill up the urn.  Et voila! Caffè Americano!)

The Hotel Veneto Palace streetOur home away from home, the Hotel Veneto Palace on Via Piemonte

I knew from reading Eating Rome that the usual Roman breakfast is at most a croissant with your espresso, but the hotel provided a wide range of tourist-pleasing breakfast foods from granola and yogurt to scrambled eggs. We appreciated the effort to cater to American tourists, but I was usually still full from the previous night’s dinner which would start at the earliest at 8 p.m. and go to 11 p.m., so it wasn’t hard for me to have the Roman-style croissant breakfast, except, of course, for drinking multiple cups of caffè Americano instead of a single espresso. And except for the last day when I had TWO croissants – one plain and one  chocolate chip – very American!! It was also adorable and funny that – just as we Americans got things a little bit off when we tried to understand Romans and their habits – the hotel served up steamed hotdogs in place of breakfast sausage!

My adventurous husband was disappointed in me for shying away from trying to experience actual Roman coffee culture by going into the small, dark coffee bars crammed with locals who would be annoyed by tourists coming in and drinking coffee at their counter and trying to act like we knew what we were doing with our extremely minimal Italian! Each time we passed one, he’d suggest going in and I’d chicken out and say no, it was too crowded, or too seedy-looking, or not authentic, etc.

And so we’d end up at a sidewalk cafe once again, with all the other tourists!

But, hey, we WERE tourists, after all, however much we tried to fit in.


For more on drinking coffee in Italy:

How to Drink Espresso Like an Italian
How to Order an Italian Coffee in Italy
How to Order Coffee in Italy

Happy Weekend Cooking!

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How Do You Say Delicious in Italian?: Eating Rome by Elizabeth Minchilli #weekendcooking @BethFishReads @eminchilli

cover imageI’ve been away from the blog for a while, but I was also “away” away this month…for eight full days in Rome sight-seeing and eating!

In the weeks and months leading up to the trip, I had a Rome reading list, a movie-watching list, Web sites bookmarked, and was learning Italian for tourists – all of which got short shrift from me as other things took priority. But in the end the trip was still pretty darn wonderful; I’ll probably be writing and talking about it for a while if I can get any other blog posts done before I’m submerged in real life again.

IMG_3282Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City by Elizabeth Minchilli is a wonderful guide to Roman food and drink. The author fills you in on how the locals order at restaurants (e.g. Drink beer, not wine, with pizza) and coffee bars (e.g. Don’t buy coffee at the counter and take it to a table to sit down) and street food (e.g. Don’t eat while walking around, unless it’s gelato or a very particular slice of pizza) but she advises you as a friend, and as someone who was once new to these strange customs herself –not in a scolding way!

pizza and beerThe book also has sections on stocking your Italian pantry , shopping in the markets, and many recipes for recreating favorite meals when you return home. The author had written five coffee table books about various Italian topics before beginning her blog, Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome, where she writes about the city she loves and has lived in for years. An American, she spent some time in her childhood living in Rome when her parents upped and moved the whole family there after taking a three-week vacation in Italy (!) and after going back to Florence for grad school work, she ended up marrying an Italian man and settling down in Rome, which she describes as “the city I had always truly considered home in my heart.”

This is from the introduction to Eating Rome:

Eating Rome is my homage to the city that feeds me – literally and figuratively. It is a personal, quirky, and (I hope) fun look at the city through my own food-focused vision. This is how I experience Rome, day by day, bite by bite.”

But even though it seemed like I took a LOT of pictures of food on our vacation, we did do a lot of sight-seeing, too! We also had must-try restaurant suggestions from others, plus a restaurant meal in Rome takes 2-3 hours minimum, so we didn’t get to visit anywhere near all of the places Elizabeth Minchilli writes so temptingly about in her book. Plus, not being locals, we did a lot of the touristy type of eating, too (lots of sidewalk cafes.)

Caffe CanovaHowever, we did eschew the touristy after-dinner drink (limoncello) in favor of trying grappa and amaro, although the waiter the first time we ordered grappa was so sure we wouldn’t like the very strong liquor he brought us a bottle of limoncello, a sweet liqueur, too!

Limoncello, amaro, and grappa (after-dinner drinks)
Limoncello, amaro, and grappa (after-dinner drinks)

Thanks to Eating Rome, we also managed to avoid the touristy gaffe of ordering cappucino at any other time than in the morning, but I think that the Rome coffee culture deserves a blog post of its own! (Chapter 6 of Eating Rome is titled “How to Order Coffee Like a Roman”.)

two cups of cappuccini
In Rome, cappuccino, or any coffee with milk, is a morning-only drink.

Happy Weekend Cooking!

Weekend Cooking badgeLinked to Weekend Cooking, a weekly feature on Beth Fish Reads. Click/tap image for Weekend Cooking posts from other bloggers.

Lithuanian Holocaust Heritage: We Are Here by Ellen Cassedy (Audio) @ellencassedy

cover imageLet me start with an apology to author Ellen Cassedy for taking so long to review the Audible audiobook edition of her memoir We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust (published in print by the University of Nebraska Press) which she sent me many months ago.

We Are Here is a beautifully written memoir about learning to speak and write Yiddish as an adult.  Signing up for an intensive summer Yiddish language course and traveling to Lithuania to explore her Lithuanian Jewish roots leads the author into a deeper understanding of the history of the Holocaust in Lithuania under the Nazi regime, when over 200,000 Jewish citizens of Lithuania (94% of the Jewish population of the country) were killed. The Soviet occupation of the country after World War II led to more mass deportation and murder of Lithuanian citizens. This “second genocide” receives more attention in the history books and museums in Lithuania than the decimation of the Jewish population, suggests the author, perhaps because the Soviets are a simpler villain than the Nazis, who were aided by Lithuanian citizens in the killing of other Lithuanians.

This Audible audiobook is narrated by Suzanne Toren. I highly recommend it! In addition to We Are Here’s being a very well produced audiobook with an excellent narrator, it was great to hear how all of the Yiddish words in the book actually sound.

Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the book. (Read the full excerpt on the author’s Web site.)

A soft summer rain was falling as a white-haired woman made her way to the microphone. “Tayere talmidim!” she began. “Dear students!”  Through the pattering of drops on my umbrella, I leaned forward to catch her words. The old woman’s name was Bluma, a flowery name that matched her flowered dress. She was a member of the all-but-vanished Jewish community in Vilnius, Lithuania, the city once known as the Jerusalem of the North. “How fortunate I am,” she said in a quavering voice. “I have lived long enough to see people coming back to Vilnius to study Yiddish.”
Seventy-five of us – students of all ages from all over the globe huddled on the wooden benches that were clustered together on wet cobblestones. Around us, the damp walls of Vilnius
University rose into the heavens. As the rain continued to fall, I shivered. It was a complicated place, this land of my ancestors
– a place where Jewish culture had once flourished, and a place where Jews had been annihilated on a massive scale.
My reasons for being here were not simple. I had come to learn Yiddish and to connect myself with my roots – the Jewish ones, that is, on my mother’s side. (On my father’s side, my non-Jewish forebears hailed from Ireland, England, and Bavaria – hence my name, Cassedy, and my blue eyes and freckles.) But I had other goals,
too. I wanted to investigate a troubling family story I’d stumbled upon in preparing for my trip. I had agreed to meet a haunted old man in my ancestral town. And I planned to examine how the people of this country – Jews and non-Jews alike – were confronting their past in order to move forward into the future. What had begun as a personal journey had broadened into a larger exploration. Investigating Lithuania’s effort to exhume the past, I hoped, would help me answer some important questions.
Readers of memoirs…especially audiobook listeners, go ahead and add We Are Here to your reading list! If you have an interest in family history, languages, Yiddish, or Eastern Europe, this multi-faceted memoir will be of all the more interest to you, but the author’s compelling personal story of visiting her family’s past is enough on its own to draw you in.
We Are Here (audiobook)
Cassedy, Ellen, author
Toren, Suzanne, narrator
8 hours and 58 minutes
Disclosure: I received this Audible audiobook download free from the author for review.

Suggestions from a Massachusetts Librarian


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