These are kids who know and care about food.
For years I would ask my Arabic students, Where do you eat? In what restaurants do you find the best, most authentic Arabic food? The response was predictable: a bewildered smile. Then, also predictable, the answer: At home. Whatever they ate in a restaurant was, by default, going to be second best. Eating around in Dearborn, I tended to look toward the kitchen, hoping to see an old lady or two. If there was a grandma back there, that was a good sign.
In the last couple days, we’ve eaten in establishments with kids in charge. Kids? Okay, people younger than us, a lot younger, fully in command of local food tradition.
In Rimini, where Via Flaminia ends and Via Emilia begins, just across Ponte di Tiberio, we eat at Nud e Crud. How to translate that? Literally, naked and raw. Maybe “plain and simple” captures the meaning in English. The focus at Nud e Crud is piada, the flat, grilled bread of the region. The menu offers a number of piada sandwiches that are “open,” as well as cassoni, closed sandwiches with ingredients sealed in. What’s inside these sandwiches? The choices are varied and extensive: local meats like prosciutto di Carpegna, grilled vegetables in season, local cheeses, and, as Rimini is a seaside town, local fishes. In addition to piada and cassoni, Nud e Crud offers a full menu, all locally sourced.
And there are specials.
Two nights in a row I select one of the specials. The first night, porchetta carpaccio with shredded radicchio and thin slices of parmigiano-reggiano. Next to my plate the server sets down a bottle of balsamic. Don’t mind if I do. The second night, grilled tuna with baby spinach. (It’s the second best tuna I’ve ever eaten, the total best being in Sicily). The deck where we’re sitting outside is jam-packed, all ages. Greeters, servers, cooks, everyone involved in this food seems young and smart. These are people who know and care about local food.
Heading in country from Rimini, on the drive up toward San Marino, we deviate onto a couple snaky two-lane roads that take us to Le Calastre. Again, the youngsters are in charge. Le Calestre is an agritour establishment, what we might think of as bed and breakfast, except the agritour concept in Italy is not limited to breakfast. You can get lunch and dinner. Believe me, you want to have lunch and dinner.
Today, as always, they’re serving what’s out there in the garden. (To qualify for agritour status, a legal designation in Italy, the proprietor is obligated to serve foods and wines that are local production, which means in his or her own back yard.) The artichokes, one of the kids, Cecilia, tells us, are in full bloom just now. We have farro (a grain) with sugo di carciofi e guanciale (artichoke and pig cheek sauce). Another one of the kids, Alberto, passes our table and wonders out loud if we shouldn’t also try the tagliatelle. We certainly should. It’s a home-made pasta, made with farro flour, served with an artichoke sauce, this one with toasted (local) almond flakes.
I used to wonder, Can Italy transmit its amazing food culture to future generations? Can it last—not just last, but flourish—in all of its regional variety? The local grocer, the fruit and vegetable stands, and pastry shops, and meat markets are under siege. The supermarket’s gigantic footprint is in evidence; the mallifcation of Italy is apparent.
Nevertheless, there is still vigor and passion and ingenuity in local food culture. And tradition. The kids are all right. Where shall we eat?