Monday, 11 March 2013

Eating Out - A Beginners Guide!

Eating out in rural Abruzzo may be a little different to what you’re used to.  Your tried, tested and trusted criteria for finding a good place to eat may not hold up here, so we’ve listed a few pointers to help you find and enjoy some superb dining experiences, even in the tiny, off-the-beaten track mountain villages.  There’s also a few recommendations for some local places not far from us here in Serramonacesca.


Go where the locals go:  When traveling around the region and looking for somewhere to eat, follow the first basic principle of independent travel - go where the locals go.  Don’t be put off by run-down, back street exteriors (or interiors come to that), if the locals are eating there you can be guaranteed excellent food, wine, prices and, without doubt, you’ll get a great experience too.  Try Lu Gattone in Manoppello to prove me right!

Lu Gattone, Manoppello

Ditch your ideas about fine cutlery and freshly laundered linen:  Plastic table cloths, plastic cutlery and even cups can never be taken as a sign of poor quality.  It is often quite the opposite, particularly on the coast, where some of the best seafood in Abruzzo is served this way.  The Blu Mare in San Vito Chietino is a classic example.  

Don't expect fine china & the best linen!

Don’t expect a menu:  if you’re looking for restaurants with (horror of horrors) menus in English, or even menus at all, make an about turn now!  Leave these to the Costa Blanca; even worse, in the unlikely event you spot photographs of the food on the menu, run!  Be brave and enjoy a “typical Abruzzese” experience.  Casale Cenurione is wonderful in this respect. No menu, but exquisite handmade pasta, fine, homegrown ingredients and wine, and a Tiramisu to die for!

Casale Centurione, Manoppello

Don’t expect choice:  If there is no menu, typically the waiter (or proprietor) will tell you what they’re cooking that day.  This will almost always consist of an anti-pasta, a pasta course and a meat course, with maybe a choice of salad and/or side vegetables.  

Anti pasta of Abruzzo

If you’re lucky you will be given a choice of one or two different dishes for each course, but don’t expect it and please, please, please don’t be put off either!  Ditto not being able to understand or be understood.  The Abruzzese are typically patient and kind and will love having you in their restaurant.  If you end up with something completely unexpected, just look on this as part of the fun.  


Or tagliatelle?

Vegetarian diets:  The fun of the unexpected stops, of course, if you’re vegetarian or have special dietary needs.  If this is the case, make this known to the restaurant straight away.  Be warned, however, that vegetarianism isn’t really understood or expected so vegetarian choices are likely to be very limited to the point of being almost non-existent.

Finding fish:  If it’s fish you’re after, head for the coast.  Even though we are only a short hop and a skip from the sea, you will struggle to find any fish.  Anywhere inland is mostly just meat, meat and more meat.  Superb though it is.  You can prove me wrong here, by popping along to Brancaleone, always a varied and unusual menu with exquisite food, and fish often on the menu.

Ristorante Brancaleone

Salads and vegetables:  
For a country where the most glorious fruit, salads and vegetables grow in chin dribblingly, bursting with flavour abundance they are surprisingly sparse on restaurant menus.  Your yearning for a bowl of fresh crunchy salad may have to be prepared yourself from the wonderful produce available from the local markets.

Breakfast:  Not really done here or, for that matter, in Italy at all.  Breakfast for the Italians is simply a shot of coffee on the go, preferring to save themselves for a big, long, slow lunch.  Therefore, don’t expect to find the gorgeous warm, flaky, tasty croissants of France.  At best, you’ll get a cold “cornetto”, invariably filled with jam (marmellata), sweet cream or chocolate.  And certainly don’t expect to find muesli!  If your breakfast is important to you, do it yourself.  The best (only) muesli we have found is from Lidl’s in Pescara.

When to eat:  Here’s where it gets tricky, particularly if you’re hungry and want to eat NOW!  Sod’s law it’ll be at the wrong time or on the wrong day.  Most restaurants close all day on Mondays, (Rintocche in Pretoro, in its amazing cave-like setting, being a superb local exception to this rule), many are closed for lunch on Tuesdays and very, very few open between 2pm and 7.30pm.  Indeed, if you’re looking for the “authentic Italian dining experience” leave it until after 9pm or you may find yourselves dining alone.

Rintocchi, Pretoro

In summary, therefore, be a traveller not a tourist.  This way you’ll have a fabulous experience and find the superb cuisine for which Abruzzo is famous.  If you want to really submerse yourself in the food experience of Abruzzo, then you must get in touch with Emiliana from Abruzzo4Foodies for an individual tailored off the beaten track foodie tour. 

Discover the flavours of Abruzzo with an individual foodie tour:

But, whatever you do, don’t you dare go home without at least once sampling the delicacy for which Abruzzo is the most famous: arrosticini!  


For this locally, get yourselves down to the Parco dei Carpini on a Saturday night - packed with locals, no menu (simply arrosticini and a plate of super ripe tomatoes dressed with nothing but a bit of salt and olive oil), plastic plates and cutlery and great live bands.  Oh, and don’t even bother turning up before 10pm!  

A couple of familiar faces rocking it at the Parco on a Saturday night!

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