Raw seafood is not my bag. We returned to a Centro cicchetti spot recently, and we chatted up Irene, the lady behind the counter. First off, in Italia, her name is pronounced Eee-ren-eh. I tried a calamari skewer and a fried cod ball. Then I asked what next to try. She suggested the Insalata di Mare, a simple combination of raw squid, tomato, olive, parsley (prezzemolo).
Irene poured fresh olive oil over the insalata and handed it to me.
Not gonna lie — I was intimidated. So I took a sip of bianco and tucked in.
I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret: A lot of northern Italian food is bland. This was the case here. The squid was incredibly fresh, and there is no such thing as an unripe Italian tomato (nothing like the steroid-laced giant ball bearings we get in the U.S.), but I just wished for a bottle of Crystal to add a little sumtin’, sumtin’.
But I soldiered on and made a happy plate. I keep reminding myself to step out of my comfort zone because I came here to experience Italian culture.
One thing of note was the texture of the calimari. I was expecting chewing gum. It was nothing of the sort. Very pleasant. The exact opposite of rubbery.
Years ago, when we lived in St. Louis, any home you went into was guaranteed to have a fridge full of Anheiser-Busch products. A friend who was new to St. Louis invited a bunch of co-workers over. One walked in the door, popped open an ice chest and asked, “Where’s the Budweiser at?!”
Anything non-Bud was four bucks a case cheaper in those days, and frankly, all commercially produced American Lagers taste like water, so I totally understood my buddy’s fridge full Coors.
About a year back, an old St. Louis friend was in Orlando for a convention, and we met up at his hotel bar. He ordered a craft ale, while I sipped on my Two Hearted. I asked why he wasn’t drinking a Bud, he said since In-Bev bought A-B, no one in town drank Bud anymore. Insalata di Mare came to St. Louis.
If the good, ole boys can change, so can I.