We had heard of Campari, or Italian bitters, prior to our travels in Italy, but we had never heard of Aperol. Aperol is a bitter, orange-flavoured aperitif that is often mixed with club soda and ice to create the Northern Italian cocktail known as Spritz. Initially, we ignored this orange drink that people were sipping every evening in the cafes of Milan. However, by the time we reached Venice a week later we noticed that practically every outdoor table was supporting a tall glass of this bright concoction. We asked a waitress why it was so popular and she explained that it is sweeter and less bitter than Campari. She also mentioned that it is affordable as a cocktail and more refreshing than wine or the (unusually awful) Italian beers regularly on offer.
A note from experience: never EVER compare the Alsatian tarte flambee to a thin crust pizza made with bechamel sauce. This wood-oven baked, uber-thin pie is simple yet elegant with its toppings of lardon, onion and fromage blanc...and it is ideal beer-drinking food. We stopped by a birthday party for a friend of a friend in the Alsatian village of Roppenheim, on our way to Baden-Baden one day. The birthday boy, Julien, was very welcoming and encouraged us to stay for drinks and, of course, some flambee. We watched in anticipation as they prepared the pies in the back of the community hall, via portable wood oven. Once the pies were ready we pretty much inhaled the first round and were offered more by the generous guests. We didn't hang around for too long, however, because we wanted to see the spa town Baden-Baden before it got too late. We said goodbye to our new French friends, Julien and Marion, with a new appreciation for this northern variation of the pizza pie.
While we had heard of this dish through Mario Batali on the Food Network, we had never tried it prior to visiting the Farmers' Market in Verona. Consisting of an entire de-boned, fire-roasted pig, this uniquely Italian pork roast is famous for its texture and spices. As per usual, slices of this roast were served to us in a panino, and the vendor was very careful to fill the bun with equal portions of crispy skin, succulent fat, and tender flesh. It sounds a bit gruesome, and the head of the pig that was on display in the stall was indeed graphic, but this dish really did smack of history and culinary passion. The vendor seemed very proud to serve the animal that he had raised and prepared, and the head of the animal simply acted as an acknowledgement of the sacrifices that were made in order to present the dish to the public.