Recently I received this message from a friend:
It’s nice to know my blog has found a curious but ultimately confused audience. I replied, asking him where he was going. Venice, he said, and I regrettably informed him that he was unlikely to find a Gricia in Venice. Or anywhere outside of Rome, for that matter. Like everything else in Italy, the cuisine is intensely regional. Mozzarella is from Campania, pesto is from Genova, and if you’re having a pizza it better be from fucking Naples. This concept is alien to anyone from England. No one has ever said ‘I could really go for some Mancunian food right now!’ or ‘Oh, in summer, you simply have to visit Nottingham. The food is amazing.’
Last week, I was also in Venice, chaperoning a 12-year-old tutee to museums that he did not find interesting. Eventually I gave up and took him to the park where we played basketball against two random 8-year-old Italians. We lost heavily. Halfway through the trip the boy’s mother returned to Rome unexpectedly, leaving me in sole charge of a child for 72 hours. I would have to feed him. Several times. Naturally he is aware of my Gricia obsession so we started to seek it out, checking the menu at every restaurant we swam past (cannot recommend swimming around Venice enough – the fine is only 450 euros). No Gricias anywhere. In Venice, they eat Venetian food. Or rather, they charge non-Venetians a fortune to eat Venetian food. But, on the third day, I stumbled upon a bin. A bin with a sign on directing us to a ‘Conad’. The miracle of national supermarkets! They would surely have Gricia ingredients (‘Ingricia-ents’).
I rushed in, thrusting a big basket into the tiny hands of the boy and running to the meat counter to ask if they had guanciale. The woman said something in Italian involving the word ‘sì’, so I asked for 100g. I shouted to the boy – ‘find pecorino romano!’. While she cut the slices of meat, he scoured the cheese aisle and said there was none. What an idiot I was to ask a child; he doesn’t have the concentration skills to find the cheese. I pushed him aside, scanning the shelves: Parmesan, Grana Padano, Provolone. No Pecorino Romano. They didn’t have it. Normally on principle I would abandon the project. But I had a child to feed. I said ‘no worries, we’ll use parmesan’, silently begging forgiveness from the patron saint of Italian recipes (St Stubborno Tradizionale, if you’re interested).
When we reached home, I looked at the ‘guanciale’. It was a weird mix between parma ham and fat. I realised in hindsight that my Italian wasn’t good enough to work out what else the woman had said when she replied ‘sì.’ ‘It smells weird,’ said the 12-year-old. I assured him it would be better once cooked.
It was officially the worst Gricia I have ever made. The meat tasted slimy and weirdly flavoured, the parmesan was parmesan, not pecorino. Not even the pepper was good. The boy ate some of the pasta and left the chunks of suspect meat untouched. ‘How is it?’ I asked. ‘I miss my Mum,’ he said. 1 Colosseum.
Restaurant: N/A (Cost of ingricia-ents: €4.37) | Pasta: ★★ | Pepper: ★ ★| Cheese: N/A | Guanciale (‘pork cheek’): N/A | OVERALL: 1/5 Colosseums