Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy. Right now, we're in Venice.
Food in Venice is uniformly expensive and almost entirely terrible. With so many tourists passing through the island city, there’s no expectation of repeat custom, there’s no need for competitive pricing, and, frankly, there’s more than a touch of ‘sticking it to the foreign hordes’ going on in the front rooms AND the kitchen.
Finding good food requires a supernatural level of luck – or much prior research and excellent map-reading skills. We had done our due diligence before we arrived, and on our first evening, we ate a very good meal in a cozy little joint off of the Campo San Maurizio where the prices were only slightly stratospheric – but after that, we reckoned on mostly doing our own shopping.
Two streets further back from the Campo San Maurizio we walked into a little grocery store to buy yogurt and breakfast cereal, and were sidetracked by sandwiches.
A pile of new rolls sat, steaming gently, in the middle of the deli counter, filling the whole shop with the round, full smell of fresh bread.
“Prosciutto.” The grocer said to us. He wasn’t asking. We nodded, wordlessly, and watched while he reached for a great haunch of ham, grunting as he lifted its massive weight, and loaded it onto the meat slicer.
A mound of translucent leaves – milky white and pink, built up underneath the blade – and he went on slicing, reaching out occasionally to push the pile aside when it pressed up against the blade.
The leaves of prosciutto were so thin that you could have read the morning newspaper through any one of them, and the smell -
High and salty and singing – it butted up against the full smell of fresh bread and we swallowed, involuntarily.
Reaching beneath the deli counter, the grocer lifted up a wedge of crumbling parmesan cheese – old cheese, with grains of calcium crystal glittered in its folds and creases, and broke off a knob half as thick as my fist, crumbling it with his fingers onto the mountain of prosciutto. Breaking open a bread roll with his hands, he pressed the mountain of ham and cheese between the two halves of bread, catching up stray crumbs of cheese and pressing them in with his fingers, and twisted up the whole thing into a square of greaseproof paper.
It was a primitive, overloaded proto-sandwich, and it was so sweetly, saltily, fresh-in-the-morning GOOD that we went back. And back again. Twice a day. THAT is how you eat in Venice on a budget. The cafes and Pizza joints can go stuff themselves with their own fish. Go to the grocery and buy fresh sandwiches.