Hello Internet! My friend Sam has been on her year abroad in Siena, and I asked if she would like to write for the blog and she said yes! I’m going to hand over to her now, but I’m sure you’ll agree the food looks fab and she has had a blatantly awesome time!
Hi, I’m Sam, and Chris has asked me to blog about Sienese food. I’ve been living in Italy, in the beautiful city of Siena since September, and the main problem I found when asked to write on this subject is that ‘Sienese food’ doesn’t really exist.
Sure, people know Italian food; pizza, pasta, even the ice cream is pretty well known. There have been songs and poems written about their cuisine, our good friend America even took the pizza and (supposedly) improved on it. The problem is, is that regionally, Italian food is all pretty much the same.
Now don’t get me wrong, you’ll find plenty of restaurants claiming they serve ‘Tuscan Cuisine’, you’ll find ‘Lasagne di Pisa’ (lasagne of Pisa) or ‘Spaghetti Firenze’ (spaghetti in the Florence style), but it’s generally the same as what you’d find in any Italian restaurant in England.
You will get the occasional dish that claims to be wholly from that particular region or even city, for example, those tiny ravioli type things called Tortellini? They’re from Bologna. And that weird pizza with anchovies? That’s Neapolitan.
Ragu di Cinghiale
The Sienese equivalent is a pasta called ‘Pici’ which is a really thick type of spaghetti with ‘Ragu di Cinghiale’ …. Or Wild Boar Sauce. Yep, Siena is famous for its wild boar. Looks appetising, doesn’t it?
So, naturally when I arrived I sat myself down on one of the many restaurants around the famous Piazza del Campo and ordered a plate.
The issue was, firstly, it wasn’t all that nice, the pasta itself was too filling to be worth putting any kind of sauce with, and secondly, the meat was extremely rich and salty, meaning that after two mouthfuls you were done.
But the main problem was I went out to have this dinner with a lovely Sicilian girl called Paola who claims that the dish is actually originally from Sicily. My first response was that this was nothing to be proud of, but at the same time, it simply highlighted my original point, the Italians, although politically and even linguistically divided, for some reason they’ll serve you the same kind of food all over.
Even aside from pasta, my friend from Calabria (which is way down south) got very excited when she found a pastry shop which sold little flaky nutella filled pastries called ‘Codice di Aragosta’ (or Lobster Tails) which she claims come from Calabria, and was telling the shop keeper this, until he politely told her that the recipe has been in his family for generations and that it’s a thoroughly Sienese dish. Someone has to be lying.
Codice di Aragosta
In my opinion, Italians in general are not all that welcoming of foreigners, which affects their cuisine. I mean, look at England, we’re a veritable melting pot of cultures and you can walk along any high street and choose from a huge range of types of restaurants. But you walk down any road in any Italian city and you can predict the gist of each menu because they’re all exactly the same.
Speak to any Italian anywhere and they’ll tell you that their food is the best in the world and that’s why they don’t need to accept any other kind, why they don’t need to improve, they laughed at me when I told them that something like mashed potato can be the perfect food if you’re in the right mood. In an Italian’s mind you don’t need anything more than pizza, pasta and the occasional slight local variation, even if its origin is debatable.
However, I must point out that you do of course get your foreign take-aways in Italy, there’s at least one Chinese restaurant and an Indian in the whole of Siena, although I was told by my very first Italian roommate to never eat there as that’s where ‘the diseases come from’ which gives you a good idea of how welcoming these people are to other cultures, let alone their food.
Overall, I’d say if you want to eat in Siena, be prepared for it to taste exactly the same as any other part of Italy that you may visit, but if you want a nice experience, eat on the Campo. It may be more expensive, but the view makes up for the fact that you could probably make just a good a ‘spag bol’ at home.
I’m sure you’ll all agree that Sam is having/has had (depending on when you read this) quite the time in Siena. Hopefully I can encourage her to write some more, as I love reading about other people’s food experiences abroad, and if you do too then please comment below!