If you know anything about Hobo and Lefty, you know we like sandwiches. When it comes to the topic of eating, we don’t mess around. There’s really no need to drag you through the density of gaudy metaphors that would make Vatican City look like a campsite. There’s enough blogs out there that are happy to over-complicate even the most basic of meals. It’s a sandwich, you put it in your mouth and chew it until the pieces are small enough to swallow. Of course there’s more to it than that but we like to cut right to the chase, and by “chase” we mean sandwiches.
I have cousins in Livorno, Italy and they take us to a small restaurant for cinque e cinque. It’s considered a street food and is almost entirely localized to Tuscany. Even people in Rome look at us funny when we ask where we could find cinque e cinque. The name comes from the price which used to be five lira for bread and five lira for the bean cake. Cinque e cinque has three ingredients.
Being a sandwich there is of course bread. The bread looks like pita but is a bit fluffier and less dense. Like the artist behind a Subway counter, you begin by cutting the bread open as a sort of edible briefcase. The next ingredient is a thin cake made out of garbanzo bean flour that is baked until the top is golden brown. Lastly, top it all off with strips of eggplant soaked in olive oil to add a bit of moisture and tartness to the mix. As my non-English speaking cousin would say, “Boom!” Sandwich complete.
Cinque e cinque is delicious. It’s great for vegetarians and there’s a lot of room to play with the concept, but there’s also no need to over-complicate it.
After eating one and half cinque e cinques, which feels like swallowing one and half anvils, my cousins take us to a local bar famous for their ponche. Everyone forms an orderly line behind the counter, orderly at least in terms of Italian standards. I keep screaming, “No back cuts, no back cuts”, but I don’t think 2nd grade line etiquate translates here. My cousins tell us that ponche is a Livorno staple but you can find it all over the place and in all sorts of flavors. This bar in particular has two flavors – clear and red.
Both are served in a glass a little larger than a shot, coated with sugar, and a lemon added. The red is supposed to taste like mandarin orange but the alcohol is too strong to taste anything but sugar and fire. The clear ponche is stirred with hot coffee and is a far smoother drink than the red.
Ponche is essentially rum but without all the hang ups of oak flavor, chocolate hints, or passive aggressive floral suggestions. The alcohol is fermented in glass bottles and whoever makes the stuff spares almost all expense on the ingredients.
The next day we eat donuts at a local shop that has been open since the late 1800’s. The people behind the counter give us free samples and prepare a fresh chocolate filled donut too warm to eat right away.
Jason and I decide that Italy has ruined food for us, that there’s something about the cuisine across Europe that is starkly different to the States. Maybe it’s the history, the recipes passed down from generation to generation, maybe it’s time-honored tradition, or maybe it’s simply the lack of preservatives and chemicals that makes everything here taste incredible.
Fun fact: The reason American pizza makes you so thirsty is because the lack of care and attention in preparing the dough. Pizza dough needs to sit for quite a while so that the yeast has time to expand. If prepared too quickly, the yeast expands in your stomach causing an unquentiable thirst.
From Portugal, to Spain, and now Italy, Italy definitely takes the cake on best food. Jason disagrees and says it’s Spain but only because of tortilla de patata bocadillos. The truth is, he is wrong. Italy wins best food in Europe…so far.