What eating with Italians taught me about life

OK, Ok so you all want to know what the food was like.

I know this. I wanted to know too, that’s why I came to Italy!

[Just a side note, putting your intentions out there is so worth it: sometimes you just get amazing surprises. More on this later.]

All the stress of leaving, packing and moving, all the weird stuff that happened and the confusion and the being on my knees stuff.

All of it was worth it for the melon. The peaches. The cherries. The tomatoes. The olive oil. The ricotta.

This was just one lunch, I’m describing to you.

The food was….

Beautiful.

When I arrived, the first meal my hosts provided to me was a Tuscan salad, called panzanella. It’s made with old bread - yes it sounds a bit weird, but it’s delicious. Combined with tomatoes, cucumber, onion and a mixture of herbs, oil and with a bit of tuna, it’s a light and fresh dish which was perfect for a warm summer’s evening.

What else did I eat?

We had melone and tomatoes, cucumber drizzled in oil and balsamic vinegar. We had all sorts of pasta dishes, risotto and ravioli. Penne and conchiglie. Fish in breadcrumbs. Prawns, mussels, calamari. Swordfish.

Sea snails. In a wonderful gravy that we soaked up with bread.

Shellfish and spaghetti with a cherry tomato sauce.

Roasted rabbit.

And organic, home-grown zucchini, tomatoes and potatoes by the dozen.

Sausages. Cheeses I can’t remember the name of. Meat on skewers.

De.li.cious fruit.

Mouthwatering proscuitto with crusty bread.

I. ate. everything.

Enough with the descriptions, I know, I’m salivating thinking about it too…

Where did this food journey take me?

How did eating fabulous food change me?

What is food about in Italy?

And what did a month eating with an Italian family teach me?

I hardly scratched the surface, but below are my food notes on Italian dining...

Keep it simple

A perfectly ripe tomato, lightly salted and drizzled with oil and added a little bit of mozzarella on the side can be a whole dish. A few pieces of chicken and zucchini strips with a bit of bread to mop up the oil can satisfy better than a five course feast. I saw (and tasted) simplicity in food that began to unravel something in my brain. Of course. This is how food is supposed to be eaten. Keeping it simple, creates something marvellous.

Honour the ritual

I assumed the role of table layer during my stay with the family. Mainly because it didn’t require me to ask or say much in Italian, once I’d got the hang of where everything was. This simple act of preparation identified and honoured what was about to happen. It takes a little time to do but it’s worth it, for the value and respect it gives the food.

By sitting at a table, ensuring we have all the right cutlery and crockery, as well as water and bread, bringing things out in order and waiting until everyone is ready, we created a ritual which we often neglect.

There’s no need to rush

I’d deliberately tried to start a mindful eating practice whilst I was still in my job. I sat at the table and consciously slowed down my eating. For the whole meal, my brain said to me: "Quickly, quickly, you’ve got things to do."

Here in Italy, even when I thought I was eating slowly, I noticed those around me didn’t need to try in the same way. It’s natural to eat slowly, to talk more than you’re eating. To take 2 hours for lunch. Yes, it may sound impractical to those who only have a short time for a lunch break but even the act of eating a small thing slowly, deliberately, even reverently, can alter your approach to life. There’s a saying that you can tell how a man will make love to you by watching the way he eats, I say you can tell what kind of life you lead by how fast you eat your lunch.

Enoughness

In the same way, abundance abounds. There was always more food (I had to learn to say no!) and when I watched my hosts and their family eating, I noticed they only took a small portion of the food from the bowl in the middle of the table. They would often go back for thirds, fourths or even fifths, but they would take only a little. Sure it’s more effort, but it’s about listening to what your body needs. Knowing that there is always more and eating just enough.

There is always more. We don’t have to fill our plates, grabbing greedily in case it runs out. Rather, we can be gauging things moment by moment, asking ourselves what we want, listening for 'enough'.

Fresh is unrivalled

I mentioned before about intentions. As part of my vision, I know I want to eat more organically grown fruit and vegetables. But for this part of my Italian adventure, I was in someone else’s house. I wasn’t selecting the food that was put on the table. But what a wonderful thing to learn that many of the fruit and vegetables I was eating were homegrown. That one of my desires had come to pass in such a sweet way. I’m so grateful that I could enjoy such wonderful produce - lovingly grown and shared so willingly.

Learning and watching and noticing here of course was not always about novelty. There were moments of reassuring familiarity as I recognised those practices I had been taught from my own family and had neglected. It was a delightful reminder of their value.

For your brunch today, whether it's a cup of tea and a biscuit or a full English breakfast, take the time to prepare for eating, to honour your food, to slow it down and have enough.