1. Italian cities have a lovely rustic charm to them
There is something so charming about their towns and where I was at i.e. Verona was rustic, even though it got a little damp from the occasional shower. The main focus of the town is the arena, where the opera is held. It looks like a mini Colliseum and whatever time you go, expect a crowd there. Most importantly Verona is known as the city of love as William Shakespeare named it as his setting for Romeo & Juliet. Hence there's Juliet's house (with her statue that everyone insists on touching her breast to get true love!) but weirdly enough, it is full of graffiti and declarations of love. Loads of statues around also with fountains and of course, those vespas that the Italians go around with. Bicycles are also popular hence you see them parked all over town. And while you are wandering down the cobbled streets, indulge in a little creamy gelato. Pistachio was my favourite and I love how you get 2 varieties in a cone, for 2 euro. Every opportunity I had, I gave it a try - even when it was pouring with rain!
2. Too much risotto and polenta makes an Italian meal dull
Since the trip was for work, I had little say on what meals I had and unfortunately, I found out there was just a little too much carbs for my liking. Italians seem to eat a lot! 4 courses where the appetizer will be cold meats, first course is either pasta or risotto and second course is the main meal followed by dessert, usually a dry cake or a selection of cheeses. I reckon for the first few days, all we had was risotto until I was shuddering whenever I saw a waiter approach with a serving dish of the creamy stuff. The only exception was amazing and creamy risotto we had with indulgent shaved black truffles. That made those carbs go down really well. Am not sure how the Italians keep so slim with all the food they eat. Portion sizes remind me of America as we are always served with laden plates. Aside from risotto, it was polenta that tasted just like baby's food - gloopy and kinda tasteless. Occasionally, we will get fantastic fresh pasta that makes a meal worthwhile.
3. Nothing beats the pizza here.
One item I have no complaints about is the pizza. Every place I tried for pizza didn't dissapoint me. Whether it was a thick slab from a touristy spot near the arena (they bake them upon your order) or paper thin pizzas from a restaurant that used to be a church or an out of town trattoria, they have all been impressive. My favourite pizza was one topped with paper thin slices of ham with a creamy truffle centre as an appetizer. Another good thing I noticed is you don't get rubbery mozzarella cheese here.
4. If you don't take pork and cheese, please avoid Italy at all costs
Throughout my 2 weeks in Italy, I just realised I didn't eat a single piece of chicken. Instead it was cold meats, beefsteaks, horse meat even (tastes like beef!) and seafood instead. Cold meats, thinly sliced like ham and salami are very popular. We also discovered hot sandwiches filled with caramelised onions, zucchinis, mushrooms and pork slices. A little salty, these hot meals were a welcome change from cold lunches. Aside from prosciutto, they have this very sinful stuff called lardo. It reminds me of jellied pork fat that they place on top of polenta or bread slices. Delish but extremely cholestrol-laden. Cheese is also great here, had a number of fantastic parmesan, wine marinated cheeses, blue cheeses and etc. Usually we eat this with bread and a glass of wine. At the end of the trip, we discovered this great little trattoria where we had a change, a tomato based seafood soup that made our day as it was tasty and hot. Everything from that place was good, whether it was pizza, seafood spaghetti and grilled meats. We must have eaten there almost every night after we discovered that place.
5. Grappa (or a little too much whisky and wine) gets people a little crazy
When in Italy, follow the Italians hence it was non-stop drinking of wine and something a little stronger aka grappa. Not for the weak hearted, you down grappa in one go and it hits straight to your stomach and then your head. The people I was with on the trip developed a taste for this lethal stuff and after a few shots of grappa, it led to crazy stuff like Bruce Lee and Michael Jackson moonwalk imitations. Nevertheless it was damn good fun and I reckon I got over jet lag pretty quickly with all that drinking every night.
6. Friends made over drinks stick together no matter what
Best of all, in Italy, I met a group of crazy Asian people who love to drink and party. No matter what happened during the trip, I reckon we became fast friends and hopefully this means, when I have the time to visit Hong Kong, China, Japan and South Korea, I can count on them to show me around the local foodie haunts and of course, the drinking holes. Like one fella's motto says, "drink till you die"!