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Eating out in Bergamo

I recently spent an enjoyable week in Bergamo! I fell right into the atmosphere and didn't want to resurface when it came time to pack my bags and leave! The hotel I stayed at was the Excelsior San Marco in the Lower City (Citta Bassa) directly beneath the all-imposing view of the Upper City (Citta Alta); the old and the even older parts of Bergamo!.Every evening after my work had finished I would shun the local Funicolare, the tram service that navigated the steep climb to the upper city and climb the many cobbled steps to the top. Walking around the winding streets first I would work up an appetite, mulling over the varied choice of small pasta places to eat at!.NB: At this point I would like to make it clear that Bergamo does not associate with or have any connection to Bergamo Pizza & Pasta; Kennesaw, Atlanta: "Your friendly neighborhood pizza place"!.Bergamo restaurants do not resemble a Pizza Hut or serve up tinned pasta and certainly do not have plastic chairs and an "eat all you can for five-pound menu"! The food and eateries in Bergamo are special! They are steeped in history, run by families and passed down through the generations.

They are often snuggled into or under the many floors of a 300 year old stone structure that balances faithfully on one of the steep and winding streets and they come resplendent with local specialties, regular customers, great wines and a plate full of polenta (a mushy mass of corn meal, the staple food of Northern Italy - the "poor mans" meal but now widely served up in a variety of disguises!).Most of the tourists to Bergamo seem to be Italians as invariably I was the only non-Italian speaking customer present amongst the five or six tables that most establishments cater for! In fact most of the customers seemed to know each other, a gossip meeting in progress and between trying to decipher the menu and watch expressions I would sip wine and enjoy the atmosphere in style!.My favorite spot was Trattoria Da Ornellas nestled along Via Gombito and were pasta is served up with a flourish by an 'electric' waiter! The first time I ate there I chose a plate of Tagliolini and whilst waiting I opted to ignore the domed heap of Polenta and to attack the fresh bread residing in a basket on the table! And when in Rome do as the Romans do?????.There was no butter on the table, so in what I thought was true Italian fashion I ripped off a piece of bread in the basket and as there was no plate on the table I gently poured a drop of two of olive oil onto the piece that was soon going to work its way into my mouth! With my mouth salivating at the corners I started to lift the bread only to hear this loud shout (shriek) from behind me! I whipped my head around to confront the assault to see the waiter charging towards me, shouting "mama mia, mama mia" and "no,no,no,"; his graying and lengthy hair was standing up like he had just unplugged himself from the toaster socket!.My first reaction was to bolt outside to escape the fire, hit the man at the next table for stealing the bottle of vinegar and more-so to make sure that I did not come in-contact with the waiter incase I got an electric shock! As I did not have enough time to make an escape I stayed put! My waiter reached the table and pointed wildly at my bread and from what I could gather through his hysterical shouting and finger-pointing was that I had breached protocol by using olive oil in such a fashion!.

It seems that Italians in Bergamo do not dip their bread in olive oil!.Whilst my breathing was returning to normal and whilst my waiters hair was slowly being influenced by gravity once again I looked around at the other families and customers present; not one head had turned, not one customer had shown any reaction or interest in what had just occurred! Later on, after keeping away from the bottle of Olive Oil, I heard the waiter shouting madly at some poor family! Turning around to find the reason I learnt that one should always finish the bottle of wine before leaving! The departing family though just laughed through his hysterics and despite his now sky-reaching hair they left without complying with his hand-gestures and shrieks!.The language barrier is difficult though! Not only for communication but for ordering food! The Bergamo Ravioli was always easy and over time I began to recognize many of the dishes and what they consisted of. I must admit that my lunch one day was not quite the salad that I expected! What I read on the menu went something like this, "Piastra del formaggio et frutta dell'salata"! So, I immediately thought that I would receive a lovely salad with fruit and cheese! Erm, I received the cheese - a whole plate of different sorts of cheese but minus the essential fruit and the salad! But very nice indeed!.I ate my way around Bergamo and reveled in the atmosphere! The Italians give justice to the place through fire and the ability to relax in an easy and confidant manner.

The Italians know how to live properly and maybe the British should take a leaf from their book!.The only real problem I had during my stay was when it came to choosing something to take back home to my wife! I looked around for some touristy things but not much appealed! Just to mention Italian ice-cream makes my wife salivate but that was not an option.I thus departed Bergamo (I disposed of the bag of polenta at the airport - a present that I bought in a rash moment) with a bag full of delicious hand-made chocolates! A slice of Bergamo to take home along with the many memories which remain vividly with me till this day!.

.Ieuan Dolby is the Author and Webmaster of Seamania. As a Chief Engineer in the Merchant Navy he has sailed the world for fifteen years. Now living in Taiwan he writes about cultures across the globe and life as he sees it.

By: Ieuan Dolby

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