We always hear so much about Florentine food, Neapolitan nosh, Roman cuisine and sometimes even Sardinian, Sicilian or Ligurian delicacies. Of Milanese food we hear very little and of Piemontese even less. Could it be that in these places people are too busy working to remember to eat?
Joking aside, not only has Milan got its own gastronomic tradition but it is also a very good one; it is a culinary tradition that in a way is similar to the city itself, pleasant with not to many frills, made up of hearty, easy to prepare dishes, created mainly to nourish the body than to tickle the palate.
The few concessions to frivolity all have amusing tales to tell; like that of the famous Milanese risotto invented by a painter whose nickname was Zafferano (Saffron) thanks to his penchant for adding a pinch of yellow to all his colours; a friend teased him that one day he would end up by putting it in his risotto and he took him at his word: needless to say it was a great success.
Another happy ending that was created from a mistake is the Negroni cocktail. One fine evening at Bar Basso (a well known Milanese watering hole) one of the barmen ran out of gin and decided to use sparkling spumante instead; the result has gone around the world and back, becoming one of the thirty cocktails that every respectable barman has on his repertoire, and has to be able to make blindfolded.
However, there are also those who do not surrender their taste for adventure when faced with the poverty of the Milanese cuisine; glam cooks and master chefs from all around the globe have tried their hands at jazzing it up it with light, fusion, chic and politically correct recipes; the results are surprisingly… surprising… and well worth a try.
One thing is absolutely true: those who love variety cannot help but love Milan. There is no other place in Italy that can boast such a high number of ethnic restaurants, Tuscan trattorie, Chinese-cum-Japanese fusions, piadinerie, Irish pubs, Mexican bars, Bella Napoli pizzerias, steak houses, kebab joints and so on. The reason? An extraordinary open mindedness towards others, together with the knack of adapting to new situations and playing by the rules learnt over the duration of millenniums.
It must be added that it is not rare to hear that certain dishes taste better in Milan than in their homeland; take the case of the panzerotti di Luini, for example, transplanted into the northern city by grandmother Giuseppina , God rest her soul , entrepreneur from Puglia who moved up to Milan with her entire family in tow. This is because decent hard-working intelligent people have always come to the Lombardian capital in search of a fortune; many have carved out their own niches and carried on turning their dreams into successes for so many years that they are more Milanese than the Milanese themselves. A bit like in New York: the best of the best, at its best.
What more can you ask of a city?
(Micol Arianna Beltramini)