AN EVENING OF CHINESE CULTURE
I had been looking for an excuse to go to the Chinese restaurant in downtown Reggio for some time. I had passed it on numerous occasions – a cozy establishment with wood paneling and white tablecloths that seemed to be frequented by younger adults. So one evening after a very enjoyable presentation on Chinese culture at the Anglo-Italian Club, I decided to seize the moment and continue the theme for dinner.
Chinese food in Italy? I had heard mixed reviews about the restaurant, but most of the people with negative opinions hadn’t actually ever stepped foot inside the place or in any Chinese restaurant, for that matter. That wouldn’t be unusual for an Italian, though, and I’d venture to say that most Calabrians haven’t ever sampled a single Chinese dish.
I’m quite familiar with Chinese food as presented in the United States, and I was curious as to how it would translate, so to speak. Starting with the menu – Chinese characters down the left, Italian and English on the right. And the English translation was quite good! I’m not sure the Chinese and Italian wait staff would have been able to take an order in English, but just as in the U.S., all of the items were numbered.
Perhaps what I didn’t expect was how the menu items were divided, but it made sense for an Italian audience: antipasti, primi (first course), secondi (second course). Noodle or rice-based dishes were organized as first course pasta dishes with familiar words such as “spaghetti” in the Italian translation. Meat and seafood were naturally second courses. The word “ravioli” popped up in the appetizers, indicating pot stickers or dumplings. As a whole, the offerings were similar to what I was accustomed. So, what to order?
My dining companion wanted a cold beer, and the waitress immediately obliged with a tall bottle of Tsingtao, perhaps not cold by American standards, but within Italian parameters. I’m used to drinking hot tea with Chinese food, but my request was met with a puzzled look. They didn’t have tea. I glanced around and realized that there wasn’t a teapot in sight. Surely there had to be tea for the Chinese employees and I suppose I could have pressed the point, but I was so surprised, I didn’t know how to respond. I saw Coke, bottled water and beer on other tables. She brought over another glass for the beer.
CHINESE FOOD IN ITALY
We started out with a couple orders of involtini primavera (spring rolls) and the zuppa agrodolce (hot and sour soup). The flattened spring rolls took on more the shape of a blintz than a roll, were mildly crispy with a cabbage-based filling and served with the usual duck sauce. The soup, which according to my dictionary is also referred to as zuppa cinese picante e acida, was quite tasty and comforting without a hint of MSG. Just the right level of spiciness that blended perfectly with the sour tinge, the soup was chicken-based and had quite a bit of meat floating amidst the other ingredients.
The main dishes came out when they were ready, similar to many Chinese restaurants in America. The sweet and sour pork was waiting on the edge of the table practically before the first dip of our classic ceramic soupspoons. A few tomato chunks graced the plate, rather than the bell pepper that I’m used to seeing. The chicken with broccoli was heavy on the chicken, which was very tender. The tastes were mild, inoffensive – no complaints, but not bursting with flavor. They were accompanied by a contorno (side dish) of white rice.
All things considered, my first experience with Chinese food in Italy was positive. Nice atmosphere, reasonable prices and a delightful bowl of hot and sour soup. Surrounded by a myriad of Italian restaurants, however, I can’t say when my next Chinese meal in Italy will be. And I’m still scratching my head about the tea.
Okay, so you aren’t planning on eating Chinese food in Italy and you’re interested in a genuine Italian restaurant experience? Travel with me to Martone, Calabria in my blog post Trattoria: La Collinetta, where you’ll be treated to one of my most memorable restaurant meals in all of my Italian travels.
Read more about Calabria, a fascinating Southern Italian region, in the award-winning, non-fiction book Calabria: The Other Italy.
“Like” Calabria: The Other Italy’s Facebook page for more beautiful pictures and information.
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