Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Tuna Festival and other things

Italy has long had a reputation as food capital of the world, but what I have realised over the summer months travelling around Sardinia and Sicily that eating or drinking a product is not enough. It has to have its own festival. This leads to a summer extravaganza where you can experience the delights of the tuna festival of Stintino, the cous cous festival of San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily or the red onion festival of Tropea, Calabria. This is not taking into account the celebrations for lemons, swordfish, local cakes, icecreams, melons, to say nothing of local liqueurs and wines that are unique to the smallest of villages across the country. And when it comes down to it, what better way to spend an evening than drinking, eating and dancing all to the homage of a root vegetable!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tourist Price List

The story of the Japanese couple charged 700 euros for a meal near Piazza Navona in Rome, has recetly made the international press. A service charge of 150 euros, over 200 euros for a plate of pasta, and goodness knows how much for water and wine. The restaurant defended itself by saying the couple ordered lobster and expensive dishes... The couple paid the bill and then went to the police and the restaurant is now closed, at least for now.

This is not unique by any means although shocking and exaggerated on this occasion. When I dine in Rome for example as a blonde English female the price is different when I eat with Italian friends to when I eat with other non italians. I will give you a typical example.

Recently I went to a pizza restaurant in Monti where normally 2 pizzas and wine is around 22 euros. When eating with my Icelandice friend, speaking in English throughout the meal, no one brought a bill although I asked twice. Then we went to the till where random numbers were entered into the till, nothing printed and we were asked for 45 euros. How much? I asked? Can I see the scontrino fiscale? (The official tax receipt which every restaurant is obliged to provide by law) oh, sorry my mistake, I thought you had ordered coffees, the bill should be 22 euros.....came the answer with the printed itemised receipt. Other example include 25 euros for two glasses of wine, and the absolute nightmaore of fixed menus and cover charges, which can add 3 or 4 euros per head to a bill.

I am sure the average tourist just pay and do not question as in fact I did when I arrived, in fact my friend was getting the cash out of her purse when I intervened. This restaurant has now lost my business forever and has made me think.

It is such a shame that you can experience a wonderful meal such as one I enjoyed last week in Sardinia in a trattporia with pasta, meat, wine, cakes, water, bread, salad and all for 28 euros for two people. Yet many eat tasteless pizza, awful wine and bad service and pay the earth, coming home to wonder why people rave about Italian food.

Anyway three things to say...
  1. Always always ask for a scontrino fiscale, and do not accept handwritten scraps of paper. This can halve the bill and its illegal to not get one - the fine rests with the diner not the restaurant if caught outside without one.
  2. What is a cover charge for and is it legal?
  3. I am going to start naming and blaming as well as applauding restaurants, tratttorias, hotels, apartments etc that I have stayed in, so look out for my new blogs giving ideas and feedback from Rome, Sardinia, Sicily and Tuscany.

Please also give me your comments and experiences. I would love to hear about them for a possible article in the British press.