10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Pt. I

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

From a Girl to A Woman

On August 23rd 2017 I celebrated the 10th anniversary of my arrival to Rome. I had long thought about celebrating a decade in grandeur and style. What I did however, was just a spontaneous and sentimental Instagram post with the picture of the Colosseum, telling the story of what exactly happened on that August 23rd 2007, feeling all the feels that there were. 

When I first arrived here, in a way I was pushed into world of adulthood without fully realizing it. To be entirely truthful, those first couple of years felt like a long Erasmus experience, thanks to our student lifestyle. Suddenly I was in charge of doing all my stuff, including grocery shopping, which meant I could buy and eat literally whatever I wanted. This was my little rebellion, since my mom had always been obsessed with “diet” food, struggling (in vain) to control my health and weight. There I was, in a new country, in a new continent, exposed to a new world in the realm of supermarkets, filled with long isles of (mostly) junk, which I knew nothing about.

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

Palazzo Braschi- Rome, 10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon
10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

It took me a couple of years to develop a solid interest in what I was eating; real, authentic Italian food, the correct recipes and the artisanal production of iconic ingredients. But then as I developed my interest in food, I got to discover myself. This sentence may sound quite worn out in today’s obsessively foodie media, but food truly is culture, history and an excellent medium to acknowledge our identities.

Late Celebration

The whole idea of celebrating a decade of life in Italy was introduced to me by Alice (the owner of Latteria Studio in Rome), who back in 2015 wrote 10 posts on her blog about 10 things she has learned from Italians. Later, I read Arlene’s post about a decade of life in Rome (which is not food related at all, thank god), and I though it’s too good of an oppurtunity to not write about. 

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pvt workshop july 18-23

In a world obsessed with live posts and 15 second “Stories”, where news from yesterday are old and we’re forced to be in a constant race with numbers, this is a very slow post. It has been sitting here half written and half photographed for a long time, while I found myself pondering upon the sense of blogging at the end of 2018. , I decided to take my time with blog, and publish only what really matters to me, which can be of value to you too. 

There is no recipe in this long post; only memories and photos, which are not even necessarily related to the dishes I talk about. I spent months trying to remember my most significant food memories in the past eleven years in Italy. I recorded my own voice, recounting the anecdotes related to each dish. It was a therapeutic and cathartic process that I encourage you to do too.

So here they are. Enjoy reading the first part of my 10 most striking food memories that have marked 10 years of my life in Italy.  The second of part will be published soon. 

1. Caffè Latte e Cornetto al Bar

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon
Palazzo Braschi- Rome, 10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

Back in the days I studied Italian in Iran, one of the topics of daily conversation was about whether you have breakfast at home, or in a bar. This made absolutely no sense to me, until on my second day in Italy. My friends took me to neighborhood’s bar Angolo Russo which famously bake their own conrnettos — the Italian equivalent of croissants. I will never, ever forget that first taste of caffè latte and cornetto. The milk felt silky in my mouth, its temperature was perfectly warm when I actually expected the hot milk to burn my tongue. The flavor of coffee was intense, yet softened by the velvety creaminess of the milk. The surface of the cornetto crumbled into million flakes with each of my bites and left a sugary coat on my lips that was wiped with each sip of the caffè latte. The core was soft, and not sweet at all. I have few other food memories as powerful and vivid as the memory of my first Italian Breakfast.

2. Wine on an Island

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon
10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

Growing up in Iran where it’s officially forbidden to consume alcohol, my drinking experiences were limited to homemade (very strong) liquores, and smuggled beers and whiskeys that we drank in indoor parties. I had never tasted “real”, properly bottled wine. I had never even seen white wine. To celebrate our arrival to Rome on our first night ever in the Eternal City, we bought a decent bottle and we opened it on Isola Tiberina, a tiny island in the middle of Tiber river. The wine tasted too acidic to me in the beginning, but I began to like it as it started to calm down my tired nerves (I had been awake for more than 48 hours by then).
10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon
White wine surprised again when Gianni my friend, taught me to soak slices of yellow nectarine in it, and add a sprinkle of sugar and some mint leaves. Then chill in the fridge and serve for dessert on hot a summer day.

Perhaps the most unexpected experience with wine, was dunking cookies in it! Ciambelline al vino are simple donut-shaped cookies made with wine. Nothing will get you tipsy, happy and full, like a bag of wine cookies dunked in fizzy wine. Just as if it was normal cookies dunked in milk, but for adults. 

3. Spleen Sandwich in Sicily (and other Italian Offals)  

Palazzo Braschi- Rome, 10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon
10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

I have only been to Sicily once. It was more than 9 years ago and I could write 10 striking food memories just about those 5 days. The most memorable, and the tastiest one was undoubtedly panino di milza or the spleen sandwich. Everywhere in Palermo, in small carts, or little shops, you can find the boiled, then sliced and finally fried cow’s spleen, stuffed into in a little (or not so much so) buns. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice on top is a must, while shredded provola cheese is an option. 

Palazzo Braschi- Rome, 10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

I had no idea what what milza or spleen was, I knew it was an interior from the vivid gestures of palermitani showing the place their spleen would be in their rib cage. Italians love offal, although at first they might not admit it. But poor man’s regional cooking is full of offal recipes. When in Palermo, you must try this spleen sandwich. When in Rome, do as romans do and try la pajata, the cooked intestines of unweaned calves. Trippa alla romana, Roman tripe in tomato sauce — is another option. Tripe has a glorious time in Tuscany and Campagna too. In Florence, you can’t possibly miss the Lampredotto sandwich (cow’s last and fourth stomach, boiled, chopped and dressed with salsa verde and chilly oil). You should eat it on the benches in front of Saint Ambrose church. If you’re going for a culinary adventure in Naples, be courageous and try centopelle, cows (third? or fourth stomach again?), boiled, chopped, salted, lemon juiced, and served on a piece of paper. Continue reading

The Visual Diary of Summer in Puglia, SAVEUR Blog Awards Nomination & A Salad with Watermelon, Tomatoes and Local Herbs

Lab Noon in Puglia | Watermelon, Tomato & Herb salad | Saghar Setareh_-11

I. The Heat and The Gratitude 

The distance between the desire to lay on a white beach on a hot summer day with a cool beer in hand, and the first hot drink during a rainy day that already smells like Autumn, might feel like a blink at times. In Italy though, that blink can last for several months. Several, hot, exhausting months of merciless summer. I guess at the age of 32 and long after school holidays I should be mature enough to confess that no, summer is not my favorite moment of the year, thank you very much! 

In fact, I believe had it not been for berries, stone fruits, melons, figs and fresh sea food, I would not even enjoy summer. And I am sure, that if it wasn’t for frisa (Pugliese hard bread to be soaked and seasoned before serving with fresh cherry tomatoes) I would probably starve in hot, humid days that cooking, along with any other activity seems plainly impossible. 

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Please accept this rant about the unacceptably hot summer as a justification for my absence here. Complaints and nags aside though, I have been quite busy. Determined to swim against the tide during August, when all Italy literally shuts down to go on vacation (read “to the beach”), I decided to stay in Rome and work. And work I did! But before August, the month of limbo and transition in Italy, I headed south towards my beloved Puglia, for a brief vacation.

In this post, I try to write only a few words to set the mood and leave everything else to the images, as a visual diary. As you can see there are tons of them, and it took the great part of summer for me to select and edit them (I listened to the whole series of Harry Potter audiobooks in the meanwhile! An utter delight!).

I also add the simplest, most refreshing non-recipe for a summer salad with watermelon chunks, a variety of tomatoes and tons of aromatic herbs.

Of course, the post can’t be completed without thanking you immensely for having nominated me for the prestigious SAVEUR blog awards for Best Photography! The news came as the most pleasant surprise just when I was about to leave Puglia for Rome. I am still speechless and drenched in bliss for this. There’s still a little time to vote, so please keep supporting me! (Update: Voting time is over! Thanks for the support.)

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II. The Pugliese Diary

I stayed in the same country side home that I have been visiting for the past two years; old, authentic and rustic. Built in a dry yet fertile land where ancient olive trees have deep routs in the red earth, grey and white Trulli host guests and a small garden provides the necessary vegetables to feed us all summer long. The eggplants, zucchinis and green peppers are satuèed in local extra virgin olive oil, tomatoes end up in jars of “sala” (tomato sauce) to dress pasta dishes all year long, and even grapes are conserved in alcohol with anice seeds to served as post-dessert after a long meal. 

Meals were often simple and fresh. Local cheese (read tons of burrata and a lot of mozzarella nodini) from nearby masserias (Pugliese farm houses), taralli and olives. Of course, frisa were in the order of the day, and we ordered fresh orecchiette and panzarelli (fried dough filled with tomato and mozzarella) from another nearby masseria. 

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Speaking of these typical Pugliese farm houses, I went for a visit of the dreamy Masseria Potenti too! Masseria Potenti, a remodeled fortified-farmhouse-turned-into-hotel, is our venue for The Puglia Encounter Workshop that I will host at the end of October together with Emiko Davis and Alice Adams. I can’t wait to be back there, to chill by the pool, to wander around with my camera and to go treasure hunting in Grottaglie, the land of magical Pugliese artisan ceramics.  Continue reading

Immigrant Food Stories: A Persian Quince Stew, A Supper Club & A Cookbook from When It Rained Bombs

Persian Quince Stew | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-11 Quince Stew – Other photos from my last trip to Iran in August ’15

Immigrant Food Stories, a Feast of Togetherness for Dark Days

It was a rainy Saturday night early in November. There was the smell of cardamom and butter in the air. Windows were condensated after hours of boiling rice and stewing meat. The speakers of Alice’s record player were connected to my phone, that played songs of which only I could understand the words. Others were distracted from the melodic tunes by the food and the conversation. Around a long table topped with pale rose, red Autumn leaves, quinces and pomegranates, there was a cheerful group of eight people who were chatting the cold, rainy night away. With a glass of Syrah in our hand, we were feasting on the colorful and aromatic dishes, in a company that was just as vibrant and stimulating.

We were from Iran, Italy, The US and Sweden, with some German background. The food was Persian, fragrant and seasonal. This was the Persian Autumn Dinner that I hosted at Latteria Studio, as a trial for my supper club. It was only a couple of days before the US election. And I could’ve never imagined that 3 months later when I finally wrote a recap of that evening, we would be standing where we stand now.

This post is a part of the Immigrant Food Stories; the contribute many fellow food bloggers are making against hate and fear of the other, particularly to Trump’s dumb and cruel muslim ban (that thanks to a healthy judiciary system, has been halted). I am touched by these people’s stories, and willingness to narrate how we are all similar at the end of the day. Make sure to check out the links below and to look for #ImmigrantFoodStories on instagram, twitter and facebook, and please share your own immigrant food stories too!

If you have followed Lab Noon for a while, you’d know that this whole blog is a long, ongoing immigrant food story. It’s the tale of my Iranian culinary heritage combined with what I learn everyday from the spectacular food culture of Italy, where I immigrated a decade ago. What you might not know is another food story; the food stories of wars, the food stories of sanctions, the food stories of shortage, instead of abundance.

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Bombs, Coupons and a Cookbook from “Rosa

I was born in 1985, right in the middle of eight years of Iran-Iraq war. I still remember as if it was just yesterday when the bombing siren went off, and what I now associate as the most horrifying voice in the world, announced the beginning of the bombing and the minutes we had in order to run to shelters. As terrifying as the siren was, the running and hiding seemed like a big, collective game to us children. A game that our parents were often too concerned and worn out to play with us.

Food and other essentials were rationed during the war in Iran. A grocery coupon system was applied so that all families could have to them, without having to obtain their food and other goods from the black market (which was also very active). The aisles in the super markets were often half empty, and the queues in front of shops that sold with coupons were very long.

I had long forgotten about the grocery coupons and the long queues until some weeks ago, when I received a small, but heavy parcel from my mom. It was the two huge volumes of “The Art of Cooking” by Ms. Rosa Montazami, the bible of cooking in Iran. The book is a vast collection of Iranian and international savory and sweet recipes, so important that for decades it has been gifted to young brides to help them cook well in their new home. Continue reading