06 May, 2012

What to eat: conversations with friendly strangers

First there was a young Italian in Canada on a work visa. I knew I liked him right away the same way I know when the person sitting next to me on the subway is about to get off at the next stop. He's from Milano, and is currently working at an Italian chain restaurant in downtown Toronto. He spends his shift breaks disagreeing about select menu items with his non Italian boss (and the chefs are from Korea and India).  He appears to be twenty-something and above average intelligent.

He states that "real Italian" is only 3-4 ingredients, that Caesar salad and Alfredo sauce are not Italian but are "from Las Vegas", and he refuses to pay $20 for pizza. So despite living here for several months, has never eaten pizza in a restaurant like Terroni's (which I'm told by the Italian young woman standing next to us is actually quite good.) His favorite ingredients on pizza are mushrooms, Gorgonzola, spicy salami, tomato sauce, and mozzarella.

The second stranger was a young Italian Canadian woman, about 22 years old. Her father and grandmother came to Montreal in 1951, followed by her mother (followed by her). She never eats italian food away from her own, or her nana's, kitchen. "Pay for pasta? No way it could be better than my grandmother's." It centers her to cook, working with the method of "a little bit of this, a little bit of that." She is short, a little round in the hips, with very pretty, glossy, smooth long brown hair. Her face has fine features that make her seem like a porcelain doll come to life, with attitude.

The third stranger was a French woman here on a school visa. She is not the stereotypical French cook. In fact, she tells me, "I am quite bad at cooking. And I prefer to eat pasta." She is roommates with two Japanese guys and a Korean who are better cooks, and every Friday one person will cook for the others. On the night of her turn at the stove she skyped her aunt to get support and a recipe for boeuf bourguignon. In the past she has made them crepes with nutella, strawberries, and cream.

She has looked around Price Chopper for good cheese and was disappointed with the choice and the prices. She has a few freckles, nice teeth, and likes to sing to herself in down time (she dislikes being bored.)

She is very smart and engaging and was elated that Hollande just beat Sarkozy in the election. Her brown wavy hair is about the same length as mine, just below the shoulder, but hers is still without gray. When she's thinking she bites her nails and then her eyes come alive with a new thought.

If the timing is right I like asking strangers about food, starting a conversation about their preferences, looking for them to share an opinion about something they like.

This week in honor of the three friendly strangers I will pull together some Italian dishes - tomato salad with good cheese (mozzarella), Marco's pizza, and maybe make my favorite pasta with puttanesca sauce.