Italian food- harbinger of happiness

By Jenna Severson

When I had first arrived in Florence I felt like a kid in the largest candy store – if the candy store was filled with pici, pappardelle and penne. Every sight seemed to sparkle and I looked at every meal with love and adoration. I thought nothing could beat this feeling and that this was going to be the most perfect, trouble-free trip I’ve ever been on.

9 days later.

I rolled out of bed ten minutes before we had to leave for class, with a stuffy nose and a sore throat. Between the busy schedules filled with miles of walking and the long nights, courtesy of jet-lag, the reality and difficulty of adjusting to a new place was finally starting to set in.

The day moved along at its normal pace, but for some reason it felt different. I felt different. I felt disconnected from my family and friends back home, with the time difference and inability to make calls creating a void in communication. I felt disconnected with the city I was currently in, unable to understand the norms and languages heard all around me. I felt disconnected from myself, pushing my body harder than it is used to without a lot of time to recover and attempting to sweep these negative thoughts under the rug and move on. Finally, I had reached the point where I was full on homesick, people-sick and plain old sick sick.

By the time dinner came around I forced myself to leave the comfort of my bed where I had been napping and join the study abroad group for a dinner at a highly suggested trattoria. I sat down at the table with low spirits and a nap-hangover that I couldn’t shake, but figured a proper meal would probably help soothe my sickness.

The first item I spotted on the menu was pappa al pomodoro, a tomato soup in which day old bread is mixed in to make it thicker and more hearty. We discussed this dish in my Italian culture class the day before, so I decided a nice soup and some zucchini risotto would be the perfect 1-2 punch of Italian food to cheer me up.

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Pappa al pomodoro – tomato soup with a twist at Trattoria San Lorenzo, Florence. Photo by Jenna Severson

I can’t really remember the last time a meal made me legitimately giggle out of pure happiness, but this one sure did. The soup trickled down my throat and warmed me to the very core, wrapping me in a comforting embrace of Italian goodness. The risotto wasn’t as robust as the soup, but followed up with broth-based comfort and some much needed vegetables. As the waiter came up and asked about dessert, I asked for the chocolate gelato, instead of the standard vanilla. He looked at me with a mischievous glint in his eyes and said: “You don’t want both?”

He knew.

I was easily convinced and about ten minutes later had a glass bowl of chocolate and vanilla gelato sitting in front of me. Slowly but surely, this one meal brought out the happier me I had been missing all day and I will be forever thankful to that trattoria for it.

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Zucchini risotto at Trattoria San Lorenzo, Florence. Photo by Jenna Severson

The meal convinced me, food is a miracle worker. It can be used as medicine, like a big bowl of chicken noodle soup (or perhaps pappa al pomodoro). It can be used as a conversation topic, like discussing that one place that you tried that one time that has that great dish. It can be used a time machine, when one taste of an oatmeal cookie takes you back to stealing bits of dough out of the mixing bowl while mom was baking on a crisp autumn afternoon. Food brings people together and can realign your thoughts and emotions. All it takes is one bite.

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Filed under Florence, MU Journalism Abroad, Science ad Agricultual Journalism

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