By Raina Brooks
FLORENCE, Italy – “Water for fish.” This is what I was told in a thick Italian accent as I attempted to order water with my meal at Trattoria Antellesi. Tony Antellesi, family member, our waiter and chef proceeded to tease me throughout the duration of our dinner. He seemed very upset that I did not order wine with my meal.
A manager at another restaurant in Italy once told me “the Italian diet is based in three things: olives, wine and bread.” Wine can cost less than water in some Italian restaurants. And when they serve it, it’s not tap water but glass or plastic-bottled water.
While the waiter’s comment to me at Antellesi seemed somewhat harsh, it was likely rooted in Italians distrust of tap water. Before World War II, the water in Italy was unsafe and could cause disease, according to Rachel Black in “The Trouble with Bottled Water in Italy.” Even after the water became clean enough to drink, most Italians stuck with the old habits. To this day, some Italians believe that their water can cause illness, an idea stemming from the old distrust, with kidney problems being commonly suspected.
Despite the antics from our waiter and the entertainment of eating out on the street in Florence, the restaurant actually had amazing food. I ordered picci with tomato sauce. The noodles, thicker than spaghetti but with the same round shape, were boiled to perfection. Not mushy or too hard to chew, but just right. The pasta noodles were immersed in creamy tomato sauce with stewed tomato chunks. The meal was absolutely delicious and it was probably the best tomato sauce I have ever tried.
Although the waiter was not thrilled with my selection of water (he actually patted my head) to pair with my meal of picci, the water complimented the pasta well enough. Nonetheless, maybe next time I will ask for a recommendation for wine, wouldn’t want to disappoint the chef.