Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Now, normally, I don't eat foods with only one syllable, but I can make exceptions. I'm not rigid.

Speck. You need to know about Speck.

The thing about living in a foreign country is that it is, well, foreign. Yes, they have all the big stuff that we have. Shops, buses, shampoo, cell phones, restaurants... and when you first arrive, you're so busy being blown away by all the amazing wonderfulness of it ("I am standing on the spot where Julius Caesar was murdered...actual JULIUS frickin' CEASAR...!" "...Holy Moley! That's the COLLISEUM!!"...you get the drift) that you don't notice right away just how freaking weird it all is. And in millions of teeny ways you can hardly describe to people who've never lived in Foreign.

One of the things that most ex-pats do while living in Wonderland Italy is look around for things they recognise. It's kind of a psychological defence mechanism. Italy, and Italians, are generally so weird and alien that when one spots something one recognises, a bottle of Lea and Perrins or Heinz ketchup for example, a wave or relief flows over one. "Here, this is a bag of demerara sugar! I recognise this! It makes sense!" Friends and relatives "back home" find they get requests for strange things: "Can you find me a packet of Swiss Miss instant cocoa?" "I desperately need a bottle of Muskol before mosquito season..."

You get into the habit of sending excited texts to your friends: "I've found a place that does REAL fish and chips!" (The Abbey Theatre pub is generally conceded by all to be a little bubble of the Anglosphere in Rome, where you can get fish and chips, Strongbow cider and the best cup of tea, Barry's, in the city. They play the BBC and Sky TV, and Canadian hockey games. It even smells Anglo.) The news flashes around the micro-community of Americans, Canadians and Brits, all desperate to retain their grip on reality. I think there are facebook pages where you see Anglos telling each other where in Rome the best bathrooms are, the ones with seats on the toilets, toilet paper, paper towels and soap in the dispenser.

In general, one of the rules is that when you find something, bacon for example, that Italians don't really know about, you find it is not really the exact same thing you're used to, but something that is almost but not quite exactly like it. Therefore loaves of "American style" bread, the kind you make toast out of in the morning, have a vaguely strange quality to them, something about the texture that is not quite right.

Italians don't know about bacon. With bacon, there are several choices, all of which fit the not-quite-but-almost-exactly description. In Italian, you ask for "panchetta affumicato", but it comes sliced so thin it burns very quickly, and the flavour is, of course, not-quite-but-almost-exactly.

The quest for bacon is one that many indulge in as a kind of sanity-preserving hobby. I found some the other day that came in a big hunk from which one sliced off rashers, like in the Before Time. And the taste was as close to real bacon as anything we've come across yet.

This is not that stuff. This is Speck.

I don't know if Speck is something you can get anywhere else, but the name sounds German to me. I'm guessing that the lump I bought is made in Italy, but is one of those rare things that Italians have adopted from outside the Bubble Universe.

It comes with a very thick rind which you really can't eat. I sliced off the rind and much of the fat. You cut slabs of it and fry in a pan. It is smoked and very salty, and I think would be much improved with a little dribbling of maple syrup to take the salt edge off (if you can get your Canadian friends to send you some maple syrup, that is, though it is often difficult to get such packages past customs).

When you wake up, as I did today, with your face planted in the pillow, and you remember that you're still here in Cloud Cuckoo Land and not, in reality, back in BC on the Island, having a little dip in the Pacific Ocean at the bottom of your grandma's garden just before she calls you for lunch, and you want to pull the covers over your head and go home again, it makes it slightly easier to remember that you've got Speck in the fridge and a box of Twining's loose Earl Grey.


Gregor said...

Yes, of course, Speck is German, this one probably comes from South Tyrol which the Italians annected after WWI and now call Alto Adige ("Upper Etsch" - oh well, I better don't get started). "Speck" is really a rather generic name, as there is a whole range of different kinds of Speck, in can be cooked, cured, fried etc. South Tyrolese speck is raw. it is typically eaten on bread and butter, pickled cucumbers and perhaps some horsereddish.

df said...

Don't let the Abbey Theatre know that you think it smells Anglo - they're Irish you know; they'd probably have the place fumigated.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

I use the term Anglo very broadly, in the manner of the Quebeccers. It means anyone who speaks English or comes from an English-speaking country.

df said...

Just be careful's all I'm saying...