Foodgasm of the Moment: La Festa della Polenta

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Yes, it actually is exactly what it sounds like: a polenta party.

This festa is just one of many held in the towns on the outskirts of Rome throughout the year – festivals in honor of food, or more specifically, in honor of a certain food that’s particularly loved and in-season.  There’s the festival of the strawberry, the artichoke, the broccoli, the sausage, the olive; you name it, there’s a festival for it.

Organized by each individual paese’s city hall, these festivals (often called Sagras) always have a small-town, no fuss atmosphere. The cooks, servers, cashiers, etc., are all local volunteers, and as they argue and anxiously flitter around, they give the impression that it’s a miracle they were even able to get the tents up in time to serve the food.

Polenta, for those who don’t know, is a classic Fall/Winter dish made of cornmeal, topped off with red sauce and sausage, or another kind of meat. It’s a recipe that’s practically as old as time, particularly popular in the North as well as areas with higher elevations and cooler climates. Simple and delicious, I fondly remember my own grandmother often making it for us.

As usual, when attending a public event in Italy involving food, you have to have your game face on. What begins as an organized line usually ends up a clump of hungry wolves fighting over the one, prepared tray churned out every what-seems-like-an-eternity. The mood is mostly upbeat though, since everyone knows the wait is always worth it. And with the prices as ridiculously cheap as they are, is anyone really going to mess with someone’s Nonna cooking in the back? No. That would make you a grande stronzo.

So, you wait. And when you finally walk away with that tray, it feels like you’re escaping with the holy grail – as those left behind glare at you with a mixture of envy and admiration. You take your seat at a picnic table, drink your red wine from a plastic cup, listen to some classic Roman folk songs, and simply enjoy.

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