Monday, October 3, 2011
The other day my friend Dana asked if I wanted to go to the Piazza Vittorio market with her. The man who manages her country house was in town, and since he’s Sri Lankan, she thought it would be a great idea to have a look around the market with him. I thought so too.
Right here I have to stop calling it the Piazza Vittorio market. Since the market’s not in Piazza Vittorio anymore, and hasn’t been in a while. When I first started going to this market it lined two sides of the square, and was filled with vendors selling vegetables, fruit, meats, cheeses....you know. Market stuff. But very fresh and a lot less expensive than many other markets.
About 10 years ago the market got moved to a nearby space which I guess is more ‘hygenic’ but is certainly not as picturesque as the outdoor space.
But not all the changes have been bad. During the last decade or so, the neighborhood itself has also seen a lot of changes, becoming the city’s ethnic hub. And the Nuovo Mercato Esquilino (that’s what it’s called now) reflects these changes in all their colorful, flavorful glory.
This is where you go to find anything at all out of the ordinary. Someone always has coriander, and ginger is never a problem. But that’s just the beginning. The stands groan with huge mountains of incredible fruits and vegetables that sometime look as if they came from Mars, rather than Pakistan.
Which is why I was so glad that we were going to have a guided tour. Because even though I’m an adventurous cook, even I sometimes passed up some of those warty looking green things, just because I had no idea what I’d do with them.
Yes. I was intimidated by a vegetable.
I guess I had in mind that our guide would point to something, and then reveal some secret, family, Sri Lankan recipe. Instead, it was quite the opposite. “Oh, that’s just like a zucchini. You just cut it up and cook it.” “And those? Just like string beans.”
All those vegetables that seemed scary? I could just treat them - more or less - like slightly different relatives of the vegetables I already knew and loved. Purple spinach, warty cucumbers and gorgeous mini round eggplants.
That’s not to say I wasn’t going to stop by the spice vendor and stock up. And come home and cook up my own Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan or Chinese feast. Now that I knew I could tame any of the scary looking vegetables that came my way, I could work them into any ethnic dish I wanted to. Or....just cook them up like their kind-of-boring, less warty, Italian relatives.
Nuovo Mercato Esquilino
Via Principe Amadeo
Monday, Wed, Thurs, Saturday: 5am-3pm
Tuesday & Friday: 5am-5pm