Literary Excerpt: Vivid Descriptions of Italian Food

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Italian FoodHere's a passage from John Fante's novel The Brotherhood of the Grape, describing the main character's return to his parents' home where his mother has made a meal:

The baked eggplant took me back to the childhood of my life when they were a nickel apiece and a great feast, purple globular marvels bulging jolly and generous, rich Arab uncles eager to fill our stomachs, so beautiful I wanted to cry.

The thin slices of veal had me fighting tears again as I washed them down with Joe Musso's magnificent wine from the nearby foothills. And the gnocchi prepared in butter and milk finally did it. I covered my eyes over the plate and wept with joy, sopping my tears with a napkin, gurgling as if in my mother's womb, so sweet and peaceful and filling my mouth with life forever. She saw my wet eyes, for there was no hiding them.

The kitchen. La cucina, the true mother country, this warm cave of the good witch deep in the desolate land of loneliness, with pots of sweet potions bubbling over the fire, a cavern of magic herbs, rosemary and thyme and sage and oregano, balm of the lotus that brought sanity to lunatics, Gnocchipeace to the troubled, joy to the joyless, this small twenty-by-twenty world, the altar a kitchen range, the magic circle a checkered tablecloth where the children fed, the old children, lured back to their beginnings, the taste of mother's milk still haunting their memories, fragrance in the nostrils, eyes brightening, the wicked world receding as the old mother witch sheltered her brood from the wolves outside.

Beguiled and voracious Virgil filled his cheeks with gnocchi and eggplant and veal, and flooded them down his gullet with the fabulous grape of Joe Musso, spellbound, captivated, mooning over his great mother, enrapturing her with loving glances, even pausing midst his greed to lift her hand and kiss gratefully. She laughed to see how completely she had woven her spell...

This is from The Rebel Angels, by Robertson Davies. Two characters are at an Italian restaurant that caters to students of the university where the novel is set. One of them orders the meal:

Spaghetti"Let's start with a big go of shrimp. Frozen, undoubtedly, but as it's the best you mean to do for me, let's give ourselves up to third-class luxury. And lots of very hot sauce. To follow that, an omelet frittata with chicken stuffing. Then spaghetti, again; it was quite passable last time, but double the order, and I'm sure they can manage a more piquant sauce. Tell the chef to throw in a few extra peppers; my friend will pay. Then zabaglione, and don't spare the booze in the mixture. We'll top off with lots and lots of cheese; the goatiest and messiest you have, because I like my cheese opinionated. We'll need at least a loaf of that crusty Italian bread, unsalted butter, some green stuff - a really good belch-lifting radish, if you have such a thing - and some garlic butter to rub on this and that, as we need it. Coffee nicely frothed. Now as for drink - God, what a list! Well, no use complaining; let's have a fiasco each of Orvieto and Chianti, and don't chill the Orvieto, because God Garlic Bread, Garlic butternever intended that and I won't be a party to it. And we'll talk about Strega when things are a little further advanced. And make it quick.

"I've ordered well, don't you think? A good meal should be a performance; the Edwardians understood that. Their meals were a splendid form of theatre, like a play by Pinero, with skilful preparation, expectation, denouement, and satisfactory ending. The well-made play: the well-made meal. Drama one can eat. Then of course Shaw and Galsworthy came along and the theatre and the meals became high-minded: the plays were robbed of their delicious adulteries and the meals became messes of pondweed, and a boiled egg if you were really stuffing yourself."

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