Coming from Australia, the idea that you could drive for twenty minutes and end up in an entirely different country was completely, well, foreign. But luckily for me, my child-on-a-sugar-rush enthusiasm was teamed with an absolutely awesome au pair mum. One evening as we’re tidying up after dinner she turns to me and says, “If the weather’s nice in the morning, we’ll pop to the markets in Ventimiglia,” I must have looked a little confused so she clarified, “In Italy.” Cue my bouncing around the kitchen like a drunk puppy.
The Italian border was only about twenty minutes drive from our little patch of France. But even so the locals there can seemingly distinguish between ‘the locals’ and ‘the Frenchies next door’. I’ll admit I was flattered to be mistaken for a French girl when one of the market lads started hollering out in French. Tucked away in some big, clambering shed next to a car park was the most incredible fruit and veg market I have ever seen. People were shouting and bartering in italian, the smell of fresh herbs and flowers filled the place and there was a genuinely tangible sense of quality from the produce. As though you could feel and smell how fresh it was. I adored it. There were mountains of gorgeous summer fruit just begging to be eaten, and it all was so cheap (especially compared to Australia). We bought everything, cheese, fresh pasta, basil and I thought I could die and eat my way to heaven. The place was chaos, and I racked my brain trying to remember the little Italian I’d picked up working as a salami girl when at uni (hardly more than ‘scusate’ and ‘non parlo Italiano molto bene’) but a polite ‘per favore’ and ‘grazie’ got me a long way.
Mamon and I sat and had a coffee, my first true Italian coffee and I couldn’t believe my luck. Driving home my entire face hurt from smiling. I think one of my favourite things about Europe is the ability to stumble into another culture, that’s only a few minutes away.
My absolute favourite thing to eat that summer was fresh Tomato, Bail and Mozzarella salad. I just gorged on it constantly, but it’s called a salad, so that’s fine. I’ve put up the recipe here. Writing this has really got me in the mood for it again, but being four degrees it hardly seems the weather for it so I’ll have to find a wintery twist on that old favourite. I’ll keep you posted!