Ah, Italia. The drama of the ruins, the majesty of its great cities; the art, the architecture, the beauty...
While all of that is true and important and life changing, it's very surely not the whole story of what makes Italy what it is. Chiefly of course because that description is missing the most important pastime in the country: food. Italy without food is like the ocean without fish; glorious and wonderful and awe inspiring but lifeless.
But of course, everyone knows this right? Everyone's got a checklist: eat a cacio e pepe in Campo Fiori or a Margherita in Marechiaro, a tortellini in Bologna and then die happy. But that's just scratching the surface of the food culture here.
(I mean, honestly do you think that in a place with nine circles of hell there would only be one way to eat?)
If you're in or thinking of being in Italy and you want to really see a place, find out when that place will be celebrating its collective identity in a Sagra. The Sagra is a festival very specifically organized around a product or dish for which each town is known, and it usually involves a weekend of making and selling that product along with music, games, and some pretty stellar participant observation.
Every town will have one or more than one throughout the year, and it will be the moment when the entire population will find each other in the town square and you'll feel like you've gone back in time. No matter how big or small, it will feel special, and you'll get to eat a metric ton of probably very delicious food for less than the cost of admission to the Colosseum. Furthermore, from the most famous to the littlest known, you'll get the chance to eat some incredible stuff.
Our Sagra circuit started ciao, and this year we're going to be kicking it up a notch, and making our way to as many as possible. We've tried to organize a list of Sagre in our area but as in most things concerning Italy and large scale organization, it's nearly impossible to do so. But we can tell you that this year will be Sagre celebrating such diverse heros as:
-fried food (yes, that's a thing!)
-fish (so many kinds of fish)
-every form of pasta imaginable
-some you can't even imagine
This is only the very tip of the Sagra schedule and the calendar, while running year round, really kicks off from April to October. So we're right at the kickoff, and it promises to be a pretty great time. So listen, when you're driving through small towns around this wonderful and strange country, look out for those neon signs pasted up around the town hall and when you see one with the magic "Sagra della/delle..." ask someone for information. Hell, ask us; if we don't already know it, we'll find out more about it and get back to you. We may even meet you there.
Because Sagre are actually quite a universal thing, a small town way of coming together and celebrating. And that's sort of a lost art in much of the world these days, though not entirely: on our last trip to the US, we found the Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival in Florida, and had an absolute blast eating frogs legs and gator tails. So don't worry about feeling out of place, strange, foreign. In fact, a good Sagra will have the very opposite effect if you let it; you'll sit at long wooden tables in an ancient town square with hundreds of other people, eating and drinking as if you yourself had grown up with the same food, and you will belong to something wonderful (and likely full of terrible disco music later on, but I mean a dose of realism is necessary).