Food festivals

 

Welcome to one of the tastiest and most typically Italian area of the website! Before delving into the details of festivals around Italy, this initial post will be necessary to get your mind around the very concept of food festivals and what you can expect from them. Food festivals, known as sagre (singular: sagra), are a quintessentially Italian event which keep standing remarkably well to the attacks of progress. They are rooted in the centuries-old phenomenon of campanilismo (lit. parochialism), or “my town/region is better than yours”, and they were originally a mix of a farmers market and a village showoff. Nowadays they are mostly about preserving very local culinary traditions and promoting lesser known crafts and products.

Food festivals are usually a two or three days affairs culminating in a big street party on the evening of the last day. They are mostly held outside of big towns, but there are hundreds of them all over the country and throughout the year, so you can usually find one not very far from you. Talking about towns, in recent years sagre also have the important social purpose of making small nondescript villages active again against the tendence of people – the young especially – to spend most of their time in big cities, going back to the villages just to sleep and little more. For this reason you can expect to see a number of side activities during a food festivals: free concerts of local bands, conferences, artisans’ stalls, historical reenactments and more.

The focus of these festivals is however food, prepared in the open in field kitchens of sorts, so that everyone can see how it is done (and lament the lack of their mama’s secret ingredient, of course). Almost every single sagra deals with at the least one local recipe, from tortelli di zucca (pumpkin ravioli) around Mantova to Modican chocolate, Genoese pesto (basil sauce), fondue in the Val d’Aosta region, apples about Trento, Chianina meat in Firenze and so on. Sometimes the recipes are obscure to say the least, or vastly remote from our current culture: take the coda alla vaccinara (cow tail) in Lazio or the gianchetti (minuscule just-hatched fishes). In some other occasions it is the cooking itself or the serving to steal the show. The very small fishing village of Camogli, in example, holds a festival about fried fish… which is cooked in gigantic, 4-meters round frying pans that require a dozen men to flip.

Your food (and wine, of course!) will be served on paper dishes and single-use plastic cups. The tables you will eat at will most probably be long communal things where privacy is unknown of – but that is part of the fun after all. Bonus points for you if you can dance classicmazurka or polka popular dances: modern square dance will do, but you will surely find a helpful elder or two wishing to teach you the basic steps of these slowly disappearing dances. In any case don’t worry: after dark the live band will probably run off to another festival gig, and normal music will be on for everyone to dance to in the main village square.