The Peperoncino Festival is still a day and a half away, so there’s some time left to explore the regional restaurants. And we’re hungry …
La Locanda di Zio Rocco
In an alley just off the Lungomare (seaside promenade), we stumble across a trattoria – a small restaurant with just three tables inside and outside, and the picture of a world-famous stingy cartoon duck on the wall. One of the tables is already occupied by a cheerful bunch of locals, obviously enjoying their meals. There’s an irresistable aroma in the air – tomatoes, garlic – and peperoncini! Also, strings of chiles are hanging and drying here, another unmistakeable sign that this is our kind of place, so we take a seat. It turns out that at least some of the folks at the other table are the restaurant owners.
To keep the eggplant strips from turning brown, they are thrown into a bucket containing water with some salt and lemon juice. Next day the strips are drained well and put into vinegar. After soaking them in vinegar for another day, the strips are drained well again. Now they are stored in olive oil, with garlic, fennel seed and chunks of hot peperoncini added. Fennel seed is used a lot in Calabria – even in sausage and with olives in oil. Maria disappears in the kitchen and returns with a small plate, bringing us a sample of the finished product from their last batch. As opposed to fresh or cooked eggplant, this kind of preservation makes it firm and crunchy. Without knowing that this is eggplant, it would be hard to tell. Also, the strips take on the pleasant flavor of the other ingredients. Very tasty.
It is just our second day in Calabria, but we can tell already (and will experience many more times during our stay) how proud the people here are of their culinary specialties. Despite the language barrier – here in the “deep south” you’ll hardly find locals speaking anything but Italian and Calabrian – they do their very best to help you enjoy their tasty treats.
When paying the bill, we realize why they have that famous frugal duck on the wall – although everything is prepared fresh, using the finest ingredients, the total is less than 20 Euro (1 Euro currently equals about 1 U.S. Dollar). The pasta dish was just 3.00 Euro, the whole fish seven, and the stuffed eggplant 2.00 Euro, just like other veggie sides we ordered. A 1.5 quart bottle of icecold spring water was just 2.0 Euro, less than what you’d pay retail in a store in any other country. The hot peppers in oil and the eggplant sample were on the house. We’ll be baaack …
La Locanda di Zio Rocco, Diamante, Largo San Biagio, Phone 368-7498498
Fire and Ice at Diamante’s Street Cafés
After that spicy lunch outdoors in the still hot September late summer air, we crave for some ice cream dessert. After all, ice cream is one of Italy’s greatest treats. We decide for Café Nini, right at the Lungomare, overlooking Diamante’s harbor when sitting outside. A spectacular view of fishing boats, the sea with its perfect azure color, and the green hills along the coast. Nini’s specialty is tartufo – that classic Italian dessert, typically a big scoop of chocolate ice cream, hollow inside, filled with liquor like Marsala or Amaretto. Here, they don’t have just one tartufo on the menu, but an ice cream maker’s dozen: “Tartufo Café,” “Tartufo Ciocolata,” and – stop right here! – “Tartufo Afrodisia – gelato dolcemente piccante.“
La Buca di Bacco
There are so many nice little places to explore, we could possibly spend weeks here. Tonight we’re checking out another small restaurant named La Buca di Bacco. Their daily menu indicates that it’s Peperoncino Festival time:
Diamante is not a town with glitzy restaurants, with waiters dressed in b&w and menus bound in leather. There’s a rather elegant fish reaturant though, called La Taverna del Pescatore. A big bottle of mineral water is still just 2.00 Euro, and delicious, typically Mediterranian seafood antipasti for two are 10.00, the main seafood dishes we had were around 8.00 Euro each. Many of the larger restaurants have a per-guest surcharge (coperti), which is 1.5 Euro per person at this place. In turn, they don’t mind sharing and bring two plates if you wish. This restaurant has also excellent pizza – the real thing.
La Taverna del Pesacatore, Diamante, Via Calvario, Phone 0985-81482
Another thing you won’t find here are chain restaurants – neither Italian nor foreign. The last golden arches we noticed were up in Naples.
After dining out in Diamante for one week, we were not disappointed once. And for those who would rather cook themselves, there are plenty of stores right within Diamante, including hot shops. Yes, chile pepper hot shops! Those are the stores we are going to tell you about in our next report.
Go to page 1 here.
Go to page 3 here.
Story and Photos by Harald Zoschke