Can you travel around Italy on the cheap? Yes, you can do it if you live like the locals. Rent a vacation house or apartment and buy your food in markets (with Italy's fine wine, cheese, bread and salumi there's no need to even turn on a stove on those hot summer days). This page shows you how to aquire a chicken or chicken parts for your meal.
Ok, to the right is our chicken. In Italy, it's called a pollo. You can buy a pollo intero, a whole chicken. Or you can buy just the parts. In the Lunigiana, we buy a pollo ala busta, an industrial chicken trussed for baking. More expensive is a pollo ruspante, a free-range chicken. In any case, Italian industrial chickens are far, far better for baking than the typical American industrial chicken because they are not waterlogged from a wet-chill process, so they crisp up nicely without spitting in a hot oven.
The parts you might like to buy separately, like the wings, breast and leg are labeled with their Italian names.
The Offal, or Frattaglie; a lesson in Italian
Fegato is liver, Cuore is heart, and Stomaco is what we call the gizzard.
The chicken back, often used for broth, is called the schiena. This is important, because if you want broth you either have to make it yourself or use those salty cubes. Only recently have you been able to buy tetra-packs of chicken broth in an Italian store, so you might make your own if you care about taste.
Typical Chickens You'll Find in a Market in Italy
The best place to buy chickens is at the butcher shop, because they haven't been stewing in their own juices inside those horrible plastic trays. If you like great chicken, usually free range, look for polli nostrali, or "our own chickens." Beware that these usually come pretty intero, meaning they have the head, feet, and other unmentionables, just like in the picture.
At the market, you'll probably find a bewildering array of chickens. I asked my neighbor what to buy. She replied that you just point to the most yellow one and say "quello" or "that one!"
Do not, however, resort to buying a cheap gallina to roast. These are old hens to be used for brodo or broth--or for part of a good bollito misto.
Below is the poulty section of our butcher shop inside a commercial suppermarket.
In the upper right corner of this refrigerated case, you'll find the cosce de tacchino, turkey legs, consisting of a drumstick and thigh together. If you want just some chicken drumsticks, it's fuse di pollo, found in the lower left. In case you're wondering what the Pollo Ruspante, a free range chicken costs in dollars per pound, I calculated $3.64.
Notes on Units of Measure and Language
The units of measure Italians use are based on the kilogram,divided into ten etti. Thus, one etto is a tenth of a kilogram, or .22 pounds. Due etti, or 2 etti, are .44 pounds. For a whole chicken, you'd ask for a pollo intero. It will be priced by the kilogram.
The chickens you see to the right were photographed in Florence's San Lorenzo Market in fall of 2008. The sign says that this is a real bargain, and it is: three chickens for €5.50. They're not huge, but man, what I would give to have three of these right now!
And now that you've learned how to order a chicken in an Italian market, how about learning how to order good food in a restaurant in Italy?
Shopping in an Open Air Market
To find out what an open air market is in Italy, come along with us to our local market via our Fivizzano Tuesday Market Video. You might also wish to know how to buy salami or prosciutto when you're in Italy.