The Italian Sagra vs. the American Country Fair or Festival

I’ve just attended the Kelseyville Pear Festival here in California. It’s really not all that different than an Italian Sagra. I was thinking about that because in a week or so I’ll probably be attending our first sagra of the fall season.

We didn’t have a lot of time to make a scientific study out of the whole deal because we only stayed at the pear festival until slightly after noon, since the temperatures that morning had shot up faster than a CEO’s salary during a recession.

We walked the streets past food booths and tables groaning with hand-made art and other useless things—except for the soap. We bought a bar.

I can tell you that there is a lot more emphasis on food in the Italian sagra.

You see, after smelling them, I couldn’t help but order a tri-tip sandwich. After all, there were all these herbed tri-tips smoking on a grill over real, smoldering oak. You can’t beat that with a stick. So, thinking that I’d mosey on over to where they sold them I was surprised not to see someone slicing the meat for all to see. You know, there should have been a big ol’ bucher block out there on the street and as the guy draws his extraordinarily sharp knife through the meat for your just-ordered sandwich, the juices gush out with such force you feel inclined to jump back as if you’d put your ribs smack in the trajectory of a Nolan Ryan fastball.

But no. The high school lass taking the money went back into a tent where there was a pile of sandwiches made heaven knows when by heaven knows who and left to sit there in their tin foil coffins. She brought me out a shiny, silver one. It was cold.

I don’t know why folks in the US have to do everything ahead of time. I mean, I cooked at a fairly high end restaurant in Napa for a while, and the other cooks would show me how clever they were to have made a whole bunch of things up ahead of time that would have been much tastier if they were made to order. Doesn’t anyone here have a desire to do the absolute best when serving a customer—even if it means they would have to wait a couple more minutes for their food?

Ok, maybe we don’t want slow, good food. And that’s what I like about Italy. They want that. Heck, they demand that.

At an Italian sagra in the Lunigiana the old women cook their hearts out in a big tent or something while the men and kids run with the finished product on a bee-line toward its eventual owner and consumer. It’s a circus of hot food, made to order. If it smells good, it will be.

And it won’t cost much at all. You’ll sit at communal tables and eat it, remarking how good it is to your neighbors who will wonder how an American found their little celebration of spring onions or some such…

And, oh, there will be wine or beer.

But this was a pear festival and it was about 100 degrees so, as you’d expect, they served pear ice cream. Here’s something you won’t hear in Italy (from an Italian at least), “hey, you see that? Pear ice cream! What will they think of next?”

The pear ice cream was good, but it suffered from what gelato doesn’t—too much cream. Fat is a great flavor carrier, so more cream makes sense sometimes. But for fruit, cream clogs the taste buds so that the true, fresh flavor of it doesn’t come through as well. That’s why we go all gaga over gelato. Fresh, ripe fruit and some milk, frozen.

And the music. If there’s music, you’ll be interested to know that, according to my unscientific survey, you’re slightly more likely to hear jazz in Italy than in the US. They’re nuts over it. Gritty blues tunes? The US gets a big nod there. Country-Western Fiddle with humongous tattooed dudes singing songs glorifying life in a trailer park rife with mind altering substances and lost loves? Safe to say that’s a US thing, too.

Here’s another thing you won’t see at an Italian sagra: a “20 ounce, triple espresso”. No, Italians haven’t slid into that “big gulp” swamp yet. You want 20 ounces of espresso you order about 30 of ‘em, one at a time, so they’re all at the right temperature.

I gotta go pack. You carry on now.

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Don’t know how to find one of these Sagra deals? Look for the Sagra Posters.

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Best place to have an espresso? Naples. Hands down. Why there’s even a blog from Naples I’ve recently discovered that sounds mighty good and is loaded with information about Naples and food with the name: The Espresso Break

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And finally, did you know you can read Wandering Italy Blog on your Kindle?


The Italian Sagra vs. the American Country Fair or Festival originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com , updated: Sep 26, 2009 © .

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