The Meal of a Lifetime
Milan was a ghost town. It was mid-August, the first night of my family’s 16-day tour of Italy, a trip I had been anticipating for months. Unfortunately the entire population of Italy was on vacation. I wasn’t happy: I hadn’t eaten all day, and since the whole country had departed for the seaside and mountains, there were very few restaurants open for business. My family and I had searched for at least an hour, probably more, when we finally come across a place named "Woodstock #3." I was so happy to find a place to finally quell my hunger that I truly didn’t care that this was the most American-sounding name I had seen in my day there. However, once we got into the restaurant, it was more different than I ever could have expected.
Our group was large: six people in my family, the four in my uncle’s, and my two grandparents. From the outside, Woodstock #3 looked rather spacious, but inside, it was a different story. There were tables jammed end to end and the people were packed so closely it looked like a clown car in a circus. We walked in, saw there was no way we were all going to fit, and immediately walked out. Upon seeing this, one of the waiters came after us and said, in the nicest way possible, that there was no way we were leaving and that he would do whatever was necessary to make room. We decided to give it a chance and watched him work his magic; he must have had to do this before; because in less than five minutes we were all seated comfortably right in the, middle of the restaurant. Looking around the place, I realized that this restaurant was the embodiment of everything I ever thought Italy would be. It was cozy, loud, had incredibly friendly waiters, and you felt that you could walk up to any person in there and become best friends with them in two minutes. This restaurant was Italy.
Coming from a 100% Italian background, I had heard of the unbelievable food in Italy, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the onslaught of deliciousness. First, warmed and seasoned garlic rolls. Next, fried calamari with an absolutely impeccable red wine. Then came the main course. Linguine aglio, olio e peperoncino. Linguine in a garlic, oil, and pepper sauce. This was a meal I had at least three or four times on this trip alone, but the balance this dish had was so perfect, it could not be improved. Spicy, but just enough; garlic-y, but not enough to make it overpower the oil. It was perfect. After I had cleaned my plate, I started helping the other people at the table who couldn’t finish their own. Mom’s spaghetti carbonera: gone. Sister’s frutti de mar: gone even faster. I was beginning to get full so I decided to stop. And that’s when the fun REALLY started.
The owner of the restaurant had watched me tear through my food like someone who hadn’t had a meal in months, and in typical Italian fashion, loved every second of it. He came up to me as I was finishing up and started speaking to me, but he only spoke Italian so I couldn’t understand him. I referred him to my dad, who had grown up in Italy, and after a few minutes of them going back and forth, I found out he tried to tell me if I wanted more after my meal, he would have just given me some. I laughed it off, seeing it as a joke, and then I saw him carrying a plate of capellini in a pesto sauce directly towards me.
He put it down in front of me and said one word, pointing at the plate: "tutto," all of it. By this time I had gathered a little bit of a crowd because everyone saw him talking to me and after a few minutes I had the entire restaurant cheering me on, willing me to finish the plate. It was all a combination of English and Italian and eventually got to the point where I couldn’t even hear what was being said anymore; I just knew there was no way I wasn’t finishing that plate. When I took the last bite, everyone cheered and gave me high fives like I had just finished a marathon. Here were these people cheering for me, a first time visitor to their country, and all they cared about was giving me the meal of a lifetime. Well Italy, you didn’t disappoint. When I look back on the trip, the story of that night will always be the first one I tell and I don’t think I’ll ever have another meal quite like it. Honestly? I don’t know if I even want to.