The original intention behind our booking a few days holiday in Genoa was to get access to some sun and to eat good food. To this end the apartment we booked ourselves into had the benefit of a sun terrace and before the weather forecasts started to come in the week before we left there had been talk of bikinis being packed. The weather forecasts were for unrelenting rain.
For once the forecasts were correct and apart from the evening we arrived and the afternoon we left there was very little blue sky and sun. The intervening days were characterised by grey skies, cool air and rain which went from damp drizzle to torrential downpour that turned the streets into rivers.
It was a a good job that the food was so good.
Some of the highlights:-
- for lunch our first full day we spent 45 minutes pounding a few street corners down by the port area looking for a small hole in the wall place that did the best fried fish and glass of white wine in Genoa, Friggitoria Carega on Via di Sottoripa. It was only towards the end of those 45 minutes that it occurred to me it was a Monday lunchtime and the fishing boats would still be out after the weekend and it would be another few hours before fresh fish would be available. It was open two days later when we walked past and we had been standing outside its shuttered front wondering how it was we could not find it when all our maps told us we were there. We never got to eat their fried fish.
- Via di Sottoripa was an old covered street that ran parallel to the port area. It looked and felt much as it must have done two, three, four hundred years ago. Hole in the wall places to eat under the arches and gaggles of young men eyeing up the passers-by.
- that evening we booked ourselves into a restaurant down by the old port district, Antica Osteria di Vico Palla. We had gone in to book the table mid-afternoon and it looked closed up for the season, lights off and chairs on the tables. By the time we got there 8.00 o’clock in the evening the chairs were back on the floor and all the tables were full. One of the two Men Behaving Badly was sat across the room from us. The menu was all in Italian and written on the blackboard propped against the wall. Apparently I looked flustered as we sat down and the bearded waiter offered me water. I shook my head and instead he brought us the first of a number of carafes of white wine that we went through. We were struggling with the menu until the bearded waiter came to translate. Of course we then struggled to keep up. Seeing our bemusement he offered to bring us some plates of fried fish whilst we made up our minds. Along with the fried fish we also got a plate made up with slices from a variety of savoury tarts. After that I tried to order a soup of anchovies and tomatoes but some how ended up ordering a squid, spinach a chickpea stew. I think I had started off by trying to order both but the bearded waiter was concerned that my eyes were bigger than my stomach. It was very good. On ordering a glass of grappa at the end of the meal two bottles were plonked in front of me together with an empty shot glass and so far as I could tell I was invited to help myself. One was clear and one was a pale yellow. The yellow one was better. The meal finished with much joking around the proper pronunciation for requesting the bill with the bearded waiter taking great delight in introducing one of his fellow waiters as “il conto”.
- the next evening we went to a place called Osteria dell’Acciughetta for what was probably the best meal of the break. This was a small restaurant further up fromVia di Sottoripa on Via del Pre – another small narrow street that had something medieval about it. This time I was able to order the full three courses, going through a plate of ceviche, a serving of jet back spaghetti with squid and finishing with roasted octopus with tomatoes. Our waiter described herself as the owner and every time she came to the table talk spilled out of her. Towards the end of the meal the young chef came of the kitchen to say hello to some of the tables left sitting. There was a certain amount of “are they or aren’t they” with the conclusion being that they are. This time when ordered a glass of grappa it was poured into a delicately fluted glass and the bottle was kept well away from me. The grappa and the inevitable limoncello that was had by the rest of the table were on the house.
- the following day we had lunch in a place called Spaghetteria Etc…in a very wet Camogli half an hour by train down the coast. Spaghetteria Etc…did exactly what it said on the sign. There were about 24 different ways of eating spaghetti on the menu. Inside the restaurant there were three or four other tables finishing their lunch some of whom wanted to pay. There were six of us ordering six different spaghetti combinations. Looking around it quickly became apparent that there was just the one woman who was running the place. From where I sat I could see into the kitchen. The first thing she did having taken our order was open a large bag of spaghetti and tip its contents into a pan of water that must have already have been boiling. She then put half a dozen large flat pans on to heat. As they heated she came out of the kitchen to sort out the bills for the tables that wanted to pay. There were complications as the card machine was not working and one of the tables had to find the cash to pay. In between sorting these things out the woman popped calmly back into the kitchen to attend to the pans. Olive oil was heated and ingredients were taken out of small plastic containers and warmed through. The pans were shaken. The cash was collected and the bill paid and in-between time another couple of tables were filled and the orders taken. Drinks were brought to our table and eggs broken into a jug for those having carbonara. The pasta was drained and our table’s food came together just over 10 minutes after the order was taken. Through it all the woman worked with calm half smiling efficiency ignoring the fuss made over the need for cash to be found to pay the bill and always with her mind on how many more minutes were needed for the spaghetti and what needed to be done so as to ensure nothing was burnt in the flat pans. I had spaghetti with anchovies and bread crumbs.
- a couple of days earlier we had been sat late in the afternoon in a bar called Caffè deli Speech just round the corner from Cathedral di San Lorenzo. It was a quiet couple of hours as the children had taken themselves off to the aquarium down by the port. The bar was short and thin with only a half dozen tables. There were old cracked mirrors and a tiled ceiling. As we sat with our beer and tea an English man went up to the bar and asked for a recommendation of somewhere nearby he could go eat. He was told to go to Trattoria Ugo – so we ate there our last evening. It was down one of the tight streets which make there way through the old town. More alleyways than the streets they are only just wide enough for a small Italian car and either side the buildings loom up four or five stories high. We arrived in heavy rain and as we came up to the door the manger was stood outside having a cigarette. At first he seemed to think we just wanted shelter from the wet and he told us they were full. We persuaded him we had booked a table and we were ushered in and asked to wait as one of the long tables was cleared. We were then sat down. Dark brown paper placemats were put in front us printed up with the menu. A couple of specials we written in chalk on a blackboard. Some of us were feeling the effects of three solid days of good food but I was determined not to miss out on what they might have. This meant another plate of spaghetti – this time with anchovies and tomato – as close as I got to the anchovy and tomato soup I tried to have on the first night – followed by a bowl of small octopus in spicy tomato sauce. More grappa and limoncello were had to aid with the digestion. I had to pay up at the bar. Calculating what I owed involved me trying to remember what it was we had eaten so the manger could count it all up. As I passed over my card I realised I had forgotten the grappa and limoncello. The manager smiled at me and said it was all on the house.
- the following day we had the morning free before squeezing in time for a quick lunch and the trip back to the airport. The sun was trying to come out between downpours and we walked through some of the dark narrow streets we had walked along the previous evening coming at them from the alleyways that run down from the Via Garibaldi – the main street for the museums and palazzos. Over the few days we had been there I had been conscious of having half caught in my eye looking up some of the darker alleys the flash of a black pair of tights or a high heel. All this became more overt on the Thursday morning and it was a surprise to find ourselves walking down a street 50 yards or so from Via Garibaldi where women were quiet clearly standing on the street corners and almost side by side with them were shops selling razor blades and sponges, second hand clothes, groceries, fresh fish and sweets. We walked back up towards near where we had eaten the previous evening along Via Cannetto il Lungo. Here almost every other shop front seemed to be given over to food and every fifty yards or so there would be another fishmonger selling three or four different varieties of squid or octopus, mackerel that looked only an hour or so old, bowls of mixed fish including incredibly small red mullet and everywhere silver bright anchovies.
- we stayed in an area called Quartiere del Carmine. The apartment appeared to have been carved out of an old convent. To get to it we had to walked up a narrow stepped alleyway from the Piazza del Carmine, almost at the top there was an arched doorway on the right that led into a small courtyard for the church of San Bartolomeo dell’Olivella. There were two olive trees outside the main door which led to more steps and a further more formal courtyard which could have been the old cloisters. There were more steps that then led up to the first heavy door of the apartment. A further narrow staircase then led up to the apartment. From the windows of the apartment there were views back over the city to the sea and in evening we could see the lights of the cruise ships as they moved off to their next port city. Down in Piazza del Carmine there was an old market building which had been put back into good use. Half of it had been given over to a a grocer’s stall, a fishmonger and a cheese stall and the rest to a cafe/venue. Unfortunately we missed the music that got played on a Friday and Saturday evening but we made it down there for breakfast a couple of mornings and for drinks in the evening before going on to our evening meals. The cafe appeared to operate as a kind of co-operative using up in the evening whatever food had not ben sold from the stalls that occupied the other half of the market building. On the first evening we went down there I was settling into a glass of campari and soda when the man from behind the bar tapped me on the shoulder and put a plate of focaccia stuffed with ham on the table. He was there again the following night except this time the plate of ham was accompanied by a plate of mixed savoury tarts, vegetables ball dips and light doughy balls coloured with a green herb that had been deep fried. None of this had been asked for and it wasn’t clear how it should be paid for although the campari and soda was slightly more expensive than I thought it might be.
It should be said that along with the eating all the food we walked through some grand Palazzos and saw a lot of pictures of John the Baptists head on a plate.