I continue to offer to the esteemed readers of this site excerpts from my newly published book “Russian Jews Don’t Cry.”
Back in May of this year and a few times in 2012, I posted some stories. I'd like to offer to you another small episode. Once again, it's related to experiences of many immigrants who went through Ladispoli and Ostia.
" ... Just as Alex described, that was the round market, all right. I suspected our immigrants christened it that name since it was spread over a small round square named Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. Alex was right again — the market was a ten-minute walk from Termini and only a few blocks behind majestic Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. That market, along with other outdoor market at Saint Giovanni’s, deserved a chapter of its own in this book, but I would pay a modest tribute to it here, since it was to become the source of endless gourmet delight to us.
A small Roman square was taken over in its entirety by endless rows of stalls filled with anything a man can dream of eating. The endless rows were just the endless rows, since we were walking circles around the square — a circle of a square, and a square of a circle. When we walked in at first, we found ourselves under makeshift roofs made out of tarps and colorful umbrellas spread around in concentric circles. Nothing prepared us for the abundance of food. We could never imagine that so many cheeses existed under the sun. We could never imagine how many different ways they could prepare a pig. Multitude of stalls with raw meat, live chickens and fish, and right next to it — all, already done in a thousand different ways and ready to eat. A feast for the eyes and stomachs — just wonderful food asking to be eaten! And the smell, no — the aroma…
One man in particular caught my eye. His stall was at one of the corners of the square. Yes, although it was a round square, it too had four corners. The man lined up two sawhorses in front of his counter. A fat, eight inches at least in diameter, some kind of bologna rested gracefully on top of them. It was stuffed with small cubes of pork fat, streaks of beef and green olive halves. When the man was cutting off the “mama” round slices, the aroma of fresh and slightly smoked meat was drowning every other smell around.
Right behind his stall and across the street was a shop — “Pizzeria Vittorio,” read the sign above it. It must’ve been the first and the last name of the shop owner, I thought. While Danny was studying dozens of salamis hanging down from the ceiling, like icicles from the roof on a warm March day in Siberia, I was fascinated by watching something else. Someone in a hurry ran over from that “Pizzeria Vittorio” to the bologna stall carrying a couple of flat round breads. When they separated them apart, they were generously covered with red tomato sauce spread over them. The “bologna man” quickly threw some round slices of his cuts on one pie and closed it on top with another, creating a ten-inch round sandwich. Just a few minutes later another man ran over to the bologna stall, and ritual was repeated over, and then again. I suppose Signora Pizzeria Vittorio was very hungry that day.
It was too much to bear just walking the market and gazing at food. After we made the first circle, we knew that we couldn’t hold it any longer. We stopped at a random stall with a strong intention to order the most delicious sandwich in the world. The problem was we didn’t know how: neither had we known the language nor the foods surrounding us. We were at a loss until an elderly woman behind the counter found a way to lead us to the winner. It was only a bread roll, but still warm, straight from the oven — crispy rosette roll, cut in half and stuffed with fresh slices of tomato and basil leaves. Thin slices of Genoa salami went hiding inside, followed by thinly cut Provolone, and all covered with a homemade spicy spread. Oh, Madonna! As the Italians would say… It was out of this world!"
Respectfully, Uri Norwich
PS. For those interested, you can find my book at the following places:
Barnes and Noble