I remember my first encounter with Italian culture well. It was in a fish and chip shop on Dalry Road in Edinburgh. Large numbers of takeaways were owned by Italian immigrants who fled to Scotland from the 1890s onwards. It was the mid-70s and the first time I had come across the word pizza. There it was on the wall menu along with fish, haggis, pies, black pudding and sausages. I ordered it and watched Chippy Jimmy take a round pie out of the freezer, fold it in half and deep fry it. It was delicious, and it came with chips.
So began my love affair with Italy. My research took me through numerous pizza suppers, pasta in the growing number of Italian restaurants, chianti, the films of the Neo-Realists, Fellini and Antonioni, the kidnapping of Aldo Moro and the goals of Marco Tardelli. I fell for what Michael Dibdin called “il mistero d’italia’, the mystery of Italy. The expression in its native tongue, the sheer beauty of Giotto and Caravaggio, the absurdity of her politics, and of course, the food. I have had many loves since, but Italy was my first and, thus, my fondest.
Like meeting an old lover on a street corner, it was a great pleasure to be invited to the launch of Manchester’s annual Festa Italiana. The Festa has become a much-venerated annual event held in Manchester Cathedral’s gardens. Like De Niro on a pasta diet, it grows every year and this year is the biggest yet. It will include a wide range of Italian street food with dishes from the excellent Salvi’s and a Salvi’s Pop Up Festa Deli. Also on the menu is a variety of smoked meats and deli sandwiches from Rosso as well as a weekend-long Pizza Party with pizzas supplied by Proove and Magiamo’s Fiat 500 wood-fired pizza oven. Pasta will come from the Pasta Factory and cannolis from Cafe Cannoli. Cabrelli Brothers will be serving up succulent saltimbocco and, new to the Festa, T’arricrii will show us their little balls of joy that are Sicilian arancini.
La dolce vita will be provided by crepes courtesy of Vive le Crepe, authentic Gelato from Taste It and, to finish, real Italian coffee from Cafe Latinos. No festival would be complete without a good drink and Festa Italiana has a wide range to choose from. As well as the ubiquitous Peroni, there is Aperol, Limoncello, Martini Fiero, Zonin Prosecco and a dedicated Italiana cocktail bar.
If this all seems too adult, bring the kids to the Bambini Garden that will have a free hand on a pasta-making workshop with chef and author, Carmela, who will show them a culinary skill that will last forever. There will be more food demonstrations by, among others, Francesco Scafuri from Tre Ciccio, Mauricio Cecco of Salvi’s and a main driver behind the festival, as well Gennaro Contaldo, one of the country’s favourite Italians. Italian bands Compagnia SoleLuna and Music Nostra will get the crowds dancing and supported by the classic soul sounds of Whoever and the Somethings. The Festa will open with a huge Italian street party sponsored by Martini Fiero.
Looking down the list of tasty treats I noticed Salvi’s Pizza Fritta – fried pizza! Some 45 years on from that Dalry Road chippy I’m looking forward to seeing what nostalgia tastes like, though I doubt it will come with chips.
For a full list of events please see https://festaitalianauk.com/