Introducing NIAF’s new guest bloggers: The Recipe Hunters
My name is Anthony Morano. Each and every aspect of Italy in my life is intrinsic to who I am today.
For me, Sundays were holidays growing up. My mother would ceremoniously cook a mountain of bolognese sauce and by “cook” I mean simmer for hours. The aroma would drift throughout our home, filling the house with warmth and a feeling of my mother’s love. Love that we shared at the dinner table, laughing, crying, and spending countless hours together.
The dinner table was a safe haven. It was a level playing field where everyone’s voice was heard and opinion was valued. Over our bowls of spaghetti, we would have debates, share stories, review current events, celebrate, laugh, recount old memories, and make new ones. The tradition of Sunday dinners began with my Nonna and Nonno and stays with us today as our most cherished family activity.
My Nonna and Nonno moved to America to provide their children with opportunities they never had. My Nonno taught me the importance of hard work and instilled upon me the mentality of those who fought for the American dream. He was here to work, to become financially independent and to use that independence to create a sustainable life back in Italy. He was well on his way, until tragically dying in a car accident on his annual trip back to Calabria. His death influenced me profoundly; I wanted to understand why he was so eager to return to Italy.
My family visited Italy for the first time when I was 13 years old. I remember my excitement to visit new cities, try new things, and go on an adventure. I remember trying my first cappuccino and being allowed to order a cornetto with chocolate for breakfast! As we sat in the bar, it was the first time I witnessed my dad relax as he chatted with locals, enjoying each and every moment as if he were finally home. We felt Italian. Being Italian American motivated me to minor in Italian at Emory, to study abroad in Rome in 2007, to meet my relatives in Calabria, to practice the language, and to document Italy’s food culture.
One of the most reflective moments in my life occurred in 2010 while I was an analyst at JP Morgan. My father took my brother and I to my grandparent’s hometown in Caulonia, Calabria to reunite with distant relatives, meet the locals, and to see how far we had come. From my Nonno’s journey delivering coal from town to town on the back of a mule, to celebrating my father’s 25 years as a Rheumatologist in the US.
After that trip, I felt so proud of my family’s resilience and accomplishments. I think Newton said it best: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Our family’s Sunday stories were no longer just stories, and that trip was the first time my life came full circle. Since then, my passion as an Italian American has continued to grow. For me, being Italian is about family, friends, culture, knowledge, food, art, and history; balancing it all. It is the Renaissance mentality.
On following trips to Italy, we would research the artwork, the history, and, of course, the food. We only wanted to eat like the locals did. I recall my first drive from Calabria up the Amalfi coast; when we passed Cetara, my dad’s eyes lit up and he explained to us that the town was known for it’s Colatura (anchovies fish oil) that we had to stop to taste and buy.
I also remember my dad’s stubborn insistence on traveling two hours out of the way to visit his cousin in Emilia-Romagna and try her tortellini in brodo. And then later when my dad told me to mention zeppole to my aunt so that she would make them for us. I was intrigued to learn about each specialty. On our following trip, I took on the assignment to be the food researcher. I went through books and online articles to figure out what food specialties were in each town. On one trip from Venice to Rome, I demanded that we head to Norcia for the wild boar, Castelluccio for the lentils, and Orvieto for the white wine. I appreciated the uniqueness in each region, town, and home.
Having gone on a journey to discover my own culture, I realized the importance of that journey in my personal fulfillment and how valuable it is to know one’s own roots. The “Italian” food I ate on Sundays was a mixture of my mom’s Neapolitan roots, combined with my dad’s Calabrese ones.
I realized that my knowledge of Italian cooking is just an iota of the cooking experience in this world, and that lack of knowledge sparked my curiosity. I wanted to experience the variety that exists in Italy from region to region, town to town, and household to household. I also thought, just as much as I love visiting Italy, I would love discover the regional and traditional cooking of other cultures around the world!
Two years ago, Leila Elamine and I co-founded The Recipe Hunters and began a worldwide journey to discover various cultures through their “Sunday dinner tables.” We go from country to country, volunteer, integrate ourselves in the local communities, and search for people who cook traditional food and maintain their culinary heritage. We have recorded over 200 recipes in the homes of locals in Norway, Sweden, Croatia, Cyprus, Lebanon, Egypt, Spain, Vietnam, Korea and, of course, Italy. We are excited to share those traditions with the NIAF community and what better place to start then with where it all began: Italy!
Anthony and Leila
Learn more about Anthony and Leila by following them here. Stay tuned for more travel/food blog posts from The Recipe Hunters, coming soon!