Most people eat to live while Sicilianos love to eat.
There is no running to McDonalds to grab synthetic chemical concoctions to alleviate one’s hunger. There is no junk food allowed in the pantry. There are no plastic imitations allowed to cheapen the sanctity of the kitchen. All ingredients have to be fresh and healthy.
When guests are lucky enough to be invited for “pranzo,” they are in store for a fantastic adventure.
The orchestrator of this wonderful event belongs to the woman of the house. She has one of the highest cultural responsibilities to maintain the high standards to make any meal a memorable one. It is a meal that will be savored in the tastebuds and minds for years to come.
It starts early in the morning waiting on the fishermen to bring in their catch. They unload their catch into crates in the back of pickup trucks that are sold directly to the consumers. These shoppers range from the elderly to youngsters given money and specific instructions on what and what not to buy by the orchestrator of the coming event.
The guests arrive to a host of aromas emanating from the kitchen. There are the customary abbraccio with the friends offering wine and gifts as a blessing for the coming feast.
The visiting women ask to assist in the kitchen although most of the time they are politely told the kitchen is too small for more than one cook. The ladies then tend to the youngsters, hugging and kissing them and meeting their emotional needs. They observe the playing to insure their safety.
The men gather together in the living room or on the verandah overlooking the garden and fruit trees. They joke enthusiastically, pull each other’s legs and discuss things of importance to them, which is everything under the sun. Politics, religion, sex and family matters are issues, which are not shunned because they are life. These topics are discussed with vigor, passion and great enthusiasm. Excellent wines, soda and water are placed on the table to satisfy everyone’s thirst that lubricates the social interaction. The men’s appetites are increased by the stimulating and animated tug of war of ideas.
After the savory smells play havoc on the guest’s gastronomical sensitivities the mother of the house graciously brings out the antipasto. This alone would be an entire meal. The cheese, olives, mortadello, prosciutto, salami, artichoke hearts, crackers and bread are artistically arranged on attractive ornamental plates.
The discussion becomes livelier while the hostess slips out of the festivities to bring on the first course. It could be linguini with seafood or homemade pasta with meat or cheese sauce. Regardless of what is chosen, it is exquisite.
The only time there is a lull in the conversation is when the guests pick up their wine to take a sip. A surprising thing happens the more the guests eat, the more the appetite grows. As soon as the first course disappears, it is immediately replaced with the main course.
A roast of beef, veal or chicken parmigiano or a fish cooked in delightful spicy sauce are a few of the choices at the cook’s disposal. The voices become louder and more enthusiastic as the food and wine flow. Laughter and music increase the tempo of the evening. The eating continues until finally the point is reached where a break is needed.
The coffee or tea and pastries are set on the table to create a break in the meal. As the intensity of the chatter subsides, the “maestra” of the kitchen announces a new delicacy or pleads for everyone to have seconds, repeating “mangia” to be sure everyone has had their share and then some.
The incredible experience was not about a meal, it was a gift that participants would not soon forget.