Thursday, May 4, 2017

Turin discovered

Our friend Jan Egan aka The Watchful Cook is sharing with us her love for Turin.

After an international corporate life during which she was well paid, well travelled and well fed, she now has the luxury of combining her twin passions of Italy and food. Keen supporter of Slow Food and love to source and cook with authentic ingredients in her kitchens in London and Milan. She fell in love with Turin about four years ago and now she tries to be here as often as she can. She can’t be doing with fake or speedy anything and likely to rant about the industrialisation of food at the drop of hat. When not in the kitchen, she is likely to be found with her nose in a book, wandering around looking at art and architecture or listening to opera (the earlier the better). She is blessed with a wonderful Italian partner, Edoardo, whose role in the kitchen is to keep her glass filled.

Follow Jan on The Watchful Cook where you will find many enticing recipes and posts elegantly written in her down-to-earth and witty style!


Let me be completely honest here and say my stomach led me to Turin. I have loved Italy since I was seventeen (when I discovered it on a road trip with three girlfriends - a whole other story) and I am now much, much older! Men have come and gone but Italy has always been there for me. Over the last forty years (go on, do the maths) I have travelled all over the peninsular, sometimes in luxury and sometimes in penury. She has never let me down (yes, of course Italy is female…) but I must admit that Turin only revealed her charms to me in the last few years. 

It happened like this: I joined UK Slow Food some years ago and it was natural for me to research its origins and the story of its founder, the incredible Carlo Petrini who is Piedmontese. Despite having travelled the length and breadth of Italy (I thought), somehow Piedmont had eluded me. My ignorance and my loss. Books about Piedmontese food in the English language at that time (early 2000’s) were a bit tricky to track down but two in particular beguiled me: 

Autumn in Piemonte by Manuela Darling-Gansser (still in print)
A Passion for Piedmont by Matt Kramer (out of print but can be found second hand)

The first of these in particular painted such an entreating picture of Turin and especially the food, I began to lay plans to visit. These plans sadly got deferred, but having met my partner Edoardo (a Tuscan-Emilian cosmopolitan Italian whose English is accentless - I can only dream of my Italian matching his English), I eventually got there for the first time in late 2014.

Despite a predisposition to like Turin, it came as a bit of a shock to fall in love at first sight. We ar-rived on a cold, bright day with a crystal blue sky. I had done quite a bit of pre - reading about Turin prior to our trip so now I knew of her history as united Italy’s first capital city in 1861, as a former Savoyard possession (and gosh, doesn’t it show in the architecture), as the keeper of Italian choc-olate secrets, as the cradle of the Italian motor industry and the food, oh, the food is SO much more than you can possibly begin to imagine!

Palazzo Carignano: first Italian Parliament in Turin

It is incredibly difficult to eat badly in Turin (although the golden arches have made an appearance). This is still a city primarily for Italians so the food has to be good. One of Turin’s great advantages is that the Centro Storico is still occupied by normal people living normal lives, so there is a need for food shops, shoe repairers, dry cleaners and all the things we need to live. Go to Venice, for example, and it breaks my heart; so few Venetians can afford to live there now, so the shops needed to support everyday life have, for the most part, gone. Let’s hope that beloved Turin never becomes like that and maybe, one day Venice will recover.

So, whether you are thinking of restaurants or retail, you will be spoiled for choice. On the retail front, Porta Palazzo is the biggest market in Europe and in truth, I still find it a little intimidating to actually shop there, but oh my, the food. Traders come from all over Europe to sell here and as well as the finest Italian produce, you will find food from all corners of Europe and beyond. I read a statistic in La Stampa which claimed that more than 60 languages are spoken here. I can believe it.

Turin is a great city if you love to walk, as we do, and in doing so, we have found so many small, independent shops and markets selling the best cheese, bread, salumi, meat fruit and vegetables. Fish seems to be a bit trickier to find although anchovies are everywhere. You will get local specialities that could be unknown outside the Turin area and are likely to be entirely seasonal. Yes, animals produce milk all year round but their milk will be differently flavoured all year round because of what they are eating. Pasture influences flavour, so if you go in May, the same cheese will be subtly different from the flavour in September. Try everything, even if you think you might not like it; you may never see it again.

I did think about listing some of my favourite shops and markets but eventually decided against it: I haven’t tried them all (yet) and to be honest, although I could take you to them blindfolded, I realised in most cases I don’t know the names of the shops and sometimes, am not entirely sure what the street is called. That probably makes me a pretty useless tour guide but on reflection, perhaps that’s better and here’s why: the purpose of this post is to urge you to discover Turin for yourself, find your favourite shops and markets. Discover your own reasons to fall in love with Turin.

In terms of restaurants, there is everything from the Michelin starred Del Cambio to twenty-cover neighbourhood restaurants where I am the only non-Italian and I get a free language lesson as well as great food.

Del Cambio is Turin's oldest restaurant

I have to talk a little about Del Cambio but please don’t think I’m a food snob who only eats in starred places. It is not just any Michelin starred restaurant; it is key to Turin’s history and I think a promise to buy Edoardo lunch there might have been the clincher for our first trip. Let me explain: Edoardo is a Management Consultant by profession but an historian by disposition, so eating at Cavour’s favourite restaurant was irresistible.

Its history fascinates me: Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour was united Italy’s first Prime Minister and his office was just across Piazza Carignano from Del Cambio, in united Italy’s first parliament building. Like Rossini, he was something of a bon viveur, and when he finished his morning’s work, he waved his white handkerchief from the balcony to signal to the restaurant that he was on his way for lunch and to have his meal ready. His table remains preserved inside Del Cambio but the restaurant itself is fully in the 21st century under the incredible leadership of Matteo Baronetto. In addition to the main restaurant they have a light menu restaurant and a couple of beautiful bars, so you can experience Michelin quality for an attainable price. 

My last visit there was nothing short of sensational as I was kindly given a tour of the wine cellars and the kitchen, culminating in meeting the maestro himself. A memory to treasure.

I must emphasise though, that you don’t have to have a Michelin sized pocket to eat well. My ab-solute favourite place is Ristorante La Via Del Sale in via San Francesco di Paola, serving Piedmontese and Ligurian food. They are Slow Food supporters and have many Zero Kilometre ingredients on the menu. They also serve Fassone beef. If you have never heard of it, oh are you in for a treat when you visit Turin. You probably know about the Japanese Kobe beef and more to the point, about its price. Yes, it’s good (I worked in Japan for a while so I have eaten authentic Kobe, cooked by Kobe Masters) but for me, Fassone beats it hands down. You’ll need to book, unless you go early on a Monday evening. If you are unlucky and can’t get a table, you can’t go wrong following your nose anywhere in Turin - or follow a group of Torinesi!

I’ve just noticed my word count for this post and whilst I could go on (and on) about my many Turin discoveries, I will end by encouraging anyone who loves food to visit this elegant, cultivated and convivial city at the very first opportunity. And I haven’t even mentioned the wine…or the choco-late

Jan Egan

Follow Jan Egan on:

1 comment:

  1. Great article, I live in Piemonte and have yet to make it up to Torino! I really must go there soon. The blessing for Torino is there isn't a port for ugly cruise ships to ruin the place, unlike poor Venice. If you want to experience real Italy this sounds like the place to visit!