I was terrified my plane ride to Italy would be my last— and that is not a hyperbole. A little before landing, we hit brief turbulence. I just shut my eyes, gripped the armrests ‘til my knuckles shone white, and prayed under my breath. Safe landing prompted a smatter of applause — for the pilot, for the weather conditions, for the many prayers answered, and for living to experience authentic Italian pasta.
Since that pleasant experience, over a week has passed. The first three days, altitude sickness, along with jetlag, nerves, and new diet played games with my appetite. Enjoying even the smallest morsel was difficult. But my first Sunday in Perugia was a table turner.
Some twelve friends and I went to get dinner at Ristorante del Sole. We had made plans to dine there when we first took a walking tour of Perugia— the view from the cliff is just outstanding. Rolling green hills in the distance separated from the sky by dark mountains, and the town covering the expanse between the hills and the viewer. Our table, positioned perpendicular to the all-glass walls, allowed us to take in this view as we dined in the diminishing glow of the sunset. An unforgettable sight.
As our server took down everyone else’s orders, I frantically flicked through my Barron’s Italian at a Glance phrasebook to figure out how to say, “I have terrible nausea and my stomach hurts. What can I order that will be gentle enough?” I got as far as looking up “I don’t feel well” (Non mi sento bene.) and “a stomachache” (un mal di stomaco) when he got around to me.
Sheepishly, I stammered through the unfamiliar words that echoed vaguely of Spanish, my better-known language, as I peered up from my language bible. As soon as he saw that little book in my hands, he— and the rest of my table— burst into laughter. He literally threw back his head, his previously slightly serious expression scattered into a collage of middle-aged wrinkles and laugh lines, eyes twinkling with amusement.
With the help of my friend Sam’s translations (I like to think rubbing my belly and frowning helped to convey the message), God bless that man, he figured out my needs and brought out pasta with oil and truffles.
The hospitality at Ristorante del Sole was similar to how a friend’s mother would happily receive you into her home for dinner. Welcoming, accommodating, and truly concerned about your experience. This includes serving good food, making sure you enjoy it, and allowing you ample time to enjoy the meal at your own pace. As I ate my meal, our server came around again to check up on me. He then proceeded to tell me he is a “doctor” and poured extra olive oil on my pasta. My Sicilian friend told me that Italians sometimes think that olive oil is the cure to all. Reminds me of how Koreans think that eating kimchi (a popular side dish consisted of fermented, spiced cabbage eaten with each meal) makes us invincible.
The dish itself was absolutely delicious. I devoured 90% of the plate. And though it’s far from standard in Italy, I took the rest home— I gave myself a free pass for breaking this one Italian custom, since I was sick and unable to fully enjoy the dish. I then took my leftovers and myself to Dempsey’s Bar by the main square. Italians there poked fun, asking what I had brought to eat, and if I had eaten dinner that night. Perhaps I should have just eaten everything in one sitting. But I felt no shame! The waiter was right about the olive oil. My appetite returned to normal within the next two days.