“Hurry! Turn off the stove!” Dan, a Toronto native, shouts as boiling water begins overflowing from the pot. I have never cooked before but am determined to create a delicious, authentic Italian meal here in Riomaggiore, Italy.
We lower the heat and let the pasta continue to boil as Simon and Alison, a middle-aged New Zealand couple sharing our apartment-style accommodation, set the table out on the balcony. It is still sunny out at 6pm, and we have a great view of both markets and locals of the small village as well as the Italian Riviera.
Lindsay, a sweet girl from Minnesota, and I had visited the various shops in the town earlier in the day. Apparently, pesto is a specialty of the region as its unique climate gives the sauce a unique flavor, placing an emphasis on the basil. Olive oil is also native to the region, as olive groves are plentiful in Cinque Terre, the larger area that Riomaggiore resides in. We purchased both.
Rachel and Tommy, two young backpackers from Australia, have bought an array of locally produced wines for the apartment guests to sample. Cinque Terre DOC, a dry white wine, is meant to be sipped while we eat dinner. The Sciacchetrà DOC, a sweeter wine made with Bosco, Albarola, and Vermentino grapes will be enjoyed over dessert.
Monika, a blonde 20-year-old from Switzerland, begins opening assorted cheeses and crackers. Fresh mozzarella, sharp Gorgonzola, and stracchino, a soft, creamy cheese, are all laid out on the cutting board. When I see she has also bought fresh baked bread my excitement for the meal mounts. While I’ve sampled Italian bread back home in New York, nothing can compare to tasting the staple in Italy.
Finally, Joe, an Irish twenty-something with a smattering of freckles and a loopy smile, unveils an array of fresh market fruits for dessert. Crisp red apples, sweet bananas, and fragrant pears to compliment our desert wine perfectly.
Dan and I drizzle olive oil over the pasta and add the pesto. As we mix the ingredients together, the scent of sweet basil and spicy garlic teases my nostrils. We add pine nuts to give the meal a bit of crunch and Parmesan cheese.
The group gathers their offerings and brings them out to the balcony table. I look around and ponder that if I had not been staying at Mar-Mar in Riomaggiore, Italy, on this day in this year at this time, I never would have met these people.
Simon and Alison tell us about their recent stint WWOOFing at a chateau in France. In between sips of Cinque Terre wine and bites of Gorgonzola, I learn that WWOOFing stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The couple has been able to experience farm life in the French countryside harvesting grapes at a vineyard in exchange for delicious food and good wine. I immediately decide this is something I must try.
Lindsay and Dan recount their travels through Europe over fresh baked Italian bread that is so delicious it doesn’t need butter. They tell tales of meeting locals, staying at party hostels, and seeing castles and cathedrals galore. Lindsay especially loved learning the history of Munich while Dan preferred sipping Absinthe and strolling the Charles Bridge in Prague.
Rachel and Tommy, the Australian couple, tell the group what it is like back in Australia. I actually studied abroad in Sydney, so I love being reminded of the Sydney Opera House, the Botanical Gardens, and Darling Harbour over pasta. I mention a few of my favorite Sydney bars and restaurants and we bond over our love for Coogee Beach.
As we move on to dessert, Monika talks about falling in love while traveling. While in London, she met a guy at a pub and they have been chatting on Facebook. He is coming to visit her next month in Switzerland, and she plans on taking him hiking in the Swiss Alps and introducing him to real Swiss chocolate. Her story makes me wish I could come stay with her, as well.
Suddenly, Joe produces a bottle of Limoncello, a strong Italian liqueur that is flavored like lemons. He passes it around to the group and everyone takes a shot. I gag on the extreme sourness of the liquid, while Joe just smiles and does another. I now believe the rumors I’ve heard that the Irish know how to handle their liquor.
And then there is me. I wonder what I have to add to the group. I am a solo traveler, 23 years old, without a job or boyfriend. But, I am adventurous enough to have come by myself from New York to experience the beauty of Italy and the tastes of Riomaggiore. I tell the group about life in New York and how it compares to Italy. I speak to them about how I want to be a travel writer and see the world. I explain to them how I am happy not having a job or a boyfriend, because I want to see the world and get to know every culture before I settle down.
The young and the middle-aged, a mix of nationalities, connect that night through their love of Italian food. Over delicious food bonds are formed, and I learn that some of the most memorable times can be had over a simple dinner.