At a small restaurant in Spoleto, Italy, my four-year-old son’s dining options were clear and familiar. Pizza, pasta, or grilled cheese sandwich. Three of the 5 or 6 things his absurdly limited diet allows for, but he didn’t want any of them.
“I want a peanut butter sandwich!” he whined.
We explained that restaurants and shops in Italy do not have peanut butter, but Leo wasn’t in the mood to hear it. He wanted his peanut butter sandwich.
As we pressured him to make his decision so we could place our order, he had a complete meltdown.
“But everyone has peanut butter, I really, really want peanut butter,” he whined, his words becoming practically indecipherable as he began to wail, tears streaming down his face and onto the restaurant table.
Three weeks into a long European trip and he had had enough. We ordered him the grilled cheese sandwich and eventually he calmed down, but he’d made his point. A half hour later, we went out for gelato and he forgot all about the peanut butter.
Our sons, Leo, 4, and James, 2, have done well in adapting to life on the road in an alien environment but they haven’t expanded their repertoire of foods much, if at all. James is even worse than Leo. He’d eat Rice Krispies morning, noon, and night if we’d let him, and sometimes we do.
Italian food is terrific, but even my wife and I are sick of it. In large Italian cities, you can find some variety, but in the smaller towns and cities we’ve spent most of our time in there’s a stunning lack of variety. One can only eat pizza, pasta, salami or prosciutto paninis, and gelato so much before you can stand the sight of them anymore. Other than the odd doner-kebab joint, that’s all you’ve got in many of these smaller cities.
If you’re only in Italy for a week or two, you can go nuts on all the carbs and fly home content. But if you’re in the country longer than a couple weeks, you start to crave Mexican, Thai, Middle Eastern- anything but Italian. You can eat very well in restaurants here but they’re also fairly expensive, so we’ve been trying to eat at a lot of take out places. These establishments are almost eerie in their uniformity- the array of offerings is nearly identical everywhere. For breakfast, they all have the same array of brioches- all of them with something sugary inside. I long ago gave up trying to find a plain croissant without something sugary inside it.
Aside from the food, the other tricky thing to find is fresh, low-fat milk. We’re not real picky- skim, 1%, or 2% would be fine, but they’re all very hard to find in places like Spoleto, where we are now. Smaller shops all have boxes of long life milk, which has no flavor at all, or fresh, full fat whole milk. Yesterday I made a long trek out to a big supermarket, and even they didn’t have fresh, low-fat milk. Rather than buying the long life stuff, I kept looking but never found any, after visiting about 10 stores.
Those complaints aside, I have to admit that the prices on some Italian standards like gelato, coffee and pizza are significantly less here than they are in the U.S. A Wood fire oven cheese pizza can go for as little as 4 euros, café latte’s can be around 1 euro, and gelatos average about 2 euros. In suburban Washington, D.C. where we live, good quality gelato is around $4-5, latte’s are $3-4, and Neapolitan style cheese pizzas are about $10. Still, you can’t beat the good old U.S.A. for variety. Not to mention low-fat milk and peanut butter.