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Apart from the fact that Italian food is robust, flavourful and hearty and therefore appeals to most palates, the world has a few ‘other’ reasons to love Italian food. Here are some Pecorino nuggets to chew on 😉

– Every fourth Australian is Italian. Yes, more than 25% of Australia’s population is Italian by birth or descent. So the Aussies have every reason to go gaga over their Barbecue Pizzas and Bolognese with Meatballs.

– Generations of Americans have grown up on the Chef Boy-ar-dee brand of canned pastas, and dined on checkered tablecloths with Chianti-bottle candles. They have even gone to the trouble of ‘inventing’ Italian food on American soil – Toasted Ravioli (Missouri), Muffuletta Sandwich (New Orleans) – so let’s give them their due, shall we?

– Gregory David Roberts says in his celebrated novel Shantaram “The Indians are the Italians of Asia. There is so much Italian in the Indians, and so much Indian in the Italians.” Herbs and spices, pickles and colours, sauces and gravies, large portions and more helpings… the list of similarities is fairly long. But for me, the clincher is the Basil or Tulsi (and of course, my foodie, Italian brother-in-law, who loves everything Indian!)

Russia is a tough one! Apart from a 50-year old Fiat presence, a Ferrero-munching youth population and the fact that the Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow and the La Scala of Milan look somewhat similar (I’m really struggling here!), I can’t think of any other reason why the Russians are crazy about Italian food, but they ARE, and ‘Tiramisu’ IS the magic word in Moscow, as I found out on my ‘blast chiller’ trip last week!

So… the world is going ‘matto’ over Italian food, and a little bit of that ‘madness’ is what this foodie got to experience over a delightful lunch with a very genial, ever-smiling Italian chef, right here in Mumbai!

Head Chef Giampaolo Cosimo needs just a two-word introduction… AMAZINGLY good! It’s not just the wholesome portions of delicious things he conjures up out of fresh and true ingredients, but also the pretty-as-a-Capri-postcard presentation of the dish he places before you! So when the Taj group of Hotels and the seriously luxurious globally-reputed Baglioni Group of Hotels put their foodie heads together to give Mumbai a taste of real Italian food with the purest of flavours, ingredients and dishes, Chef Cosimo from Baglioni’s Luna Hotel in Venice was the obvious choice.

The Italian Food Festival afforded the gastronomes of Mumbai a short, concentrated week of pure Italian indulgence from a handpicked menu. Lounging in the cosy, sunlit interiors of Shamiana at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, you could be tasting the Mediterranean Sea in your Tournedos di Tonno (Seared Medallions of Tuna) and Arrosto di Calamaro (Roasted Squid, with Creamed Peas and Olives). Or, reminded of the earthy Sunflower fields as you cut into the Carre d Agnello (Herb-Crusted Loin of Lamb) piled high on your plate, or, in the delicately stacked Mille Feuille of Cheese Fondue with Truffle and Asparagus. And then when desserts like the Parfait of Honey and Acacia, or the Tiramisu Classico arrive, it makes you hold your breath for a couple of seconds, much like your first sight of a famous Italian painting, until you are ready to dig in to taste their deliciousness. These Italians can really ‘WOW’ you with their artistic skills, can’t they?

And art in every form is a language by itself, as was proved by the twinkly-eyed Chef and his assistant Chef Gullo, whose passion for good food and single-minded mission of satisfying the taste buds sparked through in their lyrical Italian, very broken English and plenty of excited gestures (infused with Teddy’s booming rendition of this beautiful and emotional nationalistic Italian song ‘Lasciate Mi Cantare’!). Most of the ingredients (the impressed and approving Chef disclosed!) like the cheeses, the special flour and the fine herbs were directly sourced from Italy to ensure an authentic food experience. The black olives, a far cry from those served at most restaurants here, were straight from the Italian Riviera, all the way from the sea-kissed orchards of the Ligurian Coast!

It is indeed a rare opportunity to experience a cuisine this authentic and original outside of its home turf. Little things like weather, water and salt make significant differences to the taste and therefore the level of enjoyment of a particular dish. Kudos to Shamiana for no-compromise taste fest, as also to Chef Cosimo and his team of passionate food ambassadors who stopped at nothing – even carrying jars of olives and blocks of cheese in their hand baggage! – to give us that special experience!

Plate-licker’s Wisdom : As the centuries old Italian saying goes ‘L’Appetito vien mangiando’ ‘Appetite comes with eating’! Well, Mumbai’s appetite is whetted for more, lots more authentic Italian dining in this new year 🙂