A guest post: Dining with Kids in Italy
I Sensi (The Senses)
Food is beautiful. It comes from a place. It is best enjoyed with friends and family. Visiting Italy is a sensory experience in which food plays a fundamental role. When focusing on a family travel itinerary, as parents we can easily get caught up in ticking off a list of sites or activities, whereas it is just as valuable to provide time to slow down and let the kids experience the simpler elements of Italian culture that in fact are so profound, like food. As director of the Italian children’s program Arte al Sole and editor of Italiakids.com, over the course of almost a decade I have listened to trip stories and tips from both parents and children. In asking kids about their memories of Italy travel, they invariably include details about new and delicious tastes, smells, or experiences on a farm or street market.
Among my daughters’ favorite places in Italy is the tiny town of Minori, on the Amalfi Coast. When I asked them why several years ago, my eldest replied, “Because it smells like lemons.” Several years ago, we branched out from our usual beachfront lodging to stay up on the hill at the family B&B Orto Paradiso, quite a hike up the path into the hillside (but so worth it), immersed in the espaliered lemon trees adorning the ancient terraced cliffs that descend down to the sea. The owner, Flavio, had a simple but very abundant garden on three levels of terracing, with a few grape vines for wine, vegetables, and an orchard. As we lingered at the property in the early evening, Flavio invited my daughters to help him pick fagiolini from the garden, and prepare them in the outdoor summer kitchen as part of an aperitivo for their guests. The girls enjoyed this so much, they insisted that we return in time to help each day.
As the heart of the home, the kitchen is important. In Italian kitchens, the same simplicity of the food applies to the kitchens, which are typically simple, practical, and convenient, a place for socializing. Considering the comforts of the kitchen is one of the top items on our list when we source vacation rental properties to recommend on Italiakids.com and for Elaia Travel clients. In doing so, I have to mediate between American expectations and Italian realities, focusing on functionality above all. For example, with ample dishes, pots and pans, appliances and silverware, this tiny kitchen had everything we needed to prepare simple summer meals for a family of four! As the saying goes, “La cucina piccola fal la casa grande”—“a little kitchen makes a large home,” a poignant reminder that it’s our connections as people that matter as we enjoy preparing and eating meals together.
La Cultura (the culture)
During each session of our children’s cultural program, we have a local cook teach the students how to prepare regional specialties. Food is in every way one of the “arts” the children are exploring, and indeed beyond being an art to prepare, food’s presence in art is a reflection of its cultural value, laden with symbolism, a fun theme for children to consider whether from the perspective of art history (what did the Ancient Romans eat and how is it reflected in art) to sourcing inspiration for their very own paintings, picking an olive branch or assembling fresh fruit with a vase for a still life. This year, in fact, we have themed an entire week around food as art, with “Art in the Kitchen” at cookbook author and instructor Pamela Sheldon Johns at her farm in Tuscany. We can’t wait to see what the kids create this time!
About the Author
Shannon Kenny is Editor-in-Chief of Italiakids.com, an online resource for families traveling in Italy, Director of the children’s cultural program Arte al Sole, with 6 locations in Italy, and Founding Partner of Elaia Travel, a specialty travel concierge with expertise in family travel to Europe.
Thank you for this wonderful guest post, Shannon!
Here is where you can find Shannon:
Arte al Sole
Arte al Sole