Viva Italia!

  • photo by Riley Stativa

It was raining and cold with snow still on the ground last Friday. Soaking sidewalks and puddles with the magnitude of lakes had me yearning for at least a hint of spring and all the fringe benefits of the season: sunshine, the colour green and oh yes, street food. Luckily for me, I had an invitation to taste what the near future might hold at Cibo Di Strada.

Cibo Di Strada is an Italian street food showcase and fundraiser, put on by the Montreal Young Italian-Canadian Association (or MYICA for short), a non-profit group seeking to spread modern Italian culture to youth of Italian heritage, or otherwise. I went there with a few expectations and one question: what is Italian street food anyway?

Ask anyone what constitutes Italian cuisine and you’ll probably get pizza (slightly portable) and spaghetti and meatballs (most definitely not portable–at all) within their top five answers. Neither of them are crafted for eating with one hand while bicycling down Mont-Royal in the warm spring breeze… you know. Unless you’re that guy. So to satisfy my appetite for answers, I hit the event which fittingly took place at Place D’Italy, near the Jean-Talon Metro.

By the time I arrived, it was already bada-booming with hungry attendees, milling about the large room looking for a fill of culture and a bite to eat. I wasn’t surprised to see the large turnout. Montreal has an extensive Italian population with deep roots in the foundation of the city. It’s a rich culture and history, which is one of the keys to MYICA’s modus operandi – to introduce second and third generation Italian-Canadians, and anyone else who might be interested, into their modern culture.

Music over the speakers sang lyrics I couldn’t understand and it was a triple threat of Italian, French and English chatter interspersed among the mingling crowd. Kids ran around underfoot– a family affair to boot. Admittedly I don’t speak Italian, but I at least, am fluent in food.

There were four main dishes to be sampled over the course of the evening: piadine, a sort of flatbread sandwich featuring tomato, mozzarella and basil from L’Artisan Piadineria, arancini, fried risotto balls from Vago, Porchetta sandwiches from Boucherie Tranzo, and coffee and gelato form Chez Vincenzo. As I noshed down on a soft bread roll filled with salty cured pork, staring at the same pig’s roasted head on the table, neatly present with an apple in its mouth, it occurred to me that there were no meatballs in sight, and I wasn’t even a little bit disappointed. The food was delicious, the atmosphere warm and positive.

The entire board of directors got up on stage to speak of MYICA’s behalf, all young, bright, smiling and ambitious. They put their hearts out (in the tri-lingual dialect of the evening), snapped on stage selfies with the entire crowd a la Ellen DeGeneres at the Oscars, and bid that we all enjoy the rest of the night. Done and done.

Besides spending an evening in the warm atmosphere of the Italian community, the best thing I experienced was the gelato and coffee from Chez Vincenzo, served affogato style. Smooth gelato doused in a shot of strong, dark espresso, mingling sweet and bitter, hot and cold, creamy and melting across every corner of the palate. I’m still not convinced this isn’t the proper way to do morning coffee.

The party was still going on when I left, full of food, positivity and a better sense of a culture that is so much more than mozzarella and meatballs. I can’t wait to see what the driven minds at the MYICA think of next.

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