It’s a chilly Sunday evening in late June and we’re walking through Carlton Gardens to Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building when the aroma hits us. The pungent smell of garlic intermingles with other undeniably Italian aromas as the noble stallholders of the Italian Food and Wine Festival enjoy the last weekend hurrah.
We steel ourselves for multiple dinners as we browse stallholders boasting in thick Italian accents the best foccacia, softest cheese, spiciest salami and decadent olive oils infused with chilli, garlic and truffle.
We bite into cheesy gooey arancini balls served by a dark sulky Italian 20-something woman, obviously roped into the stall by her mamma and papa who fuss behind her with food preparation.
We order squid ink polenta with salty sardines and a rich creamy blob of something sprinkled with raisins. I thank the young Italian guy in the only Italian I know – grazie! – and he courteously responds prego, holding the plate too long and grinning at me.
We spot neon orange glasses rotating through the crowd, and our eyes meet knowingly. There is no discussion – we ditch our wine glasses and purchase two Aperol Spritz. Despite its colour, the drink is more bitter than sweet, and is served with a generous hunk of fresh orange.
We sit down, admiring a retro Smeg fridge customised with the green, white and red stripes of the Italian flag. The banner above reads ‘Italians do it better’, and in my oil-laden, wine-soaked stupor, I have to agree.
Sydney Italian Food and Wine Festival, August 27.