The Rome part of my trip was sort of in the middle, with stays in London on either end. Part of my visit was to re-connect with some family friends who have been over there for about eighteen months for work. The morning of my first day there, we toured one of the famous palaces that now serves as an embassy. While waiting for the building to be open, I wandered through the Campo dei Fiori to take in the early Saturday morning vibe. I really love walking through street markets to feel the energy of a place, and I'm always interested to see what kinds of foods and produce are sold in them.
There were some gorgeous fruits and vegetables for sale, along with these beautiful lemons and huge ropes of garlic. This is what makes me miss shopping in Italy, the variety and quality of the products that are available at just any stall. Another of the reasons that I like shopping in these markets, is that you never quite know what you'll find there. It could be things like this display of coffee makers or even something a bit more unique: a kitchen item you never knew that you just need to have on hand.
My encounter with this vendor was probably the highlight of my entire trip. He was a classic hawker in every sense of the word, no matter what language. He was pitching his spiel both in Italian and English and demonstrated the prowess of his wares in such a manner as to make me part with 10 Euros for one of his culinary items. I normally play the part of skeptical New Yorker in these scenarios, and I also speak Italian so I'm not easily hoodwinked by these guys. This, however, was more than just a pleasant tourist-native encounter but a real piece of street theater, the kind you don't often get these days.
First item was the instrument pushed into the end of a potato that when turned several times created curlycues that could then be fried. O.K., you say, so, you have curly fries, then what? Well, hold on there, he said, you can then put a carrot into the hole in the potato so that when you slice it you have carrot and potato coins in addition to the curly fries. Perfect for going along with chicken or fish (which he demonstrated by having a plastic version of each to show alongside the vegetables).
Then, there was the other potato slicing instrument that with a few twists and turns makes perfectly sized slices to be made into chips (crisps). This could save you minutes of struggling with a mandoline or knife trying to cut them into just the right thickness. Along with that there was the lemon juicer that also serves as a container to save the squeezed juice in the refrigerator. All of these items, he was selling as a set in a handy clear plastic storage bag to take away with you.
Really, however, he saved his best material for last. When I showed this to my Rome friends, along with the photos, their half-joking reaction was that everyone needs this, how could you live without it. Wondered how you could ever find something that would cleanly core a zucchini so that you could fill it with meat and bake it? Maybe you need perhaps to make an easy vegetable julienne or even scale fish and peel potatoes with the same item? What about making crinkle cuts for fries? Never fear, you have not yet met "L'Originale 100% Made in Italy Master 5!" [I'm not kidding, this is what it is called on the box.]
The only word I can come up with to describe this item is that it is a gizmo. I could actually see it having some usefulness, even in my kitchen, believe it or not, well, for as long as it would take me to break it. For a demonstration, let's see it in action at the market:
Removing the inside of a zucchini to prepare it for baking
Making a julienne of carrots (to serve along with the potato slices)
Oh, and did I forget to mention that it also makes bubbles when you are done?
Part show, part display of practicality, and all-in-all a great memory to take away of an entertaining encounter on a sunny weekend day in Italy, this vendor and his wares grabbed my attention and reminded me that sometimes the best parts of a trip are the ones that you can't plan at all, the ones you just stumble upon in the moment. So, I was convinced to part with my Euros and to find a place in my already-crammed suitcase to bring back a "Master 5" with me to New York. We'll have to see if it lives up to the "Made in Italy" reputation, as stamped in plastic on its side (which he also pointed out a few times)!