Monday, 28 July 2014

Botteghe Storiche - A Very Rewarding Project!

This summer, my colleagues and I worked on several projects through the GustoLab. One of my favorites was a project that focused on Botteghe Storiche - or historic, artisinal shops in and around Rome. Essentially, these are Mom and Pop stores that have applied to gain "botteghe storiche" status in the municipal records. Through interviews, we learned that many 2nd and 3rd generations owners applied for this title as a means of recognizing the hard work and accomplishments of their predecessors. The designation doesn't necessarily win these stores any notoriety among the food tourists of Rome because it is still relatively unknown outside of the grocer community.

One of the first stores that I visited for fieldwork was Ruggeri. This alimentari is located on the edge of one of Rome’s most famous city squares, Campo de' Fiori. By day, as you may know, this piazza is dominated by a bustling produce and dry goods market. The produce offerings are of the best quality and their vibrancy and variety speak to the rich alluvial soil along the West coast of Italy. An outer ring of busy cafes and restaurants also adds to the energy of this municipal space. In fact, the square is so busy, it is easy to miss Ruggeri’s completely. I know I did (for 3.5 weeks)! The outside resembles that of other grocery shops - the two large windows showcase cured meats, olive oils, balsamic vinegar, and limoncello. Stepping into the show, my eye was immediately drawn to the meat and cheese counter, where heavy hams hung from the ceiling and rough-hewn pieces of parmigiano reggiano lined the top of the glass counter. Three men worked that counter, adeptly navigating the small work space to help customers. A middle-aged woman worked the cash register (as is the case in many of the older food shops I visited while conducting fieldwork). Taking a closer look at the offerings in the cold case, I spotted a variety of olives, dried tomatoes in oil, and other antipastis. There were numerous fresh pastas (ravioli, fettuccine etc.) and a nice selection of regional cheeses. During my interviews with the shop keepers, I learned that father and son worked the counter, while the mother manned the cash register. The father told me that his father had founded the store and although he identified as Roman, he traces his ancestry to Umbria. Throughout the interview, I found myself entranced by their family's history - it reminded me so much of my own!

After visiting Ruggeri's, I headed to one of Rome's most famous coffee roasters and caffes: Sant Eustachio. The coffee here is mesmerizing. It's really acidic but also has a nice smooth finish. It's divine. That is the only word that can describe this coffee, in all honesty.

The atmosphere is so 1950s. It's one of those places that seems frozen in time (although clearly it has adapted its marketing strategy to appeal to a thriving tourist industry). Their color scheme is a bit garish. Yellow packages stamped with inky black script line the shelves as do yellow moka machines and coffee mugs.

One of my favorite moments was watching a father spoon freshly brewed espresso into his daughter's mouth. She happily slurped that acidic brew from the metal spoon. Soon enough, she was running around the shop with her white blonde curls bouncing all over the place.

Last but not least, we visited a shop called Antica Salumeria Volpetti located just a few blocks from Sant Eustachio. Originally, we were not even planning to interview in this shop. We stopped inside to ask about another store, Turchetti Carlo & Co., which was listed on the municipal registry but had since shut down. The beautiful, large windows of Turchetti Carlo & Co. no longer showcase meats, cheeses, and other local specialties, but rather the latest summer fashion line of L’autre Chose, a clothing shop. There are some clues that there used to be a store in that location. For example, on the stone exterior there is a sign that reads, “Olio di Semi.” There is also a “URBS MIRABILIS ROMA” tile that designates historic spaces within the city. The fact that this store no longer exists raises a few questions. How powerful or effective is the botteghe storiche designation for preserving/protecting Italian foodways? What are the parameters of the botteghe storiche designation (e.g. does the store still have to exist/operate to be listed on the botteghe storiche database?) These are questions that we hope to answer through archival research. Anyway, since Turchetti Carlo & Co. was closed, we decided to stop into Antico Salumeria Volpetti, which housed a wonderful array of local meats, cheeses, olive oils etc.

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