Of salads and babà: when Sanremo goes to the table – Italian Cuisine

A few years ago, it was 2017 and the possibility of a global pandemic only existed in the head of Bill Gates, the French group Phoenix released a tribute album to Italy, I love you. The presence in the band of two brothers with an Italian father must have helped, so the singer Thomas Mars (and this is where you have to remember who he is married to Sofia Coppola), rattles off lines that contain languid little words pronounced in a slightly drawn-out Italian, This melted ice cream, Champagne or Prosecco?, references to Battiato And Lucio (Lucio par excellence is Baptists; the other is From the), and especially Well I'll show you how to win / My Sanremo festival. The video is just as full of good old clichés that concern us: the Trevi fountain, the beaches, a beautiful checked table set with plates of spaghetti and red wine. If we have to go all the way, then let's go all the way, the Phoenix must have thought; getting it right, including spaghetti and Sanremo, the appointment that blocks a nation in February, effectively kidnapping it.

And spaghetti, and the Festival, together? When did it happen, in the homeland of good cooking and bel canto, that the two things came together?
It happened, and that of food and drink in Sanremo is a story that starts from far away, from the dawn of the Festival, with a crackling start to say the least. Second edition, 1952; Nilla Pizzi repeats the triumph of the previous year with Fly dove, but it is in Poppies and ducks, who came second – at the time the same singers presented more songs in the competition, and Nilla also came third – who sings, in lysergic verses that hint at a markedly vegetarian predilection: Dad, eat the poppies, how do you do it? / Why do you want to eat poppies, Dad said / And then he added, pecking at the salad / What are you going to do with it, this is life, with a pedagogical synthesis destined to mark generations of children.

In this regard, years ago a newspaper even took the trouble to analyze all the songs presented at the festival to see how many contained references to food. Result, perhaps a bit disappointing: thirty, out of one thousand six hundred, because in Sanremo, you know, it is love that reigns supreme, or maybe why MasterChef all in all it is still a novelty when compared to the very long festival tradition. On the other hand, artists have passed nomen omen, as Piero Focaccia, Tullio Pane, the dear Mango, Sugar And Milk and honey, Genoese progressive band in the seventies. In any case, when the Sanremo song becomes edible, the diet is rigorously devoid of meat, as was already the case with Nilla Pizzi's poppies and salad; a rule that also applies if the tone changes to the brilliance of a Rino Gaetano, when participating in the 1978 edition with Gianna sang that the same, in addition to supporting theses and illusions, he had an exceptional flair for truffles.

Guest at the Black & White Festival of Sanremo, circa 1950. (Photo by Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche / Getty Images).

Staying on the subject of brilliance, food becomes metaphor and parody when in 1996 Elio and the tense stories they sing to the Ariston The land of persimmons (a fruit moreover beloved by Giuseppe Verdi, it seems), throwing down – with a very Italian and singular melody – the tower of national malpractice, from indifference to easy indignation, from bombs to pliers in the pits of medical malpractice up to the inevitable and self-absolving "Volemose bene" summarized in the refrain: Italy yes Italy no Italy gnamme, se famo du spaghi / Italy sob Italy prot, the land of persimmons / A pizza in company, a pizza alone / a total of two pizzas and this is Italy. And before getting to the cafe of Fiorella Mannoia (Hot black coffee) or those hypertrophic of Alex Britti (7000 coffees), in Sanremo there is time for a drink by Achille Lauro in Rolls Royce, which isn't actually a drink, but it is Paul Gascoigne, the alcoholic English footballer of Lazio in the nineties. Or, again, text in hand, to the real culinary song of Sanremo: Baba is serious business from Marisa Laurito, where the goodness of Italian cuisine is considered the only valid reason not to emigrate to America or to Mars (To me what consoles me / And the addore d’a pummarola / Because what cheers me up / Songo 'e zite with ragù / And yes to a bitter life if it does / It sweetens cu nu babà!).

Yet, as even the most die-hard antagonists of the great Sanremo bandwagon are forced to admit, many shades of Italy pass on the stage of the Festival, not only those of strapaese, as this brief musical-gastronomic review also explains. Including the beloved ones who was capable of intoning the other Lucio, Lucio Dalla, when it was 1972 and he was singing in Sanremo about a hungry homeless man in one of the many Italian squares, There are no saints who pay for my lunch / On the benches in Piazza Grande / But when I'm hungry for merchants like me, there aren't any / I sleep on the grass and have many friends around me / The lovers in Piazza Grande / I know everything about their troubles, their loves, wrong and not; thus recalling that Italy is not only that of the sweet babas.

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