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VITA

Polenta and Porcini at Ceri

By Neeman Sobhan

When you are lucky to have history in your backyard, as we are in Rome, it is natural to combine a present day lunch outing around a place that transports you into the past. Food for the body and food for the soul: the most satisfying encounter, and possible every day in Italy.

Today we set out for il Borgo di Ceri with just such a lunch date in mind. We have been here before, but it is a favourite haunt for my husband and me; and with an appreciative house guest, an umpteenth visit can be as enchanting as the first.

Driving north on the highway from Rome towards Cerveteri, once an ancient Etruscan town, one comes upon this tiny fortified medieval village built on a volcanic rock. The turreted embattlements crowning the hill swing into view like an enchanted castle. Our car winds up the steep road and enters the main portal, bringing us into the tiny central piazza of ancient houses; the austere looking palace of the Torlonia, last of the old ruling families; and the focal point, the Romanesque church of the Madonna di Ceri, all surrounded by the embattled walls.

We park the car in the centre of the cobbled-stone piazza and in the protective shadow of the statue of the Madonna. Walking to the edges, we lean over the waist high ledge of the walls that provide a vista of the green countryside rolling away. Give or take a few details, plus the fact that we are in Lazio (central Italy) and in the outskirts of Rome, this could have been a view from any fortified town in Tuscany, except that this is more charming because it is a miniaturised version.

This present town of Ceri, was founded in 1236 by the inhabitants to be better protected by rock formations. But the area was inhabited since the 7th century BC, its native population changing from Etruscans to Romans. Numerous tombs from the Etruscan and Roman periods can be found in the area. (Further afield, the necropolis at Cerveteri is an UN World Heritage Site).

The main attraction of Ceri is the gem of a church dedicated to the Madonna, which stands on an ancient site where Etruscans and Romans venerated the cult of the goddess Vesta. In 1980, during a restoration, frescoes representing scenes from the Old Testament and dating from the 12th century, were discovered on a wall of the church building.

We enter the cool silence of the tiny church and look in awe at the old walls with its patches of frescoes glowing like scraps of coloured maps. The painted figures float in the half light as if vermilion, turquoise, moss green, and ochre tinted clouds on a stony sky. We sit for a while among the candles, the arches, the wooden ceiling, the unpolished pews and the comforting quiet.

Coming out into the sun we blink and focus on the worldly purpose of our visit. Lunch.

There are two restaurants, both with terraces overlooking the surrounding woods and the green slopes. At the Trattoria Sora Lella we are the only customers on this lazy weekday. Early on, we had noticed a gentleman lounging near the piazza, who now rushes around getting the place ready for us.

The menu is short and simple. Local fare: funghi porcini from the countryside, fresh pasta made on the premises, wild boar (which we don't eat, reducing further our choice), meats and cheeses from the area, and vegetables and fruits of the season.

I know what I want and after the others have made their choices (Ravioli stuffed with articokes and served with a fresh salvia and butter sauce; and a fresh Fettucini with funghi porcini, all besprinkled with Parmigiano) I order the local specialty and my favourite dish. Polenta.

It arrives in its rectangular wooden dish, the soft yellow mush of fragrant cooked cornmeal drizzled with melted butter and topped with succulent funghi porcini. This is more a winter dish, but even on this lovely summer day, a forkful of the polenta is like partaking of gold as pulp. The only other comparison of the taste is soft 'geela' khichuri with melted ghee!

We take our coffee out on the terrace, with the complimentary plate of caramel flavoured rustic biscuits. We nibble some and feed some to the gurgling pigeons. Leaning back in our chairs, we watch time stop among the rustling treetops far away in the world down there, somewhere.

Today, we have or had been lunching at the ancient Borgo of Ceri. This moment is that glorious thing: Present Perfect Continuous or Past Continuous!


FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD

Seoul food

By Kaniska Chakraborty

Another recap of another wonderful lunch. This time, Korean food in Dhaka. There used to be two Korean restaurants, one near Gulshan 1 and the other tucked away in a quiet lane near Gulshan 2. We used to frequent Koreana, the one near Gulshan 1. And it had nothing to do with better food. Simply, Koreana never charged for the lovely array and refills of kimchi.

Being from Calcutta, Korean food was an unknown entity to me. So much so that I never even heard of any of their famed dishes. The world of kimchi, bulgogi and jeon were not even stories that I heard. My first trip to a Korean place in Dhaka was the other one, Ari Rang. I was bowled over with their welcome drink, the fine spread of sushi rolls (certainly not very Korean) and then, the piece de resistance the barbecue on table.

Protein of your choice beef, prawn, cuttle fish or mixed seafood goes in a wok, which is set up on the table on a gas burner. The stuff comes pre marinated in chilli-garlic-sesame-oil infused, pungent paste. The burner is lit in front of you and the meat is first cooked on high heat to seal all flavours inside. Then the heat is turned down and the meat is cooked till soft. And all this while, you can leisurely help the cooking by gently stirring, or you can augment your dinner by helping yourself to the amazing kimchis.

Now, every time I visit Dhaka, Koreana is a must. They have changed their location, but not the quality. One of those times was five years back during Jamai Shoshthi, a day earmarked for the son in law. The day when the son-in-law gets a treat.

My mother-in-law was incredibly busy that year for Jamai Shoshthi. So her two daughters, my wife and her sister, took up the serious business of treating me. And Koreana was my choice.

The meal started off with a selection of kimchis, basically lightly pickled veggies.

There was wilted spinach with sesame seeds, pickled cucumber and cabbages, lightly sautéed sprouts.

This was followed by seafood jeon. Lovely flat seafood cakes fried till golden, set on a bed of shredded veggies. Crunchy yet soft. With the sudden punctuation of succulent bits of prawn or calamari.

The customary sushi rolls were also there. Little rolls of rice with seaweed wrapped around and with slivers of cucumber and carrots as filling. And then, it was time for the barbecue. Cuttle fish is my usual choice. I find prawns go too tough in this way of cooking. Ordered a pot of rice to go with it.

The super spicy cuttle fish with the red gravy that clings on to it made the sticky rice go crimson. Each forkful screamed out to be noticed and counted. And they were. The lovely meal ended with some fresh fruits as desserts that took a little edge off the spices. But the hum on the palate stayed well past our visit.

Food for the soul indeed.


SPOTLIGHT

APPRECIATING Art

Appreciating art is like learning a new language. For full understanding of the subject, one must firstly acquire the appreciation of the language itself, pick up the tone and the inner details, and build a vocabulary. On a similar level, appreciation of art will take years to achieve; it will take effort and once the learning process is on full swing, one will be able to derive pleasure from a simple painting, a wooden mask or even a concrete sculpture maybe.

However, even before realising it; even before understanding a simple term of art, one is a critic in a sense. We all have an understanding of the subject, to a certain extent. We all know what we like and what we don't like. Some, without knowing the term, “impressionism”, may be drawn towards them. Some, without understanding the concept of “abstract”, may be fond of the works of Kibria. Others fall in love with prints and the form of printmaking, without having an iota of knowledge as to what it was all about.

Art speaks in many languages: water colours are soothing, pleasing to the eye. Oil has a distinctive texture, layer upon layer of colours that may often hit you like a storm. You may not nurture a liking for one of the aforesaid medium over the other, but once you learn to love art, you will learn to love the chemistry each medium has with the audience.

So what is the painter's position in this equation? His role is paramount. He attributes life to forms and through execution of technique learnt over years, he conveys thought through his work. However, once complete, the picture may speak in the words of the artist or may also take a voice of its own.

The Mona Lisa has, in the last five centuries, been a witness of time and a witness of thoughts that its creator Da Vinci imparted on this master piece. But as all viewers at Louvre will tell you, the impression that this great piece of work has on people is a rather personal experience. Some hate it and never cease to wonder what the fuss is actually all about; but that too is an important realisation if you have it! Just because Vinci painted it, there is no reason why you should love it. But if and once you do love it, from the deepest corners of your heart, you will have an overpowering feeling the feeling of pleasure at seeing the Mona Lisa, face to face!

Take small steps towards liking art and art will take greater strides in coming close to you. You must first be an apt observer. And then an apt reader. The countless galleries that have recently opened their gates for a wider audience can help bring art closer to you. A classic display of the masters will show you our past but don't belittle the budding talents as they are voices of today and will dictate how art, in a Bangladeshi perspective, will be tomorrow.

The Internet has brought the entire world to your fingertips and now you can easily trace the development of Printmaking, for example, throughout the world in order to understand the local vibe. This will not only open us avenues but will also point our flaws one artist may have.

And the best thing: It's free. Although being a patron of art can be, and is, an expensive undertaking appreciation art can be as cheap as going to a gallery; or googling “Andy Warhol”! And if you do indeed decide to buy that piece, the one that spoke to you in a voice no one else had the ear to pick up, you are surely off to the road of being a collector and aficionado. All art enthusiasts are collectors, in one sense or the other. But not all collectors can say they are Enthusiasts!

By Pothbhola
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Location: Cosmos -- Atelier 71, Mouchak
Special thanks to Goutam Chakrabarty, Anisuzzaman and Durjoy Rahman Joy


 

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