Are you up for a little adventure?
I hope so because today I want to take you with me up and down the streets of Genova to discover some real food gems! As a matter of fact, a few weeks ago I was invited by Enrica Monzani, the incredibly talented lady who runs A small kitchen in Genoa (go check her blog, if you do not know it already, it’s packed with recipes and lots of information about Ligurian tradition and food – plus great pictures, which are always a nice thing), to join one of her private food tours.
the nice atmosphere of Piazza Matteotti
Needless to say, I very enthusiastically said yes, because I love Genoa and I love food: when the two things are combined it’s like heaven for me! By joining the tour, I had the great opportunity of learning a lot of things about the Genoese food tradition and discovering some places I had never visited before as well. That kind of places you walk past a hundred of times in your daily life and do not realize they have such a great history – until someone like Enrica tells you so.
That’s why this kind of tours are so precious if you want to scratch the surface of a certain place and discover its soul.
The tour began on a warm July day in one of the busiest squares of the city, Piazza Corvetto. Actually, on the corner of such square and Via Roma, the refined street that takes you down to the city center, there’s a place that offers you a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s called Bar Mangini and you can easily spot it thanks to its lovely tables in the shade – like some kind of oasis in the middle of the city traffic.
people chilling at Mangini
Mangini is one of the oldest coffee places in Genoa and one of the best pastry shops in the city as well. It has a long history, which you can still feel in its old-style interiors. Enrica met us in front of its windows and, after briefly introducing herself to the group, she told us what makes such place so important: it’s a delicacy called Torta Zena.
Such cake, which has a traditional square shape, is one of the most traditional Genoese sweets – and I did not know anything about it, shame on me! It is a multilayered sponge cake with a zabaglione filling (zabaglione is a cream made with egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine) and a lovely marzipan finish – it must be delicious!
Torta Zena on display in Mangini shop window
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to taste the cake as the tour was filled with things to do. We didn’t have to wait much, though, as only a few steps away from Mangini there was a tasting set for us. In fact, down on Via Roma, there is one of the two city locations of Antica Confetteria Pietro Romanengo, where Enrica had arranged a super sweet – and delicious – tasting for us.
If you have been following me for a while now, you may remember the name of Romanengo because I have written a post about it. Back in December, I had the great opportunity of visiting their laboratory and seeing with my eyes how their incredible products are made. You can imagine how happy I was when I realized that a tasting of their sweets was included in the tour!
the sign above the entrance of Antica Confetteria Romanengo
sweets on display at Romanengo
Antica Confetteria Pietro Romanengo is one of the oldest shops in Genoa, where everything is still produced as it was a hundred years ago. Chocolates, candies, fruit jellies, sugar drops, and all other Romanengo specialties are handmade using the highest quality ingredients on the market. And you can taste it, believe me! Their jellies explode in your mouth with an incredible – yet very real, if you see what I mean – flavor and you are immediately hooked.
This dose of sugar gave us the energies to go on with our tour, since Enrica had a lot in store for us!
After telling us about Romanengo and their history, she took us to Via Garibaldi, also known as Strada Nuova, a magnificent street lined with elegant old palaces. There, on a little side street, lies another shop with a very old history. It’s the Pasticceria Profumo, one of those places where – as soon as you enter their doors – you feel as if you have taken a step back in time.
a peek inside Pasticeria Profumo’s interior
delicacies at Pasticceria Profumo
Most of its interiors date back to the 19th century: the marble floor, the green wooden counter, the mirrors and the glass jars carefully lined on the shelves, all give you a very old-style feeling. Here we tasted an amazing pandolce, or panettone genovese, a sweet bread enriched with candied fruit, raisins, and pine nuts which is usually associated with Christmas but that – as the owner of the shop told us – can be eaten all year round. To support this theory, I have to say that I had it last night, on a warm summer night, paired with a chilled white wine and it was delicious!
While tasting the cake, Enrica also told us about the tradition that is associated with it. The tradition says that it should be brought to the table by the youngest in the family, with a laurel branch as a sign of well-being and good luck. It should then be given to the oldest in the family, who has the responsibility of tasting and serving it. That’s another thing I didn’t know, although I have eaten panettone genovese all my life, and it is something that made this tour so special.
Enrica busy telling secrets about the Genoese food tradition
the amazing Piazza San Lorenzo
Speaking of the tour, it was absolutely not over! Enrica took us for a little tour around the vicoli, the narrow alleys that distinguish the oldest neighborhoods of the city, right near the harbor. Those alleys are busy commercial streets, filled with grocery stores, bars, old shops, occasional food stalls, and lots of people. They are one of the most amazing areas I have ever visited, but you can easily get lost there if you do not have someone to guide you.
Enrica guided us around the vicoli, sharing with us the secrets hidden in that labyrinth of little streets and telling us a bit about the history of the place. We very quickly stopped at Klainguti, another very old coffee place and pastry shop, where a handwritten thank-you note by the famous opera composer Giuseppe Verdi is kept, carefully framed, on display over the pastry counter. We also got the chance of tasting the renowned panera, a Genoese delicacy made with cream, coffee, and sugar, at the Cremeria Buonafede, which makes one of the best – if not THE BEST – panera in the city.
the windows of Klainguti
It was all great, yet all these amazing moments have just been a warming up for the real treat of the day, in my opinion.
At a certain point, towards the end of the afternoon, Enrica made us stop in front of a door and told us to go in. There was no clear sign, no shop window, no office hours, nothing. It was as if we were standing in front of the door of a private house. The bravest of the group turned the handle and opened the door to a whole new world, which smelled of chocolate.
the entrance of Antica Cioccolateria Viganotti
We were entering one of the most famous chocolate shops in the city – and in the whole country too. Its name is Antica Cioccolateria Romeo Viganotti, which – hidden behind a door with no sign – makes the best chocolate I have ever tasted in my life. I had heard about it, but somehow never got the chance of visiting it and it’s a pity because I missed a very special place.
The laboratory is more than 150 years old and chocolate is still made as it used to be in the old days, using ancient machines and methods. The shop is very little and has a very ancient feeling, as if you were still in the 19th century. Only very few products are on display and you have to ask for the other ones – they do not like to show off, typical Genovese style. But no matter what you try or if you miss something, what you eat is so good that keeps you satisfied for days.
inside Antica Cioccolateria Viganotti
But enough with the sweet things, it was time for a change of taste!
To do so, Enrica brought us to a most recent part of town. We left the vicoli and walked down Via XX Settembre, commonly known as Via Venti, one of the main shopping streets of the city. This broad street, full of traffic and bustling with people, leads to Via San Vincenzo, home of some of the best focaccerie (places where you can eat focaccia, the traditional Ligurian thin salty bread) and sciamadde (where you can have farinata, the Ligurian chickpea flatbread) in the city. Obviously, Enrica didn’t miss the chance of letting us taste a bite of farinata!
Such an amazing tour couldn’t but end in an amazing place: the Mercato Orientale, a large covered market packed with food stalls selling fish, local vegetables, and Ligurian specialties. The guys who were with me on this tour, a nice Canadian family, had rented an apartment in the city and needed some grocery shopping. Enrica helped them suggesting the most typical foods to try and what to purchase to prepare at home some traditional recipes. It must have been a special experience for them, I am sure!
amazing pasta at Mercato Orientale
Well, the tour ended around 7 pm and I was really satisfied. Not only my belly was full of high-quality food and real delicacies, but my mind was full of new notions about the history and traditions of Genoa – not to mention a soul full of memories. I am writing this post to let you know about the work of Enrica because she really deserves to be known more, and also because I am happy to recommend such an experience, full of knowledge and passion, one of those experiences that make you feel connected in a deeper to the place you are visiting.