I’m just back from a week in Turin for my first Slow Food Salone Del Gusto and Terra Madre. The Salone Del Gusto centres on a vast ‘Slow Food’ trade fair: two enormous halls filled with vendors of Italian delicacies, and (more interesting), a slightly smaller international hall where you can find extraordinary and wonderful foodstuffs, including ancient varieties of almonds from Uzbekistan, Yak’s milk cheese from the Tibetan Plateau, and dried mulberries and mulberry halva from the Pamir mountains. The simultaneous and adjacent Terra Madre is a gathering of some six thousand delegates from 161 countries, all of whom are in some way involved in sustainable local food production.
Funnily enough, I was a member of the Chinese delegation.
I was there to accompany A Dai, the co-owner of the Dragon Well Manor restaurant in Hangzhou (龙井草堂). On Saturday we gave a joint presentation explaining the work of his restaurant, which specialises in what the Chinese call ‘natural, original, primordial’ (原生态) ingredients (what Westerners might call organic, artisanal food) and strives to preserve traditional cooking and food-production skills.
Over the course of the conference, we also met many wonderful people, including Vietnamese rice farmers, organic honey-makers from Jiangsu, NGO workers from D.R.Congo, Guinea-Bissau and South Korea, the fantastic and inspiring Australian chef Kylie Kwong and the Tibetan cheese-makers.
We also tasted what seemed like 5000 different kinds of salami and cheese, stocked up on fabulous chocolates at Guido Gobino, ate ludicrous amounts of meat and pasta, craved and fantastised about simple vegetarian food, and basked in glorious autumn sun. On our last day together, we drove into the Piedmontese countryside with Monica, a Slow Food volunteer. The autumn landscape
was an exquisite patchwork of vineyards, purple, red, yellow and green. For lunch, we visited a restaurant run by friends of Monica’s, where we had the finest meal of the trip, a feast of raw veal, taglioni with white truffles, agnolini, bollito misto, cardoons and peppers, and robiola and castelmagna cheeses. Later, we visited her aunt and uncle for coffee, and played 1930s waltzes on their wind-up gramophone.
A few memories of the trip:
The view over Turin from our lovely old hostel in the hills of Cavoretto, with snow-capped mountains in the distance.
The Congolese delegates looking at my badge and saying: ‘But you don’t look Chinese.’
The scent of white truffles.
Helping a confused Tibetan monk to find his bus home.
A Dai and Monica discussing football for an hour in the car, despite having no common language. (A Dai knows all the teams, the players, the football chants.)
Tasting and comparing honeys from Uganda, Japan, Italy and many other countries.
Running into football legend Giovanni Trapattoni in the rural restaurant – which, as you can imagine, made A Dai’s trip!