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Mangia!

1 March 2020

Italians know how to eat and we must follow their lead, says Dom Joly

I’ve been re-watching the greatest TV series of all time (excluding my own Trigger Happy TV, of course): The Sopranos. At first glance this is a show about the Mafia, but actually it’s about the everyday mundanity of life that affects even members of La Cosa Nostra. Oh, and it’s about food. There is always someone eating on screen and it’s impossible not to watch without getting the munchies. Much as I love Lebanese food, Italians probably do boast the greatest cuisine on earth and every episode of the Sopranos finds me looking to book a flight there and eat myself to death. Trigger Happy TV, my own multi-award winning hidden camera series, was essentially conceived and nurtured in an Italian trattoria in Notting Hill Gate in London. The owner whom I knew as “mama”, would feed Sam and I copious bowls of Spaghetti Vongole, Linguine Arrabiata and Scaloppine al Limone as we came up with ideas for the show. We even filmed several scenes from the show in the restaurant.

My favourite was one where I was dressed as a mafia don, in a white suit, sitting at a table tucking into a massive bowl of pasta. The door opened and another mafioso, dressed in black, entered and shot me with a pistol. I collapsed into my bowl of pasta and the assassin left while other diners at the restaurant stared on in confusion. The worst thing was that, despite telling Mama that we needed the pasta cold, she couldn’t bring herself to serve cold food and so my face was pushed into scaldingly hot spaghetti. I knew I had to keep it there until the assassin left and we got the shot... it cost me four days in a burns unit. Now, that is commitment to comedy.

Years later, I was in Tuscany on a weekend away with my wife. We were staying at an old monastery that was famous for their food. Rather bafflingly they had recently set up a new venture where people came to meditate and fast for four days. Unfortunately for them, the two eating areas were only divided by a makeshift partition.

My wife and I ordered a gigantic Tuscan steak to share; still to this day the best I have ever had. As we tucked into this culinary monster, tantalising aromas drifted over the partition and into the area where those fasting were sadly nursing a glass of hot water with vinegar. It nearly started a riot. I can still hear the groaning and gnashing of teeth.

I don’t care how dedicated you are to weight loss or fitness; Italy is not the place to embark on such a thing. It’s a veritable crime against food. Admittedly, the downsides are pretty evident in the Sopranos – in which most of the cast are the size of small houses and can barely waddle from the bathroom to the poker table – but as Tony Soprano might have said (but didn’t): “Nobody dies happy and thin.”

Mangia.

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