Monday, January 06, 2014

Matriciana- from the town of origin or I dunno?

I could live on this.....actually many Romans do, so its not actually a big deal as such..oh never mind!

Spaghetti al Matriciana always meant to this second year apprentice chef, aged 16 in 1984: fried onion in olive oil, garlic, pancetta cut into thick-ish strips, sumo,  chilli (re-constituted on oil and vinegar) salt, ground black pepper and some rudimentary greenery in the form of rough cut curly parsley. The pasta was always house made egg pasta, however not Bucatini, the pasta of choice specific to its region of origin, but Spaghetti-perhaps because of Australians limitations to comprehend the galaxy of pastas available?
One step at a time.
Better too get them to eat the stuff and worry about complexity, cultural and geographical differences later?
We’d cook the pasta to order. Fry the soffrito and add each ingredient as per table, home style. Although the legion of Italians who worked front and back of house could never agree on the superlative version of this dish, they were all united in what it wasn’t.
It wasn’t an Anglicized interpretation to quell any uncomfortable situations on the floor. The proud, upright waiters, replete in starched white coats (which looked to me like footy umpire jackets but what did I know as a 16 YO) Brylcreemed and erudite, explained the nuances of each dish without a trace of pomposity, which I believe, was the key to this restaurants huge success. And longevity.
Where other places made the most of the clients ignorance, this restaurant, under the guidance of a dapper Greek punter, Ray Tsindos, he who of considerable Melbourne resto-lineage, understood implicitly, that the key to relieving a clients hard-earned was more about flattery than superiority.
In key positions back of house Mr. Tsindos had his lieutenant’s who were responsible for the upkeep of Cucina Italia.
Ironically tho, the head chef and 75% of the brigade were, devout italo-philes but still Aussies, nonetheless. In my case I was on a path seeking authenticity and dreaming of Italy where I became to believe that my soul originated.
As a freckled, ginger and suburban boy seeking a tribe to which I felt I belonged, you can imagine that the dark haired, almond eyed and passionate Latinas’ viewed me as some sort of oddity. I ‘got’ their aesthetic without any bona fide cultural motifs in which to hang on to, I just got it.
So today I think my cooking soul is definitely Italian. But like any Aussie, we cherry-pick the best bit of all world cuisines and ‘re-imagine’ them in our own context, is this a good thing? Perhaps. Does it recognize a nuanced cultural appreciation of differences? Not always. It is up to restaurants to uphold these specific culinary delineations? I don’t reckon.
Food, like language is always evolving,
Who is to say with authority what one dish might mean to some people over say, tens of thousands of people?
I suspect the answer is a small voice against a great swell of usage.
In my recollection, alla Matriciana went like I recited earlier.
Mille Grazie Maria, Silvano, Gianni and Silvana, RIP
And Ray, antío, tha doúme ti̱n epómeni̱ forá


Michael said...

I learnt this dish years ago when on a bottom of the wallet snowboarding trip in New Zealand. I met 2 italians (possibly brazilians) who were in a similar fiscal situation as me. They'd bought 4 litres of good olive oil duty free on the way in, and seemingly every night they'd saute up some garlic, chilli flakes and a heap of olive oil, then throw the pasta in. Perhaps they'd grate some parmesan over it and share it with anyone around.

It really did teach me that cooking doesn't need to be about much, just simplicity and balance.

steve said...

Hi Michael, nice to hear from you. I could go a bowl of their pasta right now! So true your salient points.