One of the best meals we had wasn't pasta, it wasn't in a small port town, and it wasn't expensive.
It was Moroccan cuisine at a restaurant off of the Loreto metro stop, and our entire meal was eleven euros. Our last night in Milan we stayed somewhere C. find on priceline, without any idea of where exactly it was. We got off the subway in the middle of going-home-from-school traffic and found ourselves in the middle of a crowd of kids and parents. The neighborhood was crowded, but with real people, not the hip and beautiful ones you find off the Via Montenapoleone. As we strolled around, looking for a restaurant, we were stopped dead in our tracks by the smell.
It was a smell of cumin, ginger, and chiles. And so of course, we entered. The spread of food behind the deli case was anything but typical: whole roasted fish with vegetables, bright red tomato salad, a hotel pan of thick, spiced lentils, a red sauce flecked with pepper seeds, black and green olives tossed in herbs, bright red meat on kebabs, ready to be grilled. C. and I looked at each other, and I tried not to squeal. We ordered a little bit of everything, including this beef tagine, which was incredible, dotted with soft red peppers, potatoes, carrots and slightly caramelized onions.
And next to the restaurant was a pastry shop loaded with delicious-looking cakes, tarts, and cookies. Their shapes (some smaller than others) and slight imperfections were a sign of homemadeness, and the moist, dense, perfect apple cake I got I am going to go ahead and give the title "Best Pastry I Have Bought in Europe".
It wasn't Italian food, per se, but it was food in Italy by people who may call themselves Italian. And it felt real. And really, really good.