Italy: Of coffee and the other little bits

There's more to Italy than pizza and pasta, as we quickly discovered. The coffee bars probably make up my favourite bit of Italian food culture. A tiny space, a bar top, a display of pastries and biscuits and the unmistakable aroma of coffee. It came as a surprise, initially, how popular these bars seemed to be - just a neverending stream of people coming up to the counter to have their cup of coffee. The glorious aroma hits you as soon as you open the door and it takes a lot not to succumb to temptation. Perhaps the most amusing bit of it all is how even the Italian equivalent of a British pub would have coffee listed alongside their alcohol. Now, that's my kind of pub.

No matter where we were, the coffee was always excellent - full-flavoured but not too strong. The thought of a caffelatte and a warm pastry to kickstart the day was enough to get even my brother out of bed every morning. It's worth remembering though, that in Italy, ordering a "latte" will get you a cup of warm milk and not coffee with milk, something we learnt the hard (albeit highly amusing) way.

Cakes, pastries and cookies - things I can rarely say "no" to. The thing I like most about European cities is how these delightful little sweets seem to be in abundance. The pastries differed from city to city with the meringue-like pastries being more dominant in Venice. These pastries were a much lighter and more crumbly version of the ones in the other cities, features that one comes to appreciate after a large meal.

I found that I very much preferred Italian croissants to their heavier, more buttery French counterparts. Pictured is my favourite, a Nutella-filled one that we had as part of our buffet breakfast in Milan.

A little mixed bag of cookies to accompany you as you explore the city, or a box of tiramisu to enjoy while you wind down for the day - these little things can make anyones day and they certainly made mine, everyday. Perhaps the part that I looked forward most to at meals was dessert and with such variety, can you really blame me?

Now this, this is the one I can never say "no" to. I'm not sure if it's the sensation that the cold leaves on your tongue, or how the flavour slowly spreads as it melts in your mouth but I am definitely, without a doubt, an ice cream person. With my favourite ice cream parlour in London being an Italian one, I was almost certain that I was going to really enjoy the ice cream in Italy. Smooth, creamy and with flavours that would interest even the most unenthusiastic, I wasn't wrong.

We found ourselves, in the middle of winter, constantly stopping for ice cream.

I just have to give the vegetable soup we had in Venice a special mention. With a natural sweetness from the vegetables, it was so addictive we had to order seconds. What I liked most about it was that it wasn't too thick or creamy - just perfect for a cold winter's night.

Pretty interiors, tablecloths and napkins folded into shapes - in Italy, much effort seems to go into making even the smallest and cheapest restaurants look and feel warm and welcoming, something that we noticed and really appreciated.

It's one of those place where you feel like there's so much more that you have yet to discover, food or otherwise. For some people, the sights make the trip, for others, the shopping perhaps, but for me, it's always the food. I think it's safe to say that this trip was made.

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