Polenta e Osei
Polenta is a mushy mass of corn meal, which accompanies most meals in the Lombardy region.
Originally, it was a "poor mans" meal - to provide a padding for small portions of meat. It is still widely served up in various ways today, the same as rice and potatoes can be.
During my second visit to Bergamo, I had my first taste of Polenta, which came flavoured with sage. I really enjoyed it.
Throughout the Citta Alta, you'll come across these yellow domes of calorie laden sweetness displayed in Patisserie shops, advertised as being a typical Bergamo cake.
This isn't strictly true -
Originally Polenta e Osei were made of polenta and songbirds (such as larks and thrushes) A dish that is believed to date back to Roman times.!- a practice that is now outlawed!
It is thought that the recipe for this sweet version goes back a century or more, and was invented in the kitchens of the Pasticceria Balzer, near the Teatro Doninzetti, though it might have been known as the Pasticceria Isacchi at the time.
The cakes sold today are made to resemble a pile of polenta, with chocolate and /or Marzipan birds decorating the top.
There are variations on the recipe - A sponge cake, (some have a hazelnut cream filling, some have alcoholic liquor as well!), is covered in a yellow fondant icing (or marzipan - almond paste), and rolled in sugar crystals.
On top of the dome, may be a dollop of apricot jam, and the decoration of birds, which again vary in artistic merit!
Click here for a recipe
San Tome, a Romanic pearl, unique in the area
This small rounded church lies in Almenno, a village close to Bergamo (just 9 kms West). You can reach it by driving on the SS470 or taking bus number E5 from the platform near the train station.
The site is surrounded by a placid rural setting. This stone Church dates back to the XI Century and it is enriched by some precious carvings on the external vaults.
Bergamo Train Station
I did find that the train system in Italy is very good (at least for tourists!). The train prices are also relatively cheap and I got to Venice (3 hours away) for just €11 one way (much cheaper than the UK would ever be!).
I spent quite a lot of my time sitting in Bergamo train station waiting to go to my next destination. This train station seems to be quite a hub of activity in the North Italian transport world. The people at the ticket counter generally speak a little english, and if not then a few Italian words and lots of gesticulating seems to get you there in the end!
I got into trouble on a train one day. The ticket inspector asked me for my ticket, and then started shouting at me in Italian. Totally confused I asked 'Parla Englesee' (or something to that effect) at which point he asked me why I had not stamped my ticket. I was completely lost. As it turns out, there are little ticket machines on the platforms which you push your ticket into and it stamps the date and time on it which validates it. Luckily I got away with it that time, but I always made sure I stamped it after that!
A table with a view: eating on a terrace with a beatiful overview of Bergamo 'alta' (high). Take the special-price menu' and taste the local flavor of... polenta!
PS: Do not eat it with bread, or locals might nicely laugh at you, aside of kind Titti.
PS2: The castle is almost an opinion...
Be a local for a moment
My last evening in Bergamo Titti joined me again.
After she showed me some places she knew I would have missed, and yes so I did, she wanted to take me to the lounge of the funicular which terrace offers a magnificent view over the funicular’s track. Unfortunately we picked the wrong day! It was closed!
No problem, Titti knew another nice local place where we could sit down for a chat, eat something, and enjoy our wine and each other’s company.
She took me into a side street of the Via b. Colleoni, near the church of the Sant’Agata.
“It is not really fancy or so” she warned me, but I was happy with her choice.
Here no tourists menu’s and I would think not even tourist, if I forgot a moment to count myself one.
Really local. “Here the locals used to come, play cards, have a drink” she explained. We decided to take a mixed plate with ham (I love that ham!) and local cheese, a salad to accompany it and bread.
The local wine (good choice Titti!) completed the dinner.
I recomend this place to visit at least once for a lunch and a drink.