‘Tis the Season of the Sagra in Umbria. For weeks, we’ve been seeing this odd banner flying on all the signposts in Trestina, on bulletin boards in the bar, on roadside billboards. We thought perhaps it was a tomato, or some strange stylized ‘heart’ meant to promote the small town of Trestina. Then again “I Tomato Trestina” sounded pretty weird, but we’ve seen weirder stuff than “I Tomato Trestina”.
But on Saturday night, all things become clear to us. It was a beefsteak!
‘Tis the Season of the Sagra in Umbria. A sagra is a town
festival and Umbria has more sagre (plural of sagra) than any other region in
Italy. Or so the publicity tells us, but in this case I’m inclined to believe
For weeks, we’ve been seeing this odd banner flying on all
the signposts in Trestina, on bulletin boards in the bar, on roadside
billboards. We thought perhaps it was a tomato, or some strange stylized
‘heart’ meant to promote the small town of Trestina. Then again “I Tomato
Trestina” sounded pretty weird, but we’ve seen weirder stuff than “I Tomato Trestina”.
But on Saturday night, all things become clear to us. It was
a beefsteak! Trestina has a massive beefsteak festival where they serve
dinosaur sized Florentine steaks. The steak pit is hidden behind a curtained
off area, but from the dining tables you could literally see the hell sized flames
leaping up over the wall.
The lady sitting next to me polished off her steak down to
the barest of the bare bones. There wasn’t a scrap left that was big enough for
an ant to bother with. We were 3 people, with 2 steaks and we didn’t even come
close to finishing our meat. Clearly we are just wimpy expats who can’t handle
our meat. Sigh.
Maybe I should start starving now to prepare for this
weekend’s line-up of sagre? Here’s the line up, just for this coming weekend:
Sagra degli gnocchi, Monteleone
Sagra della Lumaca (Snails), Lacugnano. Here you will be treated
to snails from the vines or from the dirt, where they will be served: roasted,
with sauce, braised, fried, chopped, with mushrooms or with wine. The French
have their escargot, we have our lumaca.(Sorry, the links are all in Italian…it's local stuff, you know. Try Google Translate, it's quicker than learning Italian.)
However, there is no doubt that this Friday night we will
wind up at the Sagra del Pesce (fish) in Calzolara. It’s a humongous fish
festival in the heart of land locked Umbria where seafood is looked upon as
something exotic and foreign. It’s mysteriously well organized. We suspect
there is a Swiss or German family who run this particular sagra because no
other town is as well organized.
In case you wind up at an Umbrian sagra, here’s the plan of
Find the cassa, that’s the booth or table that has the menus
and it’s where you pay. Find the menu, which is easier said than done. Usually
it’s buried somewhere on the table, or behind the booth and you need to push
your way forward to get the magic slip of paper that will tell you what’s
Find someone who has a pen so that you can mark off your
choices on the menu. Do not bring
your own pen. It’s a critical part
of the social interaction that you beg a writing instrument from a stranger.
Find the line of dedicated people who have made their
choices. Everyone else is just milling around and checking out each other’s
outfits. This is Italy. Shoes matter.
Wait your turn to place your order.
Wonder why the hell it takes so long.
Place your order! Hand over your completed slip of paper to
the cashier. He then takes out a pen, and slowly, carefully and with frequent
questions like “do you only want 2 steaks?” did you mean to write “1 salad”
instead of “mixed grill” he rewrites your menu onto another menu, painstakingly
making 2 carbon copies. Now, this being a small town, there is a good chance
that you will know the man who is rewriting your menu, or you will know the man
who is sitting next to him keeping him company, so this means you need to chat
a little, otherwise it would just be rude to pay and move on.
Find a seat. At the bigger sagre there will be a seating guy
who has a vague general idea where you might find a seat. At the Calzolara fish
festival your seating assignment comes when you pay. How cool is that? You can
just walk to your assigned seat.
Find the beverage tent. This involves a lot of wandering around,
but that is part of the master plan of a sagra. Everyone has gotten dressed up
for the event so you may as well walk around. See and be seen is the motto.
Figure out the beverage tent protocol. Things always break
down at the beverage tent, I don’t know why. You might be able to get all the
water you want, but no wine, or vice versa, or the beer tap will suddenly stop
and hold up all water and wine. Don’t give up hope; eventually you’ll get
something to drink.
Carry it back to the table.
Wait for the food to arrive. Which despite all odds it does arrive as you’ve ordered it,
and 9 times out of 10, it’s hot and good. By this time, you’ve made
acquaintances with everyone around you, the noise level is thunderous, the
small children are crying, the larger children have run under your table
looking for a ball or a dog, and the wind has shifted so now the hellfire beef
smoke is in your eyes. At the Sagra
del Pesce, your souvenir for the evening is the smell of fried fish in your
When you’ve had enough, wander outside the tent, marvel at
the crowds and head for the nearest bar for a nightcap.
You can’t beat a summer sagra for a full evening of sensory
overload. I love a good sagra, but have no idea what I’m going to wear on
Friday. This is serious business, don’t be laughing.
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