‘There will be chocolate everywhere,’ banners around Turin have been offering this cheering prospect for the last couple of weeks. Naturally, I wanted in on the action. On November 8, we headed for Piazza San Carlo to inhale cacao fumes.
Caffe San Carlo
John’s knee has been hurting a lot lately so while I went tripping around the stalls like Homer Simpson in the Land of Chocolate, he elected to stay at what may be the world’s fanciest café, Caffe San Carlo.
According to their pamphlet, this café was the first place in Turin to get gas lighting and was frequented by such luminaries as Alexandre Dumas, the polar explorer Umberto Cagni, Marxist hero Antonio Gramsci, prime minister Giovanni Giolitti, painter Lorenzo Gigli and many others.
Taking pride of place was the famous chocolate variant in these parts gianduiotto, a mixture of cocoa, sugar and the ‘nocciola del Piemonte’ or ‘Piedmont hazelnut.’
Its name, according to this site, evokes a local story to do with Italian Independence, when two guys Giovan Battista Sales and Giovanni Bellone, set up a popular puppet show in Piazza Castello in the big market in Turin in the late 1700s. One of their characters, ‘Girone’ or Jerome, offered rustic criticism of society and was so popular they took the show on tour. Unfortunately, the Doge of Genoa (whose name was Jerome) objected to the tenor of their show, arrested them and burned their stuff. They recovered from this but back in Turin Napoleon’s ‘good behavior’ police also took issue with two offensive phrases in the Piedmontese dialect:
“Liberté egalité fraternité, ij fransèis a van an caròssa e noi a pe“!
“Liberty, equality, fraternity, the French get a carriage and we walk for free!”
“Viva la Fransa viva Napoleon, chiel a l’é rich, e noi ëstrasson”
“Long live France, long live Napoleon, coz he is rich and I’m a lowly ’un”
Spectators at the trial were so amused by these lines that the infuriated judges sentenced the puppeteers to death. Luckily, the scamps managed to get away, finding refuge in Asti with the family of Giovanni Battista De Ronaldis, who’d been executed for inciting revolution. This gave the puppeteers the idea of creating a modern character who would explicitly criticize the political situation of the time, and Gianduje was born. This was a character resembling a cheerful farmer dressed in the costume seen below:
The chocolates named for this character were invented by the local confectionary Caraffel and first presented at the Carnival in 1865, when someone dressed as Gianduje threw them into the crowd.
Sicily is pretty much the sweet capital of Italy so it was strongly represented, with stalls selling marzipan fruits (frutta da martorana), cannoli and torrone (nougat with nuts). Particularly popular are the sfogliatelle –layered pastries filled with something sweet. I bought two ‘little lobsters’ (arogostine) filled with pistachio cream.
One of the most impressive things I saw was a life-sized model of one of the public fountains particular to Turin, which feature the head of a bull. This one is not only modelled out of chocolate but also pours hot chocolate!!
And then there were these, artistically combining two of Italy’s great achievements, well three if you count the football…
Cantuccini are what most of us call biscotti. The word cantuccio literally means ‘little nook’ but also, by extension, a crusty bit of bread that can soak things up. The traditional recipe, originating in Prato, involved flour, eggs, sugar, pine nuts and almonds. The barely wet dough is cooked twice for extra hardness and typically served after dinner with orange juice.
Another non-chocolate treat on offer were caldarroste, roasted chestnuts, which seem very exotic and festive to me because New Zealand didn’t tend to have them, at least not sold on the street.
All in all, the cioccolaTO (TO= Turin) experience was very satisfactory excursion, even for John who had a little piece of gianduiotto with his coffee. He even got to see some of the fun on our way back to the number 57 bus back home.