The Osteria dei Mercanti is an unassuming restaurant near the centre of Brescia. With flowers demarcating the outdoor space and a well-fed diner with an enormous white napkin tucked into his collar it exuded a pleasant charm. I hadn’t actually planned to luncheon there, but the food looked delicious and the locals were obviously keen on the fare, judging by the dishes shuttling out of the kitchen.
All the tables outside were taken, which was a shame as to eat outside amongst the noise and fumes is one of life’s great pleasures. When I asked for a table however the waitress appeared to ask me if I wanted to sit inside or outside. I said outside, thinking she might say I had to wait five minutes. Instead she nodded, picked up a table from inside the restaurant, carried it outside and budged it into their allocated space. I Grazied and peered at the menu.
If trying local specialities should be one aim of eating overseas, just as important is to try authentic versions of foods that are served back home. Often the originals bear very little relation to the gunge served up in the UK – spaghetti carbonara being prima facie evidence of the British habit of retaining a name and yet changing the underlying dish to something completely different.
Pleased to see spaghetti carbonara on the menu it took but a moment for me to decide on my lunch. Having realised I was very hungry I would have liked it to have been brought the moment I asked for it, but the way of the world is these things need to be cooked. I didn’t have long to wait though and was soon replying ‘Merci’ to the ‘Buon Appetito’ of the waitress in another spot of language confusion.
For some reason English carbonaras are often made with cream. This makes them virtually impossible to finish. However my plate stuck to the main ingredients – pancetta, spaghetti and egg. There weren’t many flakes of black pepper which give the dish its ‘carbon’ derived name and the egg was more scrambled than I’m used to. The pieces of pancetta were small and salty, whilst the pasta was a whole new level of al dente. The rule with cooking spaghetti is quite a tricky one to follow. When you think the pasta is ready, it almost certainly needs cooking for a bit less time. The extra bite is worth attempting to achieve even if your children complain that the pasta isn’t cooked.
It was a cheesy carbonara that was just the ticket, in a perfect Italian piazza. Until a local builder started testing his new grinder on a nearby balcony. But that’s unlikely to happen if you visit. I’ve never made spaghetti carbonara with so much egg. How much egg is authentic? Luckily my Carbonarian research will have to continue.
Osteria dei Mercanti
Via delle Battaglie