Travel Story Ravenous in Ravenna

Photo of Niall McIlroy

One of the great joys of travel is wandering down a side-street to enjoy a lovely local dining experience. That's just what happened (between meals!) in Italy.

It was neither the biggest nor the grandest building in Ravenna, once the centre of the Western Roman Empire and full of big, grand, ancient buildings. In fact it was humble, with wooden beams in the ceiling and no triumphal arches or vaulted roofs.

We stumbled on the Trattoria al Cerchio after a morning touring the antiquities. Our party of six, ravenous after exploring, had been following our noses down a succession of alleys.

It wasn’t the word trattoria that stopped us, one of the few Italian words we understood. It was the big wide smile that greeted us in the doorway.

“We are hungry, ” we gestured. “I am open and I have food, ” he shaped in reply. Everyone understood.

“Waaaaaaaalter, ” said the man, jutting a thumb at his chest.

“Vino?” He asked and we nodded enthusiastically as we sat at a big round table. Above the beaming smile sat a grey moustache and big soft eyes in a gentle face. We would probably have stayed even if the cupboard was bare.

He rushed to the kitchen and back. Glasses arrived with a clink followed by fresh bread, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a deep purple house wine. Plates laced with lettuce, parmesan shards and sweet cherry tomatoes landed. On each Walter placed layers of sweet, waxy, prosciutto di parma.

He then sat down to share a glass of wine. As we became full and repeated the word “bella” someone was able to indicate we were from Australia.

Walter gasped, leapt from his seat and motioned for us to come to the counter where he pointed to a patchwork of photos on the wall behind.

“Famiglia, famiglia, ” he said indicating a picture of a pretty young woman in a straw hat. A framed certificate proclaimed Miss Emilia Romagna.

We asked “granddaughter?” He nodded, head on a spring. Saying “wait, wait, wait” he darted across the counter, grabbed the receiver from the phone on the wall and started stabbing in numbers.

Although humbled and honoured, we knew we couldn’t wait. And Walter gradually but cheerfully resigned himself to the fact we had to leave to rejoin our group.

We paid, had our hands clasped warmly in farewell and waved and waved all the way back up the alley, at the big wide smile in the doorway.

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