Bra, Italy, in the raw
I’ll try anything once. Then I’ll try it again, and if I don’t like it I’ll try it a third time just to be sure. Taste buds and expectations change, so maybe the food will, too. And when the food in question is a regional specialty, I feel obliged to whole-heartedly enjoy it.
In Bra, Italy, the Piedmontese town that most embraces the Slow Food lifestyle, where the entire Bra Slow Food movement began in 1989, a local specialty is carne cruda – raw meat. To be specific, it’s raw ground beef. It is popular enough that you can find it as an appetizer (antipasto) in literally every restaurant, and the local macelleria, or butcher, of course has a supply handy. From what I’ve seen, it’s eaten as often as chicken in Bra, a small but active town of nearly 30,000.
Carne cruda looks like a hamburger ready for the grill. If the restaurant dresses it up with vegetables and forms it nicely into a flat-topped cone, it’s a raw hamburger in a flat-topped cone shape. When it’s served to you in a red, moist heap in a big platter, it’s raw hamburgers waiting to be formed. And when they shape it into a simple flat patty in Bra, Italy, it truly looks like a raw hamburger.
And nobody eats raw hamburgers.
Nobody, that is, except for the group I was with in Bra. Everyone was trying carne cruda for the first time. There were mixed responses of surprised pleasure and the inevitable, “That’s enough for me.”
I have a strong stomach and will enjoy the fifth quarter of any animal or the strongest, stinkiest cheese in your arsenal, and I will ask for more. And like I said, everyone was trying the raw meat. If everyone jumped off a bridge, I would too.
Maybe my problem with raw meat is that I imagine it will be even tastier and meatier and juicier than a cooked piece of meat. A rare steak is juicy and flavorful, so it follows that an extra-extra rare steak would be that much better.
The first bite was soft and hardly meaty. Wet and cold. It’s meat, so it should be warm, not cold; tender, not soft. But I didn’t give up. The second bite was much like the first, and so was the third. I paused, wondering why I didn’t like it. Some newcomers to this raw hamburger – I mean carne cruda – who really dug it were surreptitiously eyeing my plate. Dang it! Strong stomach, strong stomach, strong stomach. Speaking of stomach, I like a saucy, slurpy cow stomach panino di trippa, so why couldn’t I enjoy this?
My fourth bite, mixed liberally with greens, was my last. “That’s enough for me,” I said, pushing my plate to other delighted diners.
I’ve tried carne cruda at other meals with similar results. Now, I accept that I am not a bridge-jumper, and I pass up the carne cruda no matter how fast the others are devouring it.