Piedmont – trying the typical food of Novara

Wherever I go, I try to sample the local specialities. It’s a philosophy that has paid off over the years and I’ve experienced some amazing new dishes and ingredients. Unfortunately though I sometimes find myself eating something I’m really not keen on when there are other much more enjoyable (but less interesting) choices on the menu. Sad to say that this happened a few times in Novara and I didn’t really get to grips with the local cuisine as much as I’d have liked to. I did however find one place I feel I can recommend, so I’ll begin with that.

You’ll find all these places on my Google map (key top left).

Bar VinOsteria Civico27 (Intermediate A), 27 Baluardo La Marmora, www.facebook.com/

There are a few reasons I like Civico27. Firstly it’s ‘due passi’ (a stonesthrow) from the Hotel Europa where I was staying. Secondly the staff are lovely and very professional, which is why I went back a second time. Third, they are a steak restaurant serving Fassona Piemontese, the famous ‘double-muscled’ (fassone) cattle breed from the region.

I ate Fassona twice here. Both the Filetto Reale and the Tagliata di Controfiletto were top notch and cooked just how I wanted them (A/B+), which isn’t always the case in Italy.

However I’d be wary of the ‘dessert’ that was recommended to me, the ‘Il Novarese’ Gorgonzola dolce al Cucchiaio con Salsa di Cipolla Rossa di Tropea, a local sweet blue cheese with the famous sweet red onions from Tropea in Calabria. It was certainly big on flavour but I had very strange dreams all night!

By the way, Gorgonzola is a local town (on the other side of Milan) but other provinces like Novara are within the DOP. The cheese given to me was made by Latteria di Cameri which is just outside of Novara. Other brands recommended to me were Baruffaldi and Palzola. There are two main types; the less aged Gorgonzola Dolce and the longer aged Gorgonzola Piccante. I was also told to look out for a peppercorn variety by Santi or Costa.

In terms of wine, I adored (A) their Barbera d’Asti (‘Gustin’ by Rovero, sadly not available for UK delivery) so I had it both times. The Moscato di Noto (a Sicilian sweet wine) I had for dessert once was pretty good too (B).

However my favourite tipple was the local digestive bitter Dulcamara (by Rovero in Asti again). I liked it so much that I bought a bottle to take home, much to the pleasure of the waiter who discounted it to 20€ for me). It’s not quite as nice as my favourite Amaro di Capo but it’s getting there.

I chose the next three places because they all serve local cuisine, but none scored higher than a C sadly…

Trattoria Cavallino Bianco (Intermediate C), 2a Vicolo Arco, instagram.com

‘The Little White Horse’ was recommended to me by the hotel receptionist as a good place to try local specialities. It’s fairly near the Hotel Europa but hidden down a rather dark alley off Corso Felice Cavallotti. It’s quite small and not very busy but the lady serving me was pleasant enough.

I had the three course ‘Menu Cupola’ which began with the ‘Antipasto Novarese’. At top right we have Mortadella di Fegato (liver sausage) of which there are two types; cooked (mortadella d’orta) and raw (fidighin or fideghina). I think I had the cooked version which has a coarser consistency. I wasn’t keen enough to finish it though (D). At the bottom is some Lardo, which has grown on me over the years but wasn’t exactly what I wanted after the liver (C). Top left is some Salami d’la Duja which takes its name from the terracotta container (la doja) in which it is left to mature. Again edible but not great (C). The Gorgonzola in the middle was the only thing I truly enjoyed (B).

For my main course, I followed up with another local delicacy (from Borgomanero, a village just outside Novara) called Tapulon con Polenta, a donkey stew served here with big floppy slabs of solidified maize porridge, which has to be one of the worst looking dishes I’ve ever been served in Italy! I’ve eaten equine meats many times before (in Sardinia for example, my post here) and quite enjoyed it but this dish of donkey mince stewed in red wine and spices really didn’t do much for me (C-), and I barely made a dent on the polenta (D+).

According to this legend, related by Italian Wikipedia via Google Translate, ‘the recipe was created by thirteen hungry pilgrims who, returning from a visit to the sanctuary of San Giulio d’Orta, stopped in the place where Borgomanero stands today. Having run out of food supplies, they cooked a donkey that followed them. To mitigate the hardness of the animal’s meat, these were finely chopped and cooked for a long time in wine. The company liked the dish so much that it convinced them to settle permanently in the place of the meal, where a village was founded which constituted the nucleus of today’s Borgomanero’.

Personally I’m the opposite, I’d rather move out of the village than have to eat Tapulon again.

Things improved for dessert with the Coppa delle Monache (a glass of marscapone, fresh cream and shortbread biscuits with forest fruits) and a glass of dessert wine (both B).

And I was cheered further by a shot of Amaro di Langa, a bitter made from aromatic plants like genepy and gentian which are typical of the Piedmontese mountains (B-).

Having now lost faith in the hotel receptionist’s recommendations, I had high hopes for this place due to it being the only entry for Novara in the usually trustworthy Osterie d’Italia 2019 guide.

Trattoria dello Stadio (Intermediate C), 2c Via Nicolao Sottile

It is a nice old place (if a bit of a hike from the Hotel Europa) but my choices let me down sadly. Like a sucker for punishment I went for the cured meats again with the Salume di Nostri Colline (‘cured meats from our hills’) for my antipasto. The olives and cured hams were fine (B-) but I maintained my opinion of the Salami d’la Duja (C) and Mortadella di Fegato (D). Not sure what the other salami like meat was called but that wasn’t great either (C-).

For my primo I was impressed by the fact the menu listed three kinds of risotto rice; two types of Carnaroli and one called Vitalone Nano, all locally grown. However, my language skills let me down here and I just nodded my head all the way through the server’s long explanation about the differences between the rices. I completely forgot to ask what was in the risotto, so I was a bit disppointed when I ended up with a completely bland, albeit perfectly cooked, Risotto Bianca.

Again the dessert and a glass of sweet wine saved the day, although I don’t recall what it was.

The homemade digestif, made by the father of the proprietress, was absolutely knockout though (A).

I’d probably come back to give them another chance. Maybe the pandemic and the time of year limited the options on their very brief menu.

Finally I took the advice of the teacher I was working with, and came here…

Circolo della Paniscia aka Soms ‘San Martino’ (Intermediate C), 1F Perazzi, www.circolodellapaniscia.com

Paniscia is a kind of risotto that’s typical in Novara. According to the website of ‘Paniscia Club’ the recipe of the restraurant owner’s grandmother included coarse-grained rice (Razza or Ostiglia), a pig’s tail, pork rinds, lard, liver mortadella, leeks, green beans, onion, celery, a cabbage leaf, a few potatoes, some “Pitascio” (a fragrant field herb) and a glass of Barbera. Other recipes include salam d’la duja, borlotti beans, savoy cabbage and carrots.

Things didn’t start well when the proprietress raised her voice at me because I couldn’t get the key for the wifi to work. I spent quite a while trying to get it up and running to no avail, until I noticed that she’d misspelled the name of her own restaurant in the over-complicated password!

It got worse when she told me that they only make Paniscia on certain days, which was quite a disappointment as I’d just walked a fair way to get there. Why on earth would you name your restaurant after a dish that’s not on the menu! With my reason for being there thwarted, I scoured the menu for something interesting and finally settled on the Parpadelle alle Cinghiale, pasta with boar’s meat ragu, which was fine (B) if unexciting, and not very photogenic.

When I declined any further food or drink and insisted on the bill, the waiter reported back that I was unhappy and to her credit the owner came over to try and make amends. She gave me a large Cupolotto di Novara (a typical local sweet made with hazelnuts) to go home with (B). I would go back, because I really want to try Paniscia, but I’d phone ahead to check if they’re making it first.

It was at this point that I gave up on the local cuisine and went for a pizza…

Ristorante Pizzeria Centro (Elementary B), 9 Corso Felice Cavallotti, www.pizzeriaristorantecentro.it

This pizzeria is very handy for the Hotel Europa and according to the teacher it’s the best place in town for one. I went for my usual order of a big mixed salad followed by a Margarita di Bufala (using buffalo milk mozzarella) which were both fine (B). There’s nothing to look at decor-wise in the big back room decor and the service isn’t particularly friendly, but it was efficient and the food was fine. Also the bill came in at next to nothing so it’s a good spot if you’re on a budget.

Hotel Europa (Intermediate C), 38 Corso Felice Cavallotti, www.hoteleuropanovara.com

As I mentioned earlier, I stayed at the Hotel Europa, a dingy, unremarkable hotel within walking distance of the station (left out of the station, go straight for ten minutes, turn right after you go under the bridge, the hotel is on the left). Although it’s a bit old and dingy, the staff were lovely. Breakfast is okay. It was persimmon season when I was there and they were eager for me to try their local variety. A point of interest for me as a linguist is that, although persimmon come from China originally (only introduced to Italy in 1880), the Italians use the Japanese name for it, ‘kaki’, although they would write it ‘cachi’.

And that’s it for Novara. It wasn’t all bad, there were a few good food and drink experiences, and I did see some lovely buildings (see my previous two posts).

Onwards to Milan!

2 thoughts on “Piedmont – trying the typical food of Novara”

  1. Hi Mate – I think that they gave you the ‘joke dish’. I think that it was Bill Bryson who wrote about this in ‘Neither Here nor There’ when said he’s sure that some restaurants give unsuspecting customers a ‘local’ (invented dish,usually something that they’ve had for days and can’t shift it)…in your case donkey stew with polenta…to see if it’s eaten!!!

    1. 😀 😀 😀 I’m sure using stuff up is the reason behind many set menus, no doubt they had a freezer full of minced donkey they needed to shift 😀
      Don’t think it was invented though as it did come up quite a lot in my research.
      I think I’m done with donkey now though, I’ve only enjoyed it once in the half dozen times I’ve tried it

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