Long before the book “Eat, Pray, Love,” I went to Italy to find myself. I was twenty-five, unhappy and a religious Jew. This meant I was strictly kosher, and the list of foods I wasn’t allowed to eat was extensive.
I arrived in Rome with a guidebook and dictionary, but no itinerary. After considering the names on the destination board at Termini train station, I bought a one-way ticket for Naples. It was March, already cold and rainy, and I thought “finding myself” might be made easier by a warmer climate.
On the train from Rome to Naples, I chatted with a computer-geek Roman who’d grown up in Naples and was on his way to visit family. He recommended his favorite place to eat along the Amalfi coast and before he could sing the praises of the not-to-be-missed specialty, I told him that I kept kosher and what that meant.
He was incredulous. Surely, I would at least try the seafood while in the region, he said. Just one dish of risotto pescatore, he suggested, and then I could resume my kosher ways. I should have just said that I’d do it, but for some reason I told him the truth. Kosher is kosher. No seafood risotto. No spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams). No cozze alla marinara (mussels in tomato sauce).
Clearly, the seafood deprivation horrified him most of all. After his shock subsided, the guy was just sad for me.
But I’d been kosher all my life. I didn’t know what I was missing and didn’t care. Food was part of my life, but it wasn’t a major focus. All that was about to change. Read more