Yep, that’s right. A snail fest.
And before you all squeal with disgust, let me preface this by saying that lumache (ciammaruca, in the ciociara dialect) al sugo is a time-honored traditional cuisine in central Italy. Why, Grandma Iole used to make it when FB was but a wee child racing the streets of Testaccio.
We coaxed my car, La Musette, out of her comfortable parking space on Sunday morning and took off to the quaint little town of Sambuci, less than an hour away from Rome, nestled atop a hill off the A24 highway. My friend SI was my co-captain in this mission; he is my favorite sagra (festival) companion (this is our fourth sagra together) for various reasons. 1) He loves road trips, 2) we have the same taste in music and he makes the best bubble-gum-pop playlists, 3) he is our designated sober driver when we all have one too many glasses of wine, and 4) he has the most soothing, calming, air about him that any worry, stress, or sadness magically disappears when you see his smile and bop your head in time together to The Mickey Mouse Club.
The town of Sambuci, located about 35km east of Rome, has a population of 962, who are dear and kind, and all who were curious about the random Asian lady eating a plate of snails and snapping pictures of townsfolk. The town boasts a gorgeous castle and garden, Castello Theodoli, built in the 13th century, and this was the site of the festival. FB and I opted for the traditional fettucine con ciammaruche with pecorino cheese, and a bowl of ciammaruche al sugo (made with tomatoes, white wine, onions, peperoncino, and mint). The lumache were both extremely delicate and superbly tasty – reminiscent of wild mushrooms. The marriage of the snails with the sauce was excellent, with a consistency similar to vongole or other shellfish.
For the squeamish, no fear. SI was hesitant to try to snails but the sagra also had delicious home-made fettucine with simple tomato sauce or pesto – made by the lovely signore of the village – and wonderful bbq-ed sausages and porchetta sandwiches. We sat in the shade of the beautiful castle grounds, sipping our wine, our eyes lazily drooping.
On our way back to Rome, we decided to take a mini detour/adventure to the hilltop town of Saracinesco. This was SI’s ingenious idea. None of us had heard of this place and we had no idea where it was or what kind of surprises it would bring.
As it turns out, Saracinesco is the cutest little place you can ever imagine. 40km north-east of Rome, the teeny-tiny town of 170 inhabitants towers 900m above the Aniene river valley.
We huffed and puffed to the top of the town, oohing and aahing at the pretty little houses, colorfully dressed with flowers and bright laundry. We felt a little like the Pied Piper, when the local kids followed us up the hill, abandoning their street-side card game, and marveled at the sheer gorgeousness of the town.
I was especially touched by the teeny tiny doors of all the houses; none measuring more than 1.5 meters in height. In short (literally), smaller than me!
We slowly hiked down back to Musette, popped in The Hazey Janes, and quietly rumbled back to our city homes in Rome. I’ve been particularly pensive lately about life stuff and a day trip get-away with my favorite sagra companion, breathing delicious clean air, living the slowlife and sipping my ice-cold beer in a piazza filled with children playing cards instead of video games finally put my crowded mind at ease; even if only for a moment.