April 24th, 2017
Padova is about 40 km east of Venice. It became part of the Venetian Republic in 1405 and remained so until the fall of the Serenissima in 1797.
We arrived by train about 10:30 in the morning and headed straight down the Corso del Poppolo to the Café Pedrocchi. But our progress was stopped by a student from the university who asked us very politely if we would like to participate in a survey. I tend to like to answer survey questions because I like to think that I do learn something about the survey sponsor by doing so. The survey questions were about public bathrooms! It was part of the research for a thesis. I often ponder on this issue of bathrooms in Italy. Did the Romans not have running water in their homes two thousand years ago? Yes, and so with that long history in plumbing – why is every bathroom you try to use in a bar or wherever — guasto? Or filthy? Or lacking in the basic elements like paper? The premise of the thesis it seems from the questions is this – If there were a “chain” of public toilets in every Italian city would you use them? The survey questions included how much we would be willing to pay for the use and whether or not we would be willing to sit on the toilet seat?!?!? It seems that the answer so far to the last question was that “no” Italian women would not sit! Only in Italy could there still be a debate about providing clean toilets in public places.
There were groups of tourists about, all students. But they were small groups and did not obstruct your ability to move around and see things. In fact, we latched on to a couple of groups and actually enjoyed listening to the guides. We learned that the Café Pedrocchi has been open for almost two centuries. The exterior design is half classical half Venetian Gothic – from the outside you would have no idea it was a café. Coffee consumption by the bourgeoisie of Europe grew very popular during the 18th century. In 1772 Francesco Pedrocchi of Bergamo saw an opportunity and opened a café at a locations near the University of Padua, the town hall, and the markets. It became the central hub, the social heartbeat of the city. But from the beginning Pedrocchi wanted the café to also be inclusive where students with little money could get a glass of water, sit, read newspapers, keep warm, and discuss the issues of the day. The last owner of the café left it to the city with the caveat that the tradition must continue.
The coffee and pastries were delicious and still today at the bar where there are tables available to sit and enjoy them without the servizio a tavola surcharge. And the green room is still there with people tranquilly enjoying a coffee.
We headed down the Via Cesare Battisti interesting because most of the street is portico covered. Along the way we saw a Posta Italiana bicycle parked outside a bar (café). I thought what a great photo that would make. I did not realize that the bar owner and the postmen were looking at us out the window. I heard them laugh and I heard them say something so I beckoned them to come out and they gladly posed for a photo too!
This was one of the things that really impressed me about Padova. Everyone we came in contact with was genuinely welcoming.
We found the Osteria that we were looking for. It did not appear to be open and the sign for the opening hours seemed to suggest that it was closed on Mondays. But then a man brushed passed us as we were trying to figure out whether or not it would be closed today. Another hand written sign made reference to April 24th Monday and April 25th a holiday – Della Liberazione.
He went in carrying a paper bag full of bread. He asked what seemed to be the chef if they were serving lunch today. “SI “was the answer. He then turned to us and asked us if we wanted to reserve and we said “si grazie”! Then he drove away in his small delivery truck. What lucky timing for us. If he had not arrived at that exact time with his bread we would not have a reservation and as we were eating our lunch we saw that the tables were all booked and people were being turned away. We would not have had that delicious lunch without his thoughtfulness and help to strangers.
We had about 45 minutes before the Osteria opened so we walked all the way to the end of the Via Cesare Battisti as far as the Ponte Pontecorvo. The ponte crosses a canal. Houses with balconies that almost hover over the canal line both sides of the water. What a historic and lovely setting I thought as I watched a woman water the flowering plants on her balcony, but with a fair amount of privacy as my view was obscured by the lush greenery. It was a relaxing little spot, a man playing an accordion, people picking up a paper at the newsstand, bicyclists going by with their groceries.
The Osteria was a tiny, narrow space with an open kitchen at the back. There were only 8 or 9 small tables lined up the length of the room. It is called “Ai scarponi” in dialletto – an Osteria was a place where labourers went for a quick lunch. The labourers wore heavy work boots – scarponi. The name is actually a very common one for an Osteria.
Now however it is quite gentrified and you need a reservation to eat lunch there. But we were made to feel welcome right away . We did not feel uncomfortable to have only an antipasto and a primo which is another thing I liked about the place.
We thoroughly enjoyed the little bag of dark bread crusty with seeds and nuts that accompanied the ample Antipasto plate that was very varied, a little bit traditional and a little bit eclectic and just plain delicious.
The Antipasto included:
Polpo – Octopus salad with tomatoes, celery, arugula, baby greens
Crostini with almond pesto and burrata
Baccala mantecato – Dried Atlantic cod, soaked, poached and whipped until mousse-like served on grilled polenta.
Pulled chicken mojito – very eclectic flavors
Asparagus spear with egg garlic aiolo
Cozze- Mussels in delicious wine broth
We did split the Antipasto between the two of us!
And then onto “il Primo” – bigoli – a traditional pasta from the Veneto. It is a long, thickish pasta with a bit of a rough exterior to better hold the ragu. And it was a very savory white meat ragu – veal, pork, duck, rabbit. All absolutely delicious especially accompanied with a glass of the house white.
We could now continue our walk about Padova happily well fed!