Osteria Santo Stefano: the extraordinary normality of italian provinces

Piacenza has the scent of the North of Italy, of bourgeois solidity and hard-working wealth. It has clean and spacious roads, ancient and modern buildings, churches and squares.

I arrived on a market day: there were swarms of bicycles and fruit stalls mixed with clothes ones.
Unfortunately markets no longer have the scent they had in the past: they smell of poverty and chaos, of confusion and dirt. This is a shame because the city has the flavour of the past and this market is set in such a beautiful square it's a bit of a smack in the face.
Before lunch I had a coffee at the bar with the Saturday regulars: I ask for my coffee in a glass cup and they look at me as if I were from outer space. Italy is still like this: thousands of different customs and habits united by a unique sense of shared belonging.
In a central lane, between old stores and up the road from what will soon become the city's Eataly, there is a nice contemporary trattoria, which has an antique and yet very modern feel.
Inside everything works: wood tables, old chairs, the right glasses and the blackboard that reveals dishes being served that day.
The territory can be easily traced in the menu, with classic dishes of this corner of Emilia Romagna that already has the scent of Lombardia, some moderate international variations of fashionable flavour, but justified by a habitual, solid and local clientele.
They appear people coming here more than once a week and probably are tired of the usual pisarei e faso or tortelli (local specialities) that we are after, but that they are accustomed to, which is why they prefer a Mediterranean burrata with artichoke.
The wine list is very nice, thought-out and carefully selected, the result of a healthy passion for artisan and gastronomic wines. The young and informal service runs on velvet.
I have no doubts, Piacenza orthodoxy: we start with heavenly, delicious and gluttonous cold cuts, especially the coppa piacentina accompanied by giardiniera (pickled vegetables), vigorous in its bursting vinegary tone and with a crunchy consistency.
Then the bomba di riso (rice bomb) filled with pigeon meat, a deliciously merry slightly oven burnt flavour with a sumptuous and elegant filling.
One of those dishes that remind one of Sunday lunches of the past, of mist and cold. I can’t but help thinking that regional Italian cuisine is a terrific legacy, made of everlasting knowledge and traditions.
We then moved on to the unavoidable tortelli piacentini, which were delicious and that we washed down with a bottle of Trebbiolo de La Stoppa, which worked a treat and was finished before we started to ask too many questions.
We didn't have enough room left for further courses, but the pork cheek I set eyes on at a neighbouring table seemed sensational and plush. Just enough room left for a tempting slice of sbrisolona with a glass of Catavela: a marriage of love.
How nice Italian lunches are, different at every latitude, but in the end always the same.

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