I love Parma. It’s not crowded with tourists (yet!) like Florence or Rome; it’s small enough to wander about but not so vast as to feel overwhelmed. The locals are warm and friendly. The streets and squares are timeless and picturesque, lined with cathedrals and buildings coloured in sandy brown, cream and beige, with the occasional bold terracotta and romantic salmon peeking out unexpectedly, as if they soaked up the Italian sun and are radiating its glorious warmth.
I am especially enchanted by the wooden shutters, painted in interesting hues of green and blue, that accent every window. And… the food, oh the food. It’s the main reason why each time we drive to Italy, we make sure to stop over in this city, even for just a day or two, simply to enjoy the cuisine.
So where and what to eat in Parma?
What I’m about to recommend is delicious and a little peculiar. Salumeria Garibaldi is a “cold cut store” selling delicatessen. With so many restaurants to try in Parma, one would not think about grabbing a meal here. True, you do not get the white table cloth and wine glass experience. The make-shift tables are foldable and you sit on a tall stool, something I typically dislike because me with my short legs, I always feel like I will topple over any time. However, with almost all the restaurants closing after lunch service, Salumeria Garibaldi is one of the few places that is still opened at three in the afternoon where a hungry traveller can sit down to a tasty, local meal to fill her up till dinner time.
Upon entering the air-conditioned store, the galore of cold cuts, cheeses, wine and assortment of pastas, salads and side dishes soon distracted me. This was after all a food store so the dining part was not the main focus. After letting the staff know we were there for a bite, we were led to the corner where a few other tables were already occupied. You can ask the staff for recommendation or let them know the exact items you wish to have. With a little Italian on my part and a little English from the staff, we were able to put together an order.
We started with a platter of cold cuts (Parma ham, Culatello di Zibello, salami) and parmesan cheese, and asked for the torta fritta, a greasy fried dough that reminded me of doughnut. For drinks, the Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine hailing from the region, is sweet and refreshing.
I personally like to have some vegetables for every meal so it was really convenient that I could go up to the display case to look at the various vegetable dishes before ordering some cooked broccoli and cauliflower, which the staff warmed up in the microwave and brought to our table. I noticed the people from the table next to us order some Parma ham tortellini in cream, that was also warmed up in the microwave and brought to them. During the whole time we were in the store, I saw several locals stop by to do their shopping and chat amicably with the staff. That’s one of my litmus test for whether to patronise a restaurant or food place – do the locals go there too?
Between the Parma ham and Culatello di Zibello, I prefer the latter. This is a cured meat from the muscle of a pig’s hind limb. It tastes slightly more delicate than the Parma ham and Parma is one of the few places where you could find the Culatello, so it’s definitely worth trying.
If you want a taste of Parma while getting a glimpse of the daily life of the locals, head to Salumeria Garibaldi. Do not be put off by the “lack of service” like you would expect from a restaurant since this is a delicatessen store first and foremost. With a little friendliness, a “buongiorno” here and a “grazie” there, you will experience the real Parma and perhaps return time and again like I do.
Str. Giuseppe Garibaldi, 42, 43121 Parma PR, Italy
Closed on Sundays.