Monday, May 21, 2007

Chestnuts: An Exposé

If you walk around Rome in winter, you will see the chestnut sellers. They crouch by their tin griddles, poking at the delicately sliced chestnuts which are toasting thereon in glossy, concentric rings. On a wet evening in February when the smoke is twining upward, the urge to fork over your euros to them becomes overpowering. Chestnuts are one of those things that many people like without ever having tried them. Like a Californian poet writing warmly of nightingales (a bird which, for most Californians, is more fantastic than the phoenix), I once savored the chestnuts of my imagining. "Fresh firecoal chestnut... falls... roasting on an open fire... Yum." I held out until my second-to-last day in Rome, though. Sarah and I were coming down the Spanish Steps, and to our amazement the chestnut sellers were out in force. (It was the end of April and it already felt like July, for crying out loud.) Each stand sported a bristling crozier of chestnut leaves and spiky seedpods with a hypnotic green lamp hanging from the end, and the bitter smoke purled from each brazier like a genie.

"I just have to try some."

Sarah declined to follow me, but encouraged me all the same.

The chestnut-selling man took his bamboo tongs and dropped the chestnuts one by one into a cone of brown paper. After paying him and setting out for the Spagna metro stop, I started to evaluate the snack out loud, dictating my impressions to the long-suffering Sarah. This is how it all broke down:

Smell: Quite appealing. Woodsmoke, of course. Closer to a campfire in the wilderness than the sweet chimney smoke you smell at home. 7/10.

: The shell looks like stained hardwood and is a bit shiny. It is split along the top. Inside, you can see the nut which is cream-colored and wrinkly. When you split the kernel open it is a dull creamy color... and there is a part in the center that looks remarkably like canned tuna. Ew. The shell gets a 9/10, the inside gets a 3/10, and the whole thing gets a 5/10. Meh.

Taste: Chestnuts taste like big garbanzo beans. They are slightly sweeter and the texture is pretty much the same. These particular chestnuts were devoid of salt. But I don't think that even a big hit of sodium chloride could have helped them. 1/10.

Verdict: chickpea fanatics in paradise!!

If you've always wanted to try roast chestnuts, don't let this review hold you back. They aren't repulsive, they're just bland. But please don't pay €10 for them like I did.


Anonymous said...

Hi Meredith! This is Jenny Baer. I'm glad you're enjoying Rome! I spent last Fall in Florence and loved it! My host parents would bring home Chestnuts from their country home and we would roast them in the oven and then soak them in our cups of red wine before eating them. Have you been to St'Estachio for cafe yet? It sounds like you're going to Florence... email me if you want any recommendations! You NEED to get pizza at "Il Pizzaiuolo" on Via di Macci 113/R (near Santa Croce). Anyway, have a good time!
Ciao Ciao!

Lost Noldo said...

>poke< Heya! I've been reading your blog and I promise I'll come up with a profound comment to post soon to go with your _very_ worthy posts!:) But for now, just a quick comment- 10E for chestnuts?! I hope you got a lot of them! They were about... two quid for a bag in London 8 years ago and even allowing for inflation...>attempts to do mental math. Fails. Goes to sleep< I'll write more soon!;)

Andreth said...

I think that may be hyperbole. I was there, and distinctly remember her paying 5 euro. She's right about the taste though; never tasted anything quite so unexpected!