Friday, March 2, 2012
Food and art indistinguishable at our favorite Padova pasticceria
Two characteristics that distinguish Italy are its food and its art. Perhaps the finest example of the blending of these two is a pasticceria, where food and art are indistinguishable. No better example of this exists than Gianfranco Vecchiato Fornaio Pasticceri, located in Padova’s Piazza della Frutta since 1889. Our stated purpose for going there is to buy pane integrale, a dark, grainy, flavorful bread, but we can rarely resist buying some dolci as well.
The artistic element of this negozio is evident the moment we walk in and are greeted by two cheerful bakers in colorful, quaint outfits. Behind the glass counters are dozens of white, yellow, tan and brown pastries, each carefully shaped for a different visual effect. Powdered sugar and various jelled fruits and nuts are used to provide color and texture. Creative names have been attached to many dolci throughout their history: occhio di bue (eye of ox), panzerotto (broken bellies) and ossa morti (bones of the dead).
We could easily complain (all right, I confess, I sometimes do complain) that Italian pastries sometimes don’t taste as good as they look. This is because they don’t use as much butter and sugar as American sweets, so they are not as moist. But this is also part of the secret of the slim figures we see on nearly everyone here. In the end, we are thankful, because otherwise we would either have to avoid the pasticceria or risk packing on unwanted pounds of fat.
The merchandise that really distinguishes Vecchiato Forniao from other bakeries is displayed in the room of chocolate art. Here, light and dark chocolate have been poured into molds of amazing detail. I really appreciate the detailed machine shop items—hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, nuts and bolts, padlocks with skeleton keys, wire cutters, files and gears. Modern technology is also included, with a variety of cell phones, CDs and light bulbs. Customers more nature-oriented can purchase chocolate bears, beavers, anteaters, chickens and rabbits. Sports enthusiasts can find soccer balls and even an American football. While I greatly admire the artistry, I never purchase any. It would feel coarse and insensitive to destroy these masterpieces by indulging my taste buds. It is enough for me to visit this free museum of art every week to see what I missed the last time.