(Photos by © Brandon Elijah Scott / Eye & Pen)
I walked down a weaving stone path in the medieval town of Edinburgh, Scotland. My mouth watered as I was in search of the famous local Italian market, the Valvona & Crolla. I bypassed charming historic stone cottages and whimsical mom and pop shops, until I found myself staring upward at cluster of tall modern buildings. There were business men at work in these buildings, toiling trouble and plotting the eventual world take over, no doubt. As the road curved and my jaunt slowed and I searched step by step for safe footing, my eyes caught sight of a large roundabout intersection and a pile of stores lining each side of the street; I continued forward. Trying to take in each sight, sound and interesting detail, I mistakenly passed by my targeted destination. Once I realized this, I looked back and began to jog, backtracking to the light grey storefront. Painted above the doorway were the words “Valvona & Crolla, established 1934.” My heart leapt and my stomach gave me a lustful growl.
I entered the threshold and I first noticed pots, pans, peppers and plenty of large legs of meat from the butcher hanging from the racks attached to the ceiling. To my left, the shelves rose to meet the ceiling, full of sauces and noodles and various goodies. On my right, an older gentlemen was standing behind the glass case nearest me, brandishing a smile and asking if he could be of some service to me. I thanked him and declined, and slowly I moved throughout the shop to take in the brilliant sights of the market. I had never been to a place like this before. In the states, most of the markets are like large department stores, with nothing fresh and local, with no truly handmade products on the shelves. Behind the man, there was a large collection of Italian wines and scotch whiskies. Eventually, I moved on toward the back of the shop revealing the selection of breads, cheeses and olive oils. I sampled everything I could get my hands on. I’m a relatively picky eater, thus why I do not blog about food often enough, but everything was impeccable and scrumptious.
A soft light protruded from around a corner adjacent from the main area of the long market, where a few steps lead upward toward a skylit enclosure. Curiosity had gripped me and I peeked around the corner to find a wonderful little restaurant. A handful of people were sitting at wooden tables and an apron-laden woman waved me to a table nearest the barista bar. The room was decorated modestly with living flora, which were arranged throughout the aisle-ways and against the walls. A young man greeted me, bowing, and offered me a set of menus. Everything sounded amazing at this point and I went for a true pleasure of mine – seafood and noodles in olive oil. I was brought some sort of seedy bread to dip in even more olive oil. I guess the free samples from the market didn’t fill me up – but I could feel my pores squirming uneasily.
The other customers were of good company as I sat alone; they unknowingly kept me entertained. People watching is a favorite pastime of mine; there’s just something about it that entertains, intrigues and helps with my creativity and thought process. Closest to me I overheard the thick-accent of two elderly ladies from northern Scotland (or so I had guessed), who spoke of their husbands, their farms and their grandchildren who had just been born. In front of me there was a young couple who looked to be from the Baltics. They were solemn and dewy-eyed, with hands held, staring into each other’s eyes. I looked away feeling as though I was intruding on their private and special moment. Lastly, my eyes wandered into the far corner where an older man was lounging, three cups of coffee in front of him, while he read a small paperback. His long, thick, grizzled beard twitched every second or two as I watched him alternate between folding over the next page and drinking large gulps from his white porcelain cup. The consistent cling of his cup tapping the small plate underneath was like a beat, which for a split second my mind was processing the collective sounds of the room’s inhabitance and their mixture of echoey tones as if the room had come alive and was attempting to make music with the resource of the raw ambiance.
The orchestral composition halted once the young waiter sat my food on the table in front of me. Part of me felt disappointed – I missed the music. A ghostly shadow of the masterpiece remained, like a strong melodic hook. I looked down at my plate and was instantly intrigued, and the music began to fade into the distance. Overcome by the rumbles of wanting that consumed my body, influenced by my stomach, I picked up my fork, twisted the noodles around a few times and jabbed some crab on the tip. I found myself unable to stop from refilling my utensil full of food, over and over again. It was tasty and full, with just the right amount of flavor, oil and spice. I was entranced, never distracted from my own little bowl of heaven. Filled to the brim and ready to take on the world, a renewed spring in my step carried me out of the market’s front door and onto the street. My final thought would carry with me and revisit me every time I enjoyed Italian or bowl of noodles – Valvona & Crolla was perhaps the best Italian I’ve ever had, which easily rivals the tourist garbage that I was fed on my first European trek to Italy.
(Photos by © Brandon Elijah Scott / Eye & Pen)
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