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Living the Vita Bella

Living the Vita Bella
When Irish chef Clodagh McKenna moved to Turin, she settled into a life of slow-food restaurants, guanduja chocolate and Europe’s largest outdoor food market. Here, she takes us on her daily travels.
Each morning I arise to the bustling sound of the market below my bedroom window on Piazza Madama Cristina. I pop on my espresso machine and, with the sun beating down upon my shoulders, sip a coffee on the balcony whilst watching the stallholders setting up for the day ahead.

But today is Saturday, and I shop at another market called Porto Palazzo - the largest outdoor food market in Europe.You can easily get lost in its maze of stalls, which sell everything from exotic fruits and fresh fish from Liguria, to boxes of blood oranges from Sicily and peppers from Carmanogla (a small village just outside of Turin famous for its pepper produce).

Bag overflowing with delicious food from the market, I head to a restaurant run by the Rota family called Antiche Sere, to meet a friend for lunch. You know you’re at the right place when the grandfather Mauro greets you at the door. He leads us to my favourite vine-covered table in the back garden. The menu rarely changes except to accommodate seasonal vegetables, but who cares when the food is this good! The Tomini al Verde (tiny Toma cheese balls in an anchovy sauce) are excellent; the Potato Salame is not to be missed! I devour the Gnocchi in a Sausage Ragù, which is out of this world; and finish the meal with a Zabajone Bonet (a chocolate, rum and coffee, doughnut-shaped amoretti).The Barolo wine is excellent and extremely reasonably priced, but I resist as I am heading out for dinner later that night. But the meal would be incomplete without a digestif, so I order a glass of Barolo Chianto - a spicy liqueur made from Nebbiolo grapes and herbs from the Langhe.

I head back home and unpack my glorious foods for the week
Living the Vita Bella
ahead, dedicate two hours in my office and after I’ve guilt-freed my day, stroll down to the city’s finest chocolatier, the Gobino Chocolate Shop to buy a few ‘guanduja’ chocolates. Then I slip around to Mole Antonelliana, the building that houses the National Cinema museum. You can settle here on sumptuous sofas to consume a mouthful of Gobino’s gastronomic history, whilst feasting your eyes on Italy’s cinematic masterpieces in the most beautiful building in the city. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Having lounged for an hour, I feel a bit sleepy and think a glass of Bicerin is in order. A layered drink of coffee, chocolate and milk, it was invented for aristocratic women craving a pick-me-up and a gossip after respecting the Eucharistic fast, and is every bit as excellent as The Three Musketeers’ author Alexandre Dumas once pronounced it. I head off to the eponymous Al Bicerin café at the Piazza della Consolata, where it was invented. Opened in 1763, this is an elegant wood-paneled establishment decorated with beautiful old mirrors, marble tables and subtly evocative lighting. And the drink is liquid decadence!
Fuelled with coffee and chocolate I take the long route home, walking alongside the Po River whilst the sun glistens on the water and rowers strain their muscles as they glide past.

In the evening, I head approximately 40 minutes west, to the Langhe region, home to many of the world’s most sumptuous food and wine; white truffles of Alba; Tonda Gentile hazelnuts; wonderful cheeses, such as Toma Murazzano; and the rich, red, smoky Barolo wine. Tonight I am heading to the small town of Bra, home of Slow Food. Having lived here a few years ago, I know the town well and am keen to revisit a favourite establishment, Boccondivino, the official Slow Food restaurant.

But before dinner I meet friends at Converso, an award-winning café on Via Vittorio Emmanuelle. Lined with wooden panels, the café has a beautiful marble-top counter and serves fantastic aperitivos. While I catch up on all the local village gossip, we sip Prosecco from a great producer called Ferrari, and nibble on the local spiced raw Bra sausage and fresh brioche with cheese. A couple of aperitivos later we slip around the corner to Boccondivino and devour plates of Vitello Tonnato (thinly sliced veal served with tuna mayonnaise), followed by homemade Tagliolini (made with 20 eggs per kilo of flour) wrapped in sage butter. To finish, Panna Cotta is a must. Food writers, gastronomes and locals alike go giddy for this dessert. And I must agree; I would fall on my fork for a second helping! It’s creamy and delicately scented, with just a whisper of Vanilla.

On my way home, I think to myself, “Yes, it was a bit of a risk making this move from Ireland three years ago (with not a word of Italian). But I always believe in waking up to your dreams…
Address Book:
Antiche Sere
Via Cenischia 9, Turin. Tel: +39 011 3854347
Via Cagliari 15, Turin. Tel: +39 011 2476245
Al Bicerin
Piazza della Consolata 5, Turin. Tel: +39 011 4369325
Via Vittorio Emmanuelle 199, Bra. Tel: +39 0172 413626
Via Mendicita 14, Bra. Tel: +39 0172 425674
Further Information: Piemonte Tourism ( and the Italian State Tourist Board (
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31 March 2009
By: Clodagh McKenna
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