The most famous trattoria in Italy doesn’t have checkered tablecloths, it doesn’t have a history, it isn’t located in some bucolic countryside and it is even run by a somewhat large-ish gentleman. It doesn’t even cook traditional dishes. It goes against everything that has ever been recreated in the Little Italy’s abominations that seem so popular across the globe. The most famous trattoria of il Bel Paese is in Milan, it was opened three years ago by two thirty year olds and yet, it is a symbol of what Italian cooking is today.
If this was an article like any other I’d be speaking about ‘emotional connections’, ‘smells’, ‘prime ingredients’, ‘seasonality’ and the ‘resurrection of traditional cooking techniques.’ I would naturally be talking to you about the essential elements of taste, how ‘one learnt from their grandmother’ and how it is about ‘Italian patrimony’ and naturally, you would be bored, if not asleep.
We’re in the economic capital of Italy, the one of design and fashion, so instead, let me talk to you about marketing, tendencies, gaps in the market as big as houses. I will talk to you about an example of restaurant and business success, which cannot be underestimated. At Trippa there is no smoke without fire.
It’s hard to explain to those that haven’t lived the ‘Milan culinary experience’, even to those that live just a few kilometers away would struggle to understand it; yet we are in Italy and in Milan you eat bad food, and you spend too much. Restaurants sprout like mushrooms, everything is “gourmet”, from the humble hamburger to the ‘ready made salad.’ Milan has deleted its gastronomic past, and traditional teachings.
Cotolette alla milanese and risotti allo zafferano, known across the world feature heavily in the major tourist hot spots, and hidden recommendations (for €30 – talk about popular culture). They target the 30 year olds, trying to take center stage with unique ideas and niche market suggestions. It doesn’t matter if the end result is as depressing as one could never imagine like a bowl of hawaiian poke or as pointless as sushi burritos. I’m telling you, as a Milanese, we eat everything, including insects; we just need to be convinced that it is trendy.
In a city where everyone is on a diet, bewitched by a planned obsolescence of an avocado and Michelin starred restaurants with mini portions at crazy prices, Trippa is bucking the trend. Whilst others open street food outlets, hipster bistrots, sushi bars and cocktail lounges, they have resurrected the idea of a local trattoria.
It has two windows, forty covers, chairs made from wood and straw and a single serving of food and cutlery. It’s nice, you eat traditional Italian cuisine, and is anything but, light. There is nothing exotic or flamboyant and you pay a fair price. The result? Normal people, gourmet chefs and VIPs (from Ducasse to REM) all looking for a table. Since opening day, there has been a waiting list. Why? Because no one is really trying to compete with them.
The romanticised idea that Italians are these loyal servants of daily, freshly prepared meals is shattered when you visit the freezer aisle or ready made sections of a good market. In Milan, you cook even less, you go out even more and our Nonna’s are dead, or best case scenario, live far away. That’s where these two come into play: Pietro, an ex food blogger and Diego, a tattooed, mustached and always smiling, chef.
The first has a degree and a passion for cooking, the second has experience working in Michelin starred restaurants. Together they have filled a gap in a market, they’ve done it well and they have made an impact, improving day by day since their very first opening.
What gets at their competitors is, how well they have marketed themselves to date. You can’t say that they have copied anyone, they’ve never written a press release – they don’t know how to and they’ve never given a free meal to the press or a blogger to get a good review.
Whilst others reach out to architect firms, consultants, PR agencies, provocative interior designs and pointless creative campaigns, this partnership has won awards, plaudits and it’s all been done on the back of their own money. They don’t want to be a franchise to make money. This is a city of fashion, and as we all know; less is more.
There are only a few dishes to choose from, some change daily, others have already become classics. There is the thinly sliced tripe, coated in flour and fried like a potato and served with a lot of salt and pepper. There is a contemporary interpretation of a famous Italian dish featuring veal, Vitello Tonnato only this one is richer, and creamier.
There are traditional Milanese meatballs, Mondeghili served on greaseproof paper. There is beef marrow, cut into two and served with spoons to spread onto bread. There is creamed baccalá (salted cod), anchovies, salads and lots of pasta.
Risotto? Hardly ever, because to do it on the spot takes time and a different organisation in the kitchen and they won’t to change that. If you’re looking for specials, just go to their Facebook page and see what they bought at the market. From cow’s bladder to eels, snails and lamb, the ingredients are thought about on paper, what’s available at the market and what the general humour of the chef is that day; as for side dishes, seasonal vegetables as a whole, though, if you’re vegan, this isn’t the place for you. Dessert is a simple affair, it’s done, “in house” and can be eaten by the spoonful. Why? They don’t have a pastry chef.
This is the Trippa way. It makes sense for a market changer to be, the ‘in thing’.
Having fun and keeping their feet firmly on the ground, Pietro and Diego went in search for happiness, a change from the norm, what they’ve found, is success.