In search of a cannoli
You never realize how good you have it, until you don’t. Growing up in a multicultural city I was exposed to so many wonderful foods and cultures that I absolutely took them for granted. It wasn’t til I was in Boston studying for finals that I had an intense craving for horchata, as I knew it, a Mexican rice water drink. I mean, I craved it like most crave a comfort food, or carbs. I needed it.
I searched all over town and finally got to a Latin neighborhood where I found horchata… but it was El Salvadorean and made from nuts or wheat or something. It didn’t hit the spot. I’m pretty sure my first semester college grades suffered as a result.
In Chicago a lot of bakeries are Italian. There are Mexican, Polish, Arabic, Puerto Rican, Greek, Chinese and German bakeries too. You want poppy seed bread, fresh fortune cookies, baklava, pan dulce or pretzles? No problem, there are lots of bakeries. Lots of fresh things from all over the world. And usually, if you need one, you can find a cannoli, a pastry shell filled with sweet ricotta cheese, and sometimes nuts, dried fruit or chocolate chips. The best cannoli I’ve ever had in the US came from Rubino’s Italian Imports in Orland Park, IL, but you can find a decent one most days throughout the city. In New Zealand, it’s a commodity not yet discovered.
Bakeries here usually buy their goods from a warehouse. Mass produced meat pies, and sandwiches and dry, boring breads. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing bakeries, like the French one across from the park with amazing buttery croissants or the one in Devonport with yummy fruit tarts and soft, tasty breads. But the variety is a tad lacking in general. I usually like the variety of salads at bakeries, oftentimes fresh, and a better variety, in my opinion.
So here I find myself, on a Sunday in New Zealand, at the Festival Italiano in Newmarket, searching for that long sought after cannoli. I made it past the red and yellow and grey Ferrari’s to the two blocks of stands. There was cheese and pasta and olive oil galore. There were puff pastries and tiramisu and of course, pizza! I meandered around the crowds for nearly two blocks and the smells and tastes were to die for. But there was one glaring omission. No cannoli’s!
I hit a small pocket of four stands signalling the end of the event at the end of the second block, the kids tent is tucked away back here. And dodging the little dogs and kiddies running around I see it! Cannoli’s! And to double my luck, a second stand featuring cannoli’s! I get one from each.
Now, again, this is my spoiled little self talking, but the cannoli’s I had today were subpar. Not necessarily bad, but the ricotta cheese filling was lackluster. One was rather bland, the other wickedly sweet. The first pastry was very poufy, a huge pastry drowning out the bland filling. The second shell was too thin and crunchy not offering any relief from the sickly sweet filling. When another woman, on a similar mission spotted me eating one, she excitedly asked where to find one herself and I was more than happy to direct her, despite my disappointments. At least her query normalized this search for me.
But that’s it. I’m spoiled. I grew up with cannoli’s, gyros, real tacos and horchata. I had museums at my back door growing up that were so grand and so great I try to stick to local exhibits to avoid disappointment. I know each restaurant and museum has something unique to offer, but sometimes, I struggle to find it. I’ve seen bigger, better, I’ve tasted more, authentically. I moved a bit growing up, but always in and around the great city of Chicago. I nodded off at my own high school graduation there were so many students names called. I know Chicago as a place with a unique and amazing style of Italian Roast Beef, our own style of hot dog and Deep Dish pizza. And I love how all of my hometown favorites have an origin far from home, but have been perfected in the great city. You like it different? No problem, there’s a restaurant for that too.
New Zealand has a short heritage. The Maori and the British were the biggest influences for so long. It’s a far away place with great beaches and some decent food. But it’s no melting pot. No offense to the British, but they didn’t bring their best cooks. The best meat pies I’ve had weren’t anything to shout about. Fish and chips absolutely hit the spot after a day at the beach, but it gets old. It’s coming along in Auckland, I have had some amazing bites. But until I can order horchata with my gyros, a roast beef sandwich with a side of giardiniera and a cannoli for dessert (and get it delivered), I don’t think this will ever really be home.