Bologna, Italy — ``Here, try this,'' insists Giovanni Tamburini, thrusting a tray of some rather unappetizing-looking chips of shriveled-up, yellowish meat in my direction. Somehow you trust Mr. Tamburini, who owns and runs ``Tamburini's,'' a supermarket of gastronomic delights here in the food capital of Italy.
``It's caccioli caldi, the worst part of the pig,'' he explains. ``It's everything that's left over after its been butchered. Then we salt, press, and dry it.''
``Delicious, no?'' he asks.
Delicious, yes, actually.
Not a ``gourmet'' store, Tamburini's is a take-out emporium in the middle of a city of very sophisticated eaters. And what wonderful food is stuffed between these walls -- everything from Avocados to Ziti.
Long, high, glass cases topped with huge vases of sweet william, gladioluses, and yellow and orange chrysanthemums house the splendid foods that make this city the gastronomic center of Italy.
Fifteen trays of different hand-made pasta in a variety of shapes mellow in thick sauces. Vegetables, in a scribbled mosaic of color and patterns, marinate in fragrant fresh herbs and oil. Fish, some no longer than toothpicks, lay beached in waves of green virgin olive oil. Pungent wedges of Parmesan and Gorgonzola cheeses and grilled porcini mushrooms -- some the size of a traffic light -- literally stop traffic.
The Bolognese are just not the kind of people who would pick up a bucket of fried chicken on the way home from work, even if they could.
``For centuries the Bolognese have worshipped at the same cathedral, studied at the same university, and have come to this very spot for food,'' says Giovanni. ``It's our history and it's our culture -- it's our life,'' he shouts above the din of the restless hungry hordes moving along the glass counters.
For most of those centuries, this corner market was devoted to the slaughtering and butchering of pork. When Giovanni's father and uncle bought the store in 1932, they were interested in developing more variety, ``but then came the Fascists. And they said, `No fancy food,' '' Giovanni explains.
When Giovanni took over the store 12 years ago, he changed it from a simple meat market to what it is today.
Massive, fragrant Parma hams hang in grape-like bunches from the store ceiling. Tucked under these hams hang groups of foot-long red salamis, under them a cluster of round mortadella, and from these cheeses dangle a few stuffed pork trotters (pigs' feet), en pointe.
The perfectly prepared and carefully seasoned foods are quickly scooped into paper and cardboard containers and snapped up by the crowds of people, who display all the decorum of kids in a penny-candy shop.
Three hundred fresh young chickens are stuffed and spit-roasted over oak coals each day. Handmade tortellini -- more than 45 tons of it a year -- tumbles from here to the dining tables of the localclientele. The high glass walls allow critical and demanding customers to peer into the kitchen to watch the pasta being made.
``The Bolognese want to see how what they eat is made,'' Giovanni says. Long strips of pasta are hand cut, placed in small aluminum dishes, and layered with a tangy meat sauce and mild ricotta cheese. The resulting lasagna, still warm and aromatic, is sold in a matter of seconds.
``More people are working today, so they don't always have the time to cook. But that doesn't mean they will allow their food to suffer. Here we give them the same as they got from their grandmothers,'' Giovanni says with obvious pride.
``They said it couldn't be done in Bologna,'' he continues, ``but then I went to England and saw Fortnum & Mason, and Paris to see Fauchon, and New York to see Macy's, and I thought `Why not? Why not in Bologna too?'
``Yes, there is Peck's in Milan, but it's too European. Too fussy. I didn't want a store with the atmosphere of a hospital. I wanted a store where the people could feel at home and buy the food like what comes out of their own kitchen.
``Over seventy percent of the people that shop here are Bolognese. There is tradition in every dish we make. And I'm here, too. If you don't like it, you can speak to me,'' he adds, slipping a long gray anchovy down his gullet like a trained seal.