In Monterosso, the next town over and the last of the “cinque,” the Salted Anchovies and Olive Oil Festival was just beginning. Dad and I couldn’t wait.
Once we realized the passenger boat would not be running today due to choppy water, we purchased train tickets, validated them in the yellow machine, and climbed aboard. A few short minutes later, we pulled into Monterosso. Following along the waterfront, we soon came to the stone pedestrian tunnel which led directly into the old town.
Today, the Cinque Terre skies were not happy; light tears fell again from the pale gray clouds overhead. But only a few umbrellas bobbed through the streets; for the most part, locals and tourists alike seemed oblivious to the less-than-lovely weather. Everyone was in a festive mood.
As we emerged from the pedestrian tunnel, we came face to face with a building facing seaward, a wide overhang protecting its front from drizzle — this was the center of the action.
Long tables were set up side by side behind which workers dashed back and forth preparing hot vats of oil. Into the vats they dipped blobs of dough which would become sandwiches. Anchovies in large metal pans were already soaking in olive oil, some with roasted peppers and onion.
Not quite yet ready to eat, we cruised up and down the lively streets before eventually making our way back to those anchovy-laden tables, now with lines of hungry visitors streaming out in front of them. We read the handwritten sign that described the two sandwich choices: anchovies with or anchovies without peppers and onion.
Dad and I couldn’t wait to dig in! Our two companions, however, could barely disguise their grimaces. Mom and Gino slunk away to a nearby trattoria to enjoy pasta at an outdoor table with a broad umbrella while Dad and I stood in line, giddy for our tasty treats.
All my life, Dad and I have kept a tradition at Thanksgiving and Christmas — to share a tin of anchovies. We are always the only ones at the table to eat these delicious little filets, picking them out of their bath of oil and gulping them down. Not only do we enjoy the fish, we enjoy watching everyone’s horrified reactions as we chew.
Today in Monterosso, we would be sampling anchovies that were not caught in some faraway place, canned, and then flown miles to our local grocery store; instead, these had been pulled from the sea just a few yards out from this very spot, then steeped in oil from olive trees growing on the surrounding hills. Could it get any better?
As we shuffled closer to the front of the tables, we watched a man expertly plop a flattened dough glob into the hot oil and pull it out when it was done. A woman took the now-cooked blob and scooped spoonfuls of those fresh little fish onto it, adding roasted peppers and onion, if that’s what you wanted.
Taking our first bites, Dad and I looked at each other with bugged eyes. Fantastic! These were anchovies as they were meant to be eaten: fresh from the sea at their source.
Feeling ever the epicurean adventurers, we strolled over to taunt Mom and Gino, who were at an outdoor table enjoying their plates of predictable pasta. While they were finishing up, Dad and I sauntered to the adjacent kiddie park and sat on a raindrop-splattered bench. Oblivious to the toddlers dashing back and forth before us, we savored our sandwiches, barely pausing to wipe errant drips of oil from our chins.
The promenade along the seaside was crowded with vendors selling trinkets and souvenirs to the throng that drifted past. Their colorful wares vied for attention with the startling vista just beyond: aqua waves lapping a soft gray beach with green-mantled mountains as a backdrop.
We joined the throng waiting for a train back to Vernazza and beyond. As we drew into our station and stopped, some of the cars behind were still inside the tunnel. This commonly happens in the Cinque Terre. We simply disembarked into the darkness and walked the few feet out into daylight and into Vernazza.