Postcard from... Calabria


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The Independent Online

Here in Calabria, at the toe of Italy, the cuisine thrives on peperoncini. These long red chilli peppers were called the “droga dei poveri”, the drug of the poor, thanks to the supposedly aphrodisiac qualities of the fiery things. Nowadays you can’t move in Calabria for seeing signs advertising the “Viagra dei calabresi”. Evidently this is having little effect on Italy’s extremely low birth rate.

Aphrodisiac or not, every September this national drug gets its own festival in the Tyrrhenian coastal town of Diamante. No diamonds here, just string after string of colourful red chillis hanging on balconies, on shop fronts and in food stalls on the seaside promenade. It’s the chance for local producers of Calabrian cheeses and sausages to muscle in, along with culinary competitors from Campania and Sicily. Judging from the hungry Italians tasting the goodies on offer, it’s been worth their journey along Calabria’s western coat.

I’m here on the last day of the three-day festival, which finished on Sunday. Judges were giving their verdicts on a new variety of jalapeno pepper as I was at the Come Una Volta gelateria, trying out the chilli chocolate ice cream. Nice, smooth flavour, I thought... then the chilli kicked in.  The perfect chilly chilli.