Oh! To my Umbrian panino. A panino only found safely tucked away in the small, yet cosmopolitan town of Assisi. A surprise gem. A saint in our long day.
In our constant quest to avoid the tourist traps, we shunned a traditional restaurant for lunch. Instead, we stopped at the take-away window of a traditional restaurant, right along the main drag: The “panino bank,” as I like to call it.
Assisi is a sun-kissed town, beautiful and blessed. Yet to us it seemed that the town of St. Francis, of pilgrimages, of monks, had lost its way.
After days of walking around Gubbio and the tiny, medieval towns of Umbria, the onslaught of people filling Assisi’s streets was an unpleasant shock. Of course there were tourists in Gubbio, but where Gubbio’s tourists were knowledgeable, low-key, cool, Assisi’s were big, loud and fanny-pack wearing (literally.)
It’s not Assisi’s fault. Really. The postcard town and heavyweight celebrity status makes it a popular destination, and the March of Peace that weekend even more so. Still, we weren’t prepared, and spent much of our time walking slowly through crowds of people, not stopping for fear of becoming one of them.
We herded into the basilica; prayed in awe, reverence, and in the hope that people would stay respectful. Nevertheless, we left far past lunch time and far past patient. Walking past throngs of people, past touristy restaurants, past overpriced pastas, we found the Panino Bank.
The well-worn traveler avoids touristy places and searches for hours for an “off-the-beaten-track” restaurant in a town with no “off the beaten track”, even if they end up missing lunch just to instagram and brag and live their lives contented by the memory of their mini-conquest.
Instead, we got a panino. And oh, was it worth it.
So here’s to you panino bank! And here’s to you panino! On a long bun, just crusty enough on the outside and soft enough on the inside to perfectly compliment the sliced meat. Meat cured with such care that the flavor spoke of love, passion, artisanship. We all got crescia cheese, careful to pay respects to our surroundings. We tried wild boar and deer, and I finally tasted the quality difference in Norcia prosciutto. Norcia, Umbria has become so famous for its quality of cured ham and wild boar that the butcher shops there have their own name: norcineria
Sure, the panini came from the main street, un-hidden, an un-secret gem, but to make up for it we carefully carried our panini to a nearby alley, eating on the steps of someone’s apartment building, searching for a place to rest without pigeon poo. We were alone, allowing us to enjoy our simple, classic, overwhelmingly good panini in peace. We discussed masters programs, careers and how much it’s acceptable to eat … all while planning that night’s dinner.
Then, we went back for a second panino.