Do Donkeys Race…?

Palio degli Asini, Alba 2011

On the first Sunday in October is the big event in Alba’s calendar. A medieval festival culminating in the Palio degli Asini, kicks off Alba’s month-long truffle festival.

The Palio is raced in the piazza where the weekly market is held and involves the various ‘borgo’ (suburb or neighbourhood) of Alba racing donkeys around a short, oval course.

The history of the race stems from the parochial (and historic) rivalry between Alba and Asti. Apparently the two towns have fought since the beginning of time and although legend has become interwoven with fact, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

However, as Counting to Dieci has never let the facts get in the way of a good story, we are running with the most fun version of the legend… Continue reading


Saturday is Market Day in Alba

Piazza Risogimento, Alba 

Alba, the primary regional centre about 15kms from our village, is a pretty little town that was apparently settled well before the Romans established a colony on the site in 100BC (here ends today’s history lesson). The centre of the town is filled with old cobbled streets that meander between the town’s two principal squares and occasionally (and seemingly at random) spill into smaller piazzas.

Saturday is market day and all of these cobbled streets and piazzas fill up with market stalls. The streets leading off the principal piazza are filled with clothing and footwear, which gradually melds into leather goods and accessories, before opening into a small square filled with home wares and hardware (an outdoor Bunnings if you will). A small side street then opens onto the large piazza on the edge of the old town where fresh produce is sold in a covered market.

Via Cavour, Alba

There was a general sense of ordered chaos with a rhythm of its own that worked. Some stalls are exceptionally well set up – the fishmonger for example has a pretty serious truck that serves from areas that expand out like the America RVs and hydraulic posts that level the vehicle – while others appear to have arrived with a bootload of shoes and spread themselves along the footpath.

Often the market stalls in the street are selling goods that directly compete with the permanent stores they have set up in front of. The stores are open so I can only imagine the conversations that must go on!

What struck me was the fact that there wasn’t the pomp (or is it snobbery) that you can sometimes experience in farmers markets or the strict regulations in others that create a sense of stifled entrepreneurship. The town was the market and the market was about function and servicing locals rather than about creating an artificial event or tourist experience. It seems that the stallholders have their regular spots but clothes are mixed with fresh fruit; while the small goods stall sells some cheese and the cheese stall sells some prosciutto crudo.

Covered Market in Alba

There seems to be a protocol for selecting and paying for your fresh fruit and veg but despite watching a number of different stalls, the nuances have escaped me.

Sometimes you need to select your own and sometimes it will be selected for you. Other times you need to indicate which item you want and it will be bagged up for you and then there was the guy who would ask you to select the pieces of fruit and then give you the ones that he wanted to sell anyway…

I am sure that there is some unwritten, age-old protocol that is very well understood and that we will need to learn. In the interim, we are taking a low key approach in an effort to not offend in our first couple of weeks.

The weather here has been baking hot and very humid over the past couple of weeks so the fresh fruit and veg have taken a bit of a hit. There have been some requests for a pomodoro update but that is going to have to wait. With the weather, the pomodoro are tasting fine but even their mothers don’t think they are particularly attractive so the photos are not looking the best.

Fresh Market Produce, Alba

However, should you have the urge to buy some peperoni, the stalls are overflowing – verde, giallo, rosso, as small as a plum or as big as a shoe. A post about capsicum doesn’t have the same ring to it though.

Australians will appreciate that, as sacrilegious as it seems, the highlight for the boys has been bananas at  €1/kg. The highlight for Jo and I remains the ‘Bufala’ (Mozzarella di Bufala Campana). They are like nothing we have tasted before and T is referring to the Bufala as his “cheese balls”.

Bufala per Pranzo

They are smooth and creamy on the inside but not at all stretchy and rubbery on the outside – divine with fresh ciabatta, pomodoro e basilica, which was our Saturday lunch.

We keep checking that we are not just caught in the romance of the adventure but we remain pretty confident that an impartial judge would find the Bufala as impressive as it seems.

The Saturday market visit is pretty certain to remain a permanent fixture on our weekly family calendar.