Keep in mind that Italian “momma” wasn’t what we’d call “mamma” (meaning food) in Japan. That’s how Italians call their mothers. The way Italians eat is changing these days, particularly in Northern Italy, so there are fewer moms that fit the “Italian momma” description—but the word “mom” doesn’t seem like a fitting description for those stout Italian mothers who are constantly working hard to create delicious meals morning until night for their families. For some reason, only the word “momma” will do.
Anyway, when my coworker came back to Milan and opened her suitcase, it was full of Sicilian specialty foods. What caught my attention were several bags of salt.
Sicily has a salt production area, and the salt she brought home was definitely delicious varieties that at the time you couldn’t get in the northern part of the country.
Sicilian salt is the norm in supermarkets in Northern Italy. The salt area has salts from all over the world—including pink Himalayan salt and black Hawaiian salt, so it’s a great time to develop an interest in salt.
Italians typically use coarse salt when they boil pasta, and fine salt in other types of cooking. Meaning that it’s standard for an Italian household to have both coarse and fine salt on hand. Those who are really into salts may also have flaked accent salt, that they would use in meat dishes, for example.
In today’s world, you can get salts from all kinds of different regions. It makes me want to discover and try salt from everywhere—common salt, rock salt, sea salt, lake salt—and find the best ways to use it in cooking like a connoisseur of salt. Essentially, I didn’t realize that the reason that my cooking didn’t come out the same way in Italy and in Japan even if I’m doing everything the same way isn’t just because of differences in water and ingredients, but also because of the way different salts affect it.
As my very first step, I began my research (!) by looking at the typical salts sold at the supermarket. When I compared Japanese salt to Italian salt, I found that the Italian salt had an expansive flavor that followed the saltiness. When I focused my investigation on natural salts from the Camargue region (where a famous French salt field is located), the first thing I noticed was the different shape of the grains. These were definitely what you would call “flaked” salts.
Compared to Italian coarse salt, the Camargue salts have a milder flavor and a depth that goes beyond just saltiness. I can see why people say that flaked salt goes so well with grilled meat dishes.
I thought it would be interesting to take a salt trip after that, so I went and visited the salt fields. Many years ago, I saw salt fields from my bus window when I passed through the town of Syracuse in Sicily, which was very impressive, even though I failed to get a picture of them.
The salt fields in the Camargue region of France are tinged pink due to the color of the plankton and algae. I was surprised to learn that the salt naturally turns white as it dries in the sunlight and perfect breezes.
Salt is deeply interwoven into our food and how we eat. Still, we tend to take it for granted and not pay much attention to it, even though we take it in every day.
But salt is so precious that they even used it instead of money to pay wages in ancient times! It makes me wonder if that means money could be replaced by something else someday.