by Melinda Gallo

Anno del cane di fuoco

Today is the beginning of l'anno del cane di fuoco (Year of the Fire Dog) and to celebrate Dave and I went to a Chinese restaurant. There is actually only one Chinese restaurant I like in Florence, named "Osir", but because of the rain, I didn't want to go to viale Lavagnini, which is on the other side of town. I actually haven't been there since Dave and I moved here.

We went to a local Chinese restaurant in via Ghibellina a few blocks from our apartment. We've been to it a few times before, but it was long enough ago that I couldn't remember what dishes of theirs I like. They have a few Thai dishes that I haven't felt that daring to try yet. I'm not impressed with the Chinese food here, but it's better than no Chinese food at all. Maybe it's because I'm used to a certain style of Chinese food that we have in California. One dish I love is alghe fritte (fried seaweed), which I can only seem to find in England and Italy. It's actually deep fried lettuce with seasoned salt.

When we arrived, there was a couple with a baby boy. The Chinese people working in the restaurant kept going up to them to look at the baby, talk to him, pick him up, and walk him around the restaurant. And here I thought only the Italians went gaga over babies.

After I rattled off what we wanted, the waitress said, "Volete i primi con i secondi?" (Do you want the first course, rice/pasta dishes, with the second course, meat dishes). Generally, they serve the primi (first course) before the secondi (second course) like in Italian restaurants where we eat pasta first and then meat. For Chinese food, it doesn't really make sense: how can you eat white rice with nothing else?

The portions are much smaller and generally what you order is for yourself. It's hard to eat "family-style" since the portions are only enough for one person. You get one bowl of rice and a meat dish the size of a side dish. I usually order soup, but they didn't have my favorite zuppa agro-piccante (hot and sour soup), which is served in a single-sized bowl as well.

Even though I was sazia (full) after eating an antipasto (appetizer) and my two dishes, I ordered banana fritta caramellata (carmelized fried bananas). Back in the States, I usually only have a fortune cookie for dessert. When I was a child and our family went out for Chinese food, I don't remember restaurants even having desserts or else they were too sweet for me.

We were supposed to eat pesce (fish), which is the symbol for abbondanza (abundance) for the new year, but we didn't. I'm hoping the lenticchie (lentils) we had on December 31st will be good enough. I sometimes forget about some Chinese traditions as I don't have any Chinese friends here to remind me.

I read that the last time we were in the anno del cane di fuoco was 1946, which was the birth of the Italian Republic. So, hopefully, it'll be an auspicious year for us all.

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