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Are you excited to visit Sorrento on your trip to Italy? Make sure you spend some time exploring this famous seaside town. Many visitors head off to nearby Amalfi Coast or Capri and miss out on the many charms of beautiful Sorrento. Our guest Lee Trapani from Gourmet Girls Italy food tours tells us why you should make time to explore her home town a little longer.
Lee Trapani’s story is very romantic thanks to a chance encounter as a teenager and the charming setting of beautiful Sorrento. The gateway to many Italian adventures, people often skip through the city quickly and that’s a real shame. In a conversation full of laughs and good humor, Lee shares with us her passion for life on the Sorrentine peninsula and its amazing food culture.
Local food and wine, is something Lee is extremely passionate about. You just want to sit down and try all the delicious dishes and experience the conviviality and joy that she so obviously brings to the table. Whether it’s an oozing mozzarella straight from the dairy or local fresh anchovies plucked from the Bay of Naples, it’s very clear Lee has her finger on the pulse of the tastiest dishes in her city.
Sorrento is also a great place to shop for unique souvenirs and simply soak up la dolce vita. By the end of this episode you’ll be planning an extended stop in this city to eat, drink and be merry with Lee and the Gourmet Girls crew.
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What you’ll learn in this episode
- How the people of Sorrento are managing during lockdown
- The best time to visit Sorrento and what to expect when you get there
- Where to go for the best fish dishes in Sorrento
- All about the unique and welcoming Southern Italian culture
- Dishes to seek out when in Sorrento
- Why you’ll never be able to eat mozzarella from anywhere else after you’ve tried the local variety
- Lee’s favorite day trip from Sorrento
- What to expect on a Gourmet Girls food tour
About our guest – Lee Trapani
Originally from Scotland, Lee Trapani has lived in Italy and made Sorrento her home for over 25 years. After a long career in tourism, she and business partner Vanessa Brown-Giglio founded Gourmet Girls Italy – a food tour company dedicated to authentic food experiences in Sorrento.
When she’s not enjoying the delights of Sorrento’s food and wine culture with visitors from around the world, Lee spends time with her family and tries to think of ways to use up huge bags of oranges and zucchini. She’s a keen cook who has learnt many recipes by watching her mother-in-law and soaking up the traditions of the Sorrentine peninsula.
You can find Lee and Vanessa, the Gourmet Girls, on these channels:
- Gourmet Girls Italy website
Places mentioned in the show
- Towns: Sorrento, Positano, Naples
- Islands: Capri, Ischia
- Marina Grande – the place to go for fresh fish dishes and lovely atmosphere
- Piazza Tasso – the main square of Sorrento
- Vicoletti – the small and charming laneways of Sorrento
- Vesuvius – the famous volcano you can see in the distance
Food and wine of the Campania region mentioned in the show
- Mozzarella – cheese made with buffalo and cows milk
- Burrata – cheese made with mozzarella and cream
- Ciliegina and treccia – local types of mozzarella cheese – cherry and plaited
- Limoncello – lemon liqueur famous in Sorrento
- Avellino wine
- Melanzane parmigiana – eggplant parmesan
- Pizza – no introduction needed
- Cold cuts / salami – cold meats made with pork
- Calamari fritte – fried calamari
- Pizza fritta – fried pizza pockets from nearby Naples
- Fiori di zucchine fritte – stuffed and fried zucchini flowers
Resources from Untold Italy
- Best day trips from Sorrento – 10 exciting options for seeing the area
- How to get from Naples to Sorrento and from Rome to Sorrento – all the options for your transfer
- Highlights of the Amalfi Coast – podcast episode on the best things to do along the stunning coastline
- Positano city guide – for your best ever day trip from Sorrento
- How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step by step through trip planning so you can avoid our mistakes
- Italy Travel Planning – our FREE online community where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
- Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show
Prefer to read along as you listen? Below is a full transcript of our episode conversation. Unfortunately it does not pick up our lovely Australian and Scottish accents however!
Ciao and ben venuti to Untold Italy. I’m Josie and I’m Katy and we’re here to help you plan your trip to Italy. Between us, we have many years of travel experience and we want to help you uncover your own as yet untold stories and adventures in Italy. Each episode you’ll hear practical advice, tips, and ideas to help you plan your own trips to the magical land of history, stunning landscapes, and a whole lot of pasta. We’ll have interviews from experts and focus on local destinations and frequently asked questions about travel in Italy. Thanks for listening and make sure to subscribe to our show. Now let’s get started on your regular dose of Bella Italia
Lee Trapani (00:51):
Ciao everyone. We have a very special treat for you this episode. Today we’re taking you on a virtual trip to beautiful Sorrento in the south of Italy. I’m talking to Lee Trapani, co-owner with her friend, Vanessa Brown-Giglio of food tour company Gourmet Girls Italy. Lee’s here to tell us all about the incredible city she calls home. Now, as you will be able to tell by her gorgeous accent, Lee is originally from Scotland, but she has lived in Sorrento for years and years. Her story is one for all your romantics, but I’ll let her tell you all about that. Many people rush through Sorrento on their way to the Amalfi coast or Capri or they use the city as a base for excursions to those places as well as Pompeii and Naples. But here’s the thing, Sorrento has plenty of charms of its own and I’ve asked Lee to share some of those with us today. I can’t wait to hear all of these insider tips for visiting Sorrento. So without further ado, let’s start the conversation.
Ciao Lee and a big welcome to the Untold Italy podcast. Thank you so much for joining us.
Lee Trapani (01:55):
Thank you so much for having us, Katy. We’re really, really excited.
That’s great. Well, I’ve given you a quick introduction earlier, but we would love to hear how a woman with such a beautiful Scottish accent came to be living in Sorrento
Lee Trapani (02:11):
Okay. So my story, I know that it makes even myself laugh. So when I was 13, I was here in Sorrento with my parents on holiday and we were staying at a hotel with a pool that is directly next door to where my mother-in-law still lives. So every evening, right about five o’clock, my now husband, Marco and his two brothers used to sneak from the garden of their house across to the pool. I know. Crazy. And so I met him sneaking into the pool basically. I know it’s cheese, on cheese, on cheese. So I met him and we have a 15 year old daughter, Alessandra, now. So now putting myself in that position as the mother and daughter; every time Alessandra gets ready to go for a pizza, her dad, you can see the vein and his neck pulsating.
Lee Trapani (03:28):
So that’s how we met. We stayed in touch which was not the easiest considering I did not speak any Italian then and his English was pretty grim from school. So by the way, Marco is three and a half years older than me in case anybody’s thinking that I met a 45 year old Italian when I was there. Just putting that out there because people have thought that before. And they’re like, “how old is your husband?” And I’m like, no, no, no, nothing like that. No, no. So we stayed in touch. He used to come over to the UK and I used to spend many trips over here over the years. I was very lucky in the sense that, I grew up, here in Italy as well as growing up at home because they were obviously very regular trips and I stayed in the house.
Lee Trapani (04:32):
So I used to see my mother-in-law cooking all the time and we’ve always had a pretty tight relationship. My Italian started getting better and I was like, why are you putting that in? And I grew up in that environment of just the most amazing family. I mean Italian families are big as everybody knows. You know our extended family is huge. And my father-in-law’s one of 11 and my mother-in-law’s one of four. She’s got a relatively small family for here, but her extended family is massive. And I grew up in that environment of just huge, long, joyous lunches and dinners. And here they will just happily, for any reason, to throw a bit of a party, they’ll just happily get on board with that. So I was very lucky that I saw it from a young age and I grew up in that environment as well. And then we’ve been married now for 22 years.
Lee Trapani (05:47):
Thank you. Especially during lock down. And I think personally think I deserve a medal. I’m sure I’m not alone in that thought process. Well we have two children. I have Alessandra as I said, she’s 15 and Luca is six.
Oh wow. And so apart from your husband and your family, what is it you love about Sorrento?
Lee Trapani (06:19):
Sorrento is just genuinely lovely. Not just from my perspective but I just see that happen so many times over the years. It’s hard to actually put into words, but is somewhere that people just fall in love with. You come and even from the very first glimpse of Sorrento you drive down a road; do you know the one that drops down from the cliff? And you come down and that view sitting there in front of you, especially on a spring day, it’s just stunning. There’s so many elements to love about Sorrento. The people are one of the first and foremost things, the scenery, the way that daily life goes on here. We’re very lucky in that our economy is tourist based in Sorrento.
Lee Trapani (07:26):
It’s not a tourist resort. This is very clearly, from the moment you arrive here, not somewhere that has been purposely built and where you will only see tourists. Sorrento is a town completely within itself. So everybody, including myself including Vanessa, we live centrally. People live next door to hotels and apartments and restaurants. So it’s all very, very mixed. And so what you’d actually seen is people going on about their daily life. They may not even have anything to do with tourism at all. It is very authentic. What you see is what you get. Another big thing obviously is the food. I mean, Italian food, it goes without saying. It’s world-renowned, but the food in the South of Italy and in this area is just so good, you know? And it’s another thing that draws people back, I think.
Yeah, it’s true and it’s such a beautiful and friendly part of Italy and I’m really not surprised that you fell in love there, but before we continue with some of your tips on how we can make the most of our time there. I know our listeners a pretty keen to hear how you’re all coping during the pandemic at the moment.
Lee Trapani (08:47):
In the Sorrentine peninsula itself, we have been very, very lucky, but also very good because we have been well behaved and really stuck to the lockdown procedures. So we’re very fortunate that numbers here are extremely, extremely low, literally in the teens, you know, that’s, that’s the stage that we’re at here. As a bigger region in the companion region, which basically stretches from Naples to Salerno and the outlying areas. Again, we have people really being, pretty much pulling it together. People’s attitude towards it has been good. I mean people from this area are renowned for their good humor and they are just basically happy with the way they’re living. In 10 minutes, in the park that I live in, every day at 12 o’clock and every evening at six o’clock we all stand outside. One of the people that live just underneath me puts on music. It cumulates normally in the Italian national anthem, everybody gets completely on board, Italian flags hanging outside. And it’s the best feeling of solidarity. Because a lot of people are not seeing other people during the lockdown because it is a hundred percent locked down here. So just to be able to see your neighbors and look out and at least see the kids it’s great. I mean it’s just about making the base of a horrific situation and I do think people here are keeping their chin up, you know?
That’s great to know actually. So we really appreciate you sharing your experiences about that because it is a challenging time and we’ve all been watching all the tragedy unfold, but I know many, many of us want to be there as soon as we possibly can, so let’s talk about the good times. Absolutely. Yeah. For our listeners who may not be familiar with Sorrento, can you tell us a bit about where it is exactly in Italy and what it’s famous for?
Lee Trapani (11:07):
Sure. So we are located in the Campania region of Italy as I mentioned before, which stretches from the two biggest cities – Naples to the North of us and Salerno to the south. And that region is just so gloriously full of stunning and I mean really breathtaking scenery. We’re so lucky to have it on our doorstep. We’ve also got quite a few national parks or reserves where they’re very much dedicated to nature including the likes of Vesuvio, Mount Vesuvius, which is an hour away from here towards the Naples area. And there’s just so much to do and see in this area. We’re obviously situated, from Rome, probably a three and a half hour drive down south and we’re located over on the west coast. Obviously the majority of the towns are clinging to the coast.
Lee Trapani (12:21):
And especially where we are in Sorrento because when you come off the motorway and you drop down to the coastal road and that brings you into the Sorrentine peninsula. Farther around you have the amazing Amalfi drive. Obviously there are many, many inland towns as well. But the majority of people come to this area will obviously be looking to stay on the coast or to visit the coastal resorts.
So when is the best time to visit? Is it during summer or is it a great place to visit during the whole year?
Lee Trapani (12:55):
I’ve lived here for nearly 25 years now and I’ve always worked in the tourism sector and we had a pretty strict six month window of when people visited. So a season that lasted six months, which really went from May to October. These days things have opened up an awful lot more. It’s got a lot to do with, if you’re coming from within Europe, low cost airlines. The whole of tourism has changed in this area. And I would put that predominantly down to one thing.
Lee Trapani (13:39):
We have a very good selection of very Italian, authentic hotels. Even the larger ones tend to be family run in this area. But what happened is Airbnb came on the scene. So prior to this, which was probably only maybe six, seven years ago realistically. Prior to that we had people that used to come and visit in a very specific seven or 14 night. duration, staying in a hotel on a half board basis. And they had a very classic package holiday to this area. So around then we saw the opening up of a whole spectrum of type of accommodation. So BnBs to boutique hotels, really small independent but gorgeous boutique hotels. We also have campsites in this area. And we still have the traditional hotels, thank goodness, because Sorrento wouldn’t be Sorrento without them. But it now gives people the opportunity to be like, okay, do you know what, we can actually do? We can go to Sorrento for 3 to 4 days. Especially if you’re coming from within Europe, we can do Sorrento for a long weekend. We can do four nights, we can come here on a girls’ trip. It’s just opened the doors and on the back of this, what’s actually happened is the season has not quite arrived at 12 months. But there has a hundred percent been year on year annually, a shift in the length of time that the seasons stays open for. The only time I would see as not the best here is probably January. February. That has a lot to do with the weather. That is by far our most miserable period. And also because a lot of people that work in hotels and bars and restaurants don’t get any time off in the summer.
Lee Trapani (16:00):
So what they tend to do, rather than keeping everything open all year and staggering everybody’s annual leave or vacation time, is they tend to close down all together and give everybody time off. So you will find a lot of things closed down, especially further down the Amalfi Coast. For example, smaller towns like Positano pretty much close altogether. Sorrento there will still be a handful of things open. Over the last one or two years we’ve seen more open than normal. I mean if you go back five years, Sorrento was a complete ghost town in January, and February. Slowly, slowly, it’s coming round. The other times of year – Easter is an amazing time to visit. We have the most phenomenal Easter processions here. Whether you’re from a religious background or not, the Easter processions are incredible.
Lee Trapani (16:56):
In the summer months, the buildup is towards August; because August itself, ferragosto is basically the traditional Italian holiday. So all factories, and anything related to big companies, especially up the North, are closed down for a fortnight during the ferragosto period. So what happens is on top of the international visitors that we have in the area, we also get a lot of Italian visitors. So it makes for August being not only the hottest month but the busiest month. Some people love that vibe. I mean it buzzes a lot In Sorrento. There’s a really good feel about here anyway, but in August, some people completely love it. Other people, they find it a bit crowded, a bit too noisy and a bit too hot at that time of year. Another time, which is amazing is Christmas. And it is sick. It is so underrated. People often associate coming to Italy with warm weather so they don’t tend to think of coming at Christmas, but it is just beautiful here. Our decorations go up straight after Halloween. You’re out dressed as a ghost one night. The next day you’ve got on your antlers! We put up the most incredible decorations and the vibe is amazing. It is just great. Generally weather-wise, we have nice blue sky, and it’s pleasant. You know, you can still sit out in the square, you can have your Aperol spritz and things like that and just really soak up the atmosphere. There are concerts going on in town and within the churches. There’s loads of really nice things happening here.
Wow. Well it sounds like there’s no bad time to come. Now, I think what happens is, people tend to rush through Sorrento and they may not really appreciate it for the town that it is. So maybe can you tell us what are the must-see places in Sorrento and if you feel like it, you might be able to share some of your little secrets too.
Lee Trapani (19:33):
Yeah, I mean that’s exactly right. What I think what people do, and I understand why they do this, especially if they are not from Europe and maybe they’re on a slightly tighter schedule, is they rush through Sorrento. Understandably, they’re coming from a long distance. So they want to see as many places as possible within a certain amount of time. They tend to use Sorrento as a springboard to visit other places. For example, they’ll say, right, okay, we’re staying here for four days. And we want to visit the stunning Island of Capri. We want to go to Pompeii, and then they don’t leave themselves any time to just sit back and enjoy Sorrento. So one of the things that is probably one of the most amazing things about this area, is just sitting in the square, having a drink, having an Aperol spritz and just people watching and relaxing.
Lee Trapani (20:37):
And there’s so many lovely bars here. There’s so many lovely bars where you can just sit, during aperitivo time. It’s that sort of five o’clock time in the evening before going for dinner and to just sit back and relax. Sorrento is so beautiful. We have an area, called the vicoletti, which is the heart of what was originally Sorrento. And it’s all little tiny cobbled streets, really close together. And if you go down into that area, which is just off the main square, you can find little boutique stores that still sell things that they’re producing themselves – ranging from leather goods, some beautiful handbags and intarsia, which is inlaid woodwork, very specific to this area.
Lee Trapani (21:41):
If you go and wander around the vicoletti, you’ll come across little workshops with the men still sitting, and making the things for you. Beautiful ceramics too which are brilliant to take home I think because they’re so bright and so colorful. We also have things like moda Positano, which are special fashions from Positano with a lot of bright, real Mediterranean colors and it’s clothing that you would typically wear to the beach. Or people wear them just on a daily basis and they tend to be linens and very light cotton and not synthetic materials, you know, for the heat. So shopping here is fantastic in the sense of little boutique shops. Actually talking about secrets, I would probably suggest you head down to Marina Grande, which is the old fishing port in Sorrento.
Lee Trapani (22:49):
And quite often I find people discover this late into their holiday. You know, they’ve already been here for a week or four or five days and then they’re like, “Oh, we just discovered it last night.” But we have got the most characteristic fishing port and you still see the fishermen going out for the catch and it’s just lined with little fish restaurants where you can sit, you can have a glass of prosecco and then you can enjoy a meal. And you’re right on the waterfront and it’s quite nice because there’s quite a few varied restaurants down there. You don’t necessarily need to go for something fancy and upscale. Unless you might be celebrating a birthday or something and you want to, but there’s different ones that you can choose from.
My uncle is a big fan of Marina Grande. He’s been waxing lyrical about that actually. So, I know a lot of people like to go to the lemon groves.
Lee Trapani (23:49):
When you’re like when you’re wandering around Sorrento, it’s one of those things you probably wouldn’t notice unless somebody local points them out to you. But you’ll see behind walls and in certain courtyards, there are still loads of lemon groves because traditionally that is what Sorrento was made up of. And what happened over the years, was more development. You can see this when you’re wandering around Sorrento. There was quite a big building boom probably in about the fifties – you can tell by a lot of the buildings when they were built. And so prior to that there were many contadini here. So many farmers and people that cultivate their own land. And there still is. My father-in-law still has a plot of land where he grows his own all his own veges and keeps his own chickens and things like that.
Lee Trapani (24:51):
The lemon groves were just so specific to this area. If you look up, you will see them once you go into the heart of Sorrento, which was the original part of Sorrento, past Piazza Tasso you’ll see them behind walls.There are still patches of lemon groves. The main thing that they produce or one of the main things that they produce these days is obviously our very famous limoncello.
We all love limoncello. It’s absolutely amazing. A national treasure of sorts. So now it sounds like a good time to talk about food and wine. Which, as people who regularly listen to this podcast will know, I can talk about for a very long time. But what I’d like to know is obviously in Italy the cuisine is very regional so what is special about the cuisine from Sorrento,
Lee Trapani (26:04):
So the food in this area, first of all, yes, it is very regional. And I think if anybody here is well traveled in Italy will know, the the difference between food and the North, the South is quite massive. There’s a lot of cultural differences between the North and the South of Italy. The South of Italy is definitely the less well off part of the country and that’s just because it’s always been the agricultural side. All the industry is located up North and because of that, it very much changes the way that food is perceived and cooked and the things that are used. As I mentioned before, I grew up, seeing my mother-in-law cooking and she’s a phenomenal cook and it’s very different I think than in a lot of our countries. We’ve become quite blasé about food. Oh yeah, that’s out of date. We’re just going to get rid of that. This is something here that just doesn’t happen. My mother-in-law would not throw anything out, and it’s reflected in the kind of dishes that they cook as well. There’s still an awful lot of offal consumed here that you can go in and you can regularly buy at the butchers, for example. Quite often in other countries we’re like, “Ooh, Nope, don’t want that.” But it’s all about using every part of the cow or the pig. Waste not, want not. And I think it’s the way we should be. There shouldn’t be the waste. There’s too many people that don’t have food. You know, we should be using what we have here and obviously that goes off in a whole different tangent when you’re talking about making salami or making the cold cuts and the cold meats that we have here because obviously they use a lot of the different parts of things to go into that.
Lee Trapani (28:08):
And it’s all to do with using what you have. So here everything is still very, very seasonal. So it’s extremely difficult even in in one of our modern supermarkets to be able to get our hands on some things depending on the time of year. You know, if I went into five different supermarkets, I’m not going to find any watermelon sitting there. I’m not going to find any peaches sitting there. They don’t import it in. You eat what is seasonal. Which is why, at the moment, I have a huge bag of oranges sitting there on my balcony that my husband came in with other night. I mean it’s huge and I thought , okay I’m going to have to come up with like 15 different things that I can do with these oranges other than just squeezing them for their juice. It’s very old school here as well. So if somebody asked a favor to my husband and he goes out and does it, quite often he will come home with a bottle of fresh pressed home made olive oil or wine that somebody made. Or oranges, cause this is the time of year it is. You get things like that in the house and you know that things are coming in and they’ve been raised locally. There’s no chemicals involved and things like that. It’s lovely. Especially when you’ve got children, I think you tend to notice things like that more don’t you? And you know, cooking with this stuff is amazing. So it’s very, very seasonal. It’s very, very fresh and it’s all to do with what you can make because things are seasonal and because things here with our climate obviously grow in abundance. And in fact, my father-in-law is not capable of regulating the amount of things that he grows apparently. So he grows enough zucchini in the summer to feed a small Island nation. So what happens? So what happens is you’ve got to be really inventive. You don’t go to your standard recipe. What you’ve got to do is think, “right, okay, I can do that and then I can do that and then I’m going to turn it into something else and then I’m going to do this.” And it’s all about being inventive. Italian cooking isn’t necessarily complicated. I think people think it is. It’s not. What it is, is time consuming. And I think a lot that stretches back to the fact that in the not too distant past everybody’s mom and everybody’s nonna or mamma, was home doing the cooking. Whereas today we’re working moms. Even some of the nonnas are working. But before, everybody was at home. So if you had to put on a ragu and let it cook for four hours, that was okay because you were in the house.
Yeah, absolutely. And then I guess the really interesting thing there as well is it really does translate there to what is available to visitors to the area as well. So, you still have that seasonal produce and the local methods of making them that’s traditional to the area. And I know you take people on a journey through that on your tours.
Lee Trapani (31:43):
Vanessa and I, we knew we wanted to do something together. And we, knew it made sense to go into business, into something that we were good at. Turns out we’re very good at socializing, making dinner reservations, very good at the wine list. So we kind of were like, “okay, this is obviously, this is the path we’re supposed to take”. Joking aside though, the eating expedience here is so amazing and I think unless you can actually be properly introduced to that, you don’t necessarily experience it. You know, I see you look at menus when you go into restaurants, even amazing restaurants and you can tell there are certain dishes that have been put on there purely for the visitors. Just say a traditional ragu, like a bolognaise or something like that. These are things that actually cook over a long time.
Lee Trapani (32:54):
And it would be quite unusual for my mother-in-law to serve something like that in August because the last thing you want to be doing is slaving over a hot stove. Again it harks back to the old days. And you know, if you have a pot sitting bubbling on the stove for four hours, it warms your kitchen up. You know, that’s not what you want to be doing in August. So there’s certain dishes on there that are not actually what people from here would be eating. And I think that’s because people not from Italy have an impression of what Italian food is. And although it obviously has some likeness to it, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a true comparison to what food is in this area. If we go into a restaurant here, and you’re an Italian group, quite often they would not even bring you a menu because they will stand there and they’ll be like, “okay, this is what we’ve made today. This is what we’ve got fresh today.” You know because at the fishmonger we could get this type of fish. So we have made this. Or you know, the zucchini flowers are in full bloom – because again, with the waste not, want not thing. A zucchini flower is an absolute delicacy here. You know, the part that you just stop off the top and you put it in the bin.
No! I love them!
Lee Trapani (34:29):
Yeah, exactly. But in the rest of the world, they would just crop them off and they just go into the rubbish. Here they are filled with the ricotta and then they are fried and then they are sometimes drizzled with a little honey or something like that. And they’re amazing. They’re amazing. But it just depends if they’re the staff that day have managed to get them. So you’re not handed the menu and they’re like, “okay, well we’ve got this, we’re doing this, we’re doing this.” And nine times out of 10 if you’re with a group of Italians, they will just order completely off what that waiter is telling them and won’t even look at a menu. Which I found very confusing when I was younger and I was like, “I want to see the menu.” And Marco was like, “but why?” And I was like, “because I want to see it.”
Lee Trapani (35:18):
So your eyes automatically go to something that you may be know. And what happens is you don’t get to try the phenomenal stuff that is coming out of the kitchen. And this is why we try and ensure that on our tours or when we’re together that we’re like, “okay, try this. Try that. Try that.” We don’t, we don’t necessarily tell you what you’re having before because it’s normal for some people to say, “Oh yeah, you know, I’m not sure about that.” Try. It’s amazing. And so what we serve on the Gourmet Girls tours are different depending on what season you’re visiting here.
And that’s exactly how it should be. And it’s exciting and especially if you’re a little bit nervous then a food tour is such a great way to experience new things because you don’t need to actually have the full meal of it. You can usually have a taste of something that you may never have tried before and nine times out of 10 you’re going to think it’s delicious. I’ve never had an awful experience actually in my life. As my husband is always saying to our kids, “why would I feed you something you wouldn’t like?”
Lee Trapani (36:39):
Yeah. What would be the reason for doing that? Exactly. Well, it’s exactly that. So it evolves depending on what season it is, which is brilliant. It’s brilliant for us to see. We’ve been here a long time. I mean combined between Vanessa and I’ve been here for nearly 50 years, so it wasn’t a stretch for us to think, who do we want to take these people to. And let’s be honest, after a couple of glasses of wine, it’s so funny because people are like our best friends. It’s just eight of us or six of us out to dinner together. And people are like, “so tell me the truth. What did your mother-in-law think about him marrying a Scottish girl?” You know what I mean? I love it. It’s an experience of sitting down and eating together. We don’t rush you from places and we don’t tend to stand outside places. We want you to sit down. We want you to be able to look at the plate and the way it’s presented. We want you to be able to really enjoy the glass of wine that we’ve asked the restaurant to, particularly pair to what you’re sitting down and eating. And it’s all about the enjoyment of it and the taking it in and the not rushing. It’s not an Italian’s nature to rush through a meal, to rush through food to stand up and eat something. You’re supposed to sit down. You’re supposed to enjoy it. You are supposed to have a glass of wine and you are supposed to relax and take in what you’re having.
Lee Trapani (38:20):
And it really wasn’t difficult for us after all those years to know the places we wanted to let our clients, who become friends, enjoy places they maybe wouldn’t find. Sometimes it could be somewhere that they can find themselves. But we’re going in and we’re not saying “pick this or pick this off the menu”. No, we’re saying, “okay, this is what you’ve got to try from this place.” Because somewhere like Sorrento has a vast array of places to eat. But the way Italians use different restaurants is that they tend to be well known for specific dishes. So like for example, we would only go to pizzeria if we were actually going to have pizza. You know what I mean? If we were looking for fresh fish, we would head down to Marina Grande where the fish is coming in.
Lee Trapani (39:23):
If you’re looking for a big steak or nice lamb chops or something like that in season. Then there’s places that we would specifically go for that. So it’s knowing where to go to get the different things. One of the places that we use, he is just brilliant. He’s a sommelier and he owns this restaurant and I love it because you can go in and be like, “right, okay, I want to try a wine from this area” for example. And he will pair that with hams and cheeses and honey from this area. Because let’s face it, sometimes if you be here a while, and you’re just eating anything at anytime, one night, you just want to do that. You just want ham, cheese, fresh bread. So many places. So I’m actually salivating talking about the food. How sad is that?
I feel really mean because you haven’t been able to get out. Sorry. We’re jealous too. You’re going to be able to get to it before us. Oh, and the wine is such an important part of the meal too, isn’t it? And there are some amazing local wines in that area as well.
Lee Trapani (40:44):
The Campania doesn’t have as much money, quite frankly, to promote wines as maybe Tuscany or some of the more Northern areas. So I don’t think it gets as much publicity as it could do. Which is a shame in a way because the wine is incredible from this area and also over towards Benevento. Fantastic Avellino! But in another way it’s a secret. I hear people in restaurants asking for a valpolicello or something like that, which is from areas up North.
Lee Trapani (41:40):
I would love more people to come in and be like, “right, I want to try wine from this area.” It’s all about knowing where to go and ask. And this is why if you do a tour, do it at the start. Always do it at the start because I know from experience you will be like, “you know what? We are heading back there one night. We’re going to pop in there one lunchtime” because it just takes out all the guesswork.
Yeah, I think it makes you more confident to go.
Lee Trapani (42:13):
Definitely and as I said, we have great, great relationships with our suppliers. So I can honestly see quite often they’ll remember you. They’ll remember that you came in with us. And you’ll be more confident to ask, ” do you know we had this and we tried that. Do you have something similar? What about this?” And they will come up with things for you to try, you know. Fantastic.
People do visit Sorrento and they want to do lots of excursions from there and down the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Capri but do you have another suggestion or a favorite that they just should not miss? Because I think, you know, once we’ve relaxed in Sorrento for while, and a lot of people do like to come back to Sorrento. But it’d be good to know like a little secret excursion that you can do from Sorrento.
Lee Trapani (43:14):
Sure. There is literally so much to see in this area. You know, like as you say, the Amalfi Coast is unmissable, the Island of Capri, the Island of Ischia, – which I think is slightly overlooked. It is stunning, which is very lush and very green, and very, very different to the Island of Capri. And it’s full of thermal spas, which is amazing. That’s beautiful. My personal day tip of choice, which I think is massively, massively overlooked, is the city of Naples itself.
Lee Trapani (43:55):
So many people fly into Naples. I mean, let’s be honest, you come out of that airport and it’s like being in downtown Baghdad. You’re just like, “Oh, okay, I’m getting out of here.” But Naples, when you actually go into Naples, oh my God, I mean it has some amazing architecture. I mean really stunning. The San Carlo opera house is the oldest theater in Europe, in the whole of Europe. Shopping is amazing. I mean you’ve got top of the line Italian designer shops. You’ve also got you know, more sort of just what sort of more commercial shops that you would think about. But there’s a really nice combination there. They’ve really upped their game in the shopping area and it looks amazing these days. It really does. The vibe and the people are phenomenal. It is like any massive city in the world. Whether you were in London, whether you’re in New York, whether you’re in Sydney, you’ve got to have your wits about you. You know, I don’t go with my best jewelry on, but I wouldn’t in London either.
Lee Trapani (45:17):
You’ve just got to have your wits about you quite simply. But the city itself, and the food scene in Naples is to die for. So obviously the birth place of pizza and I mean you can just get some amazing pizza. You can go to like one of the original original pizza restaurants there. It depends on what time you’re there, you could queue up for it and things like that. But you can’t go much wrong with pizza in Naples to be honest with you. I mean that the whole history of the pizza. And the colors of a pizza margherita, which was named after Queen Margherita at the time. And the colors on the pizza – the white of the mozzarella, the red of the tomato, the green of the Basilico, representing the Italian flag. And the history behind the food there, it’s amazing. You get amazing pizza fritta, which is a fried pizza. There’s a good street food scene in Naples.
But yeah, I mentioned before that I did a food tour in Naples recently and yeah, there’s definitely an amazing street food scene there. It’s incredible actually.
Lee Trapani (46:35):
They will make in front of you the pizza fritta, which I’m talking about. They are literally like a pizza pockets folded over and then fried. But the way they do the dough is they make it as light as a feather and traditionally in there you have the tomato and mozzarella and things like that inside. It’s kept quite simple, but oh it is amazing. Absolutely amazing.
And how good is that mozzarella?
Lee Trapani (47:03):
Oh God, our mozzarella is second to none. You’ve got your standard cows milk mozzarella. But what we’re famous for in this area is the buffalo mozzarella. And if you have had mozzarella before and then you try the buffalo mozzarella it’s completely different. Actually, if you’ve had mozzarella outside this area, just scratch it all off and erase your memories and start at the beginning again. Because when you have the fresh mozzarella here is just like nothing you’ve ever had.
Lee Trapani (47:36):
As I say, the buffalo mozzarella is what we are famous for and in the plain areas of this area there is actually quite a lot of Buffalo. And they produce milk that is then mixed with cows milk because if it’s just buffalo milk, I think the flavor tends to be slightly overpowering. There’s loads of different ways that you can buy mozzarella here. In terms of the shap,e you’ve obviously got your normal like the mozzarella balls, but then you’ve got the ciliegina, which are the cherry sized balls, which are just small ones quite often used an antipasto. Each area tends to have a way that they produce it. In Sorrento for example, they tend to do a treccia which is like a plait. . So if you were visiting here from Avellino for the day, quite often you would pick up that to take back with you, because it’s very symbolic of the area.
I heard that you had to have the buffalo mozzarella within 48 hours of the milk coming out of the cow. So it’s very regional.
Lee Trapani (48:49):
yes very regional, very quick turnaround. And I mean they make burrata which is almost like a churned butter from the milk which has inside the mozzarella. So when you break into burrata it is almost soft liquidy inside or there’s so many different ways that it can be done. The process of making mozzarella is incrdible. I mean I’ve watched somebody actually making it and the whole process so interesting. If you’re doing it manually, like the old fashioned traditional way, you’ve got to have the water at a certain temperature and it simmers there. And then you have the curds you add in the water, use a big wooden, it’s almost like a flat shovel, if you know what I mean.
Lee Trapani (49:42):
And they use this to do it and then slowly the curds amalgamate together. They put salt in there and that is it. And then they make the shape that they want to make. From beginning to end you’re probably talking about nine minutes. You can eat it straight away, but you have got to be so careful. Because when you eat it straight away, it sometimes it can be almost stringy. So for example, they would suggest that you held it with your hand and you bite off a part. So it’s amazing. Unbelievable. The process is unbelievable. That’s why sometimes you think things are going to be so complicated and sometimes the best things are just the most simple.
Yeah. Well we had some mozzarella in Naples and we did actually use the term “life changing” about it.
Lee Trapani (50:57):
That’s what I say. You’ve kind of got to put all your experience of mozzarella, which can be kind of rubbery and bland in other countries, behind you. Like when I go back to Scotland, it’s not mozzarella at the end of the day. I know that in Naples airport now there’s quite a few mozarella shops and they’re through security. So actually, you can buy it there even though it’s in the liquid up and you can take it.
Well they probably wouldn’t let us bring it into Australia. They’re pretty strict. But you can definitely bring it back to the UK and I’m not sure about the States actually.
Lee Trapani (51:34):
Bringing it back to the UK is fine. Yeah. If they’re strict in Australia, then not so easy. You can eat it on the plane and cry.
I’m very, I’m starting to get very hungry even though I’ve just eaten my dinner. But I do have a question for you. Italy’s slowly removing some restrictions that are in place at the moment. When you’re able to freely travel about town, on your own, where’s the one you’ll go after you visited all the family and friends? Do you have a place that you’ve been missed over the past few months that you just want to see again in Sorrento?
Lee Trapani (52:22):
I would definitely head down to the sea. Definitely head down to the sea, probably down to Marina Grande with my family and Vanessa’s family. And maybe extended members of my family. Head down to Marina Grande. Have a lovely glass, no sorry bottle (let’s not kid ourselves) of chilled wine and just sit there listening to the sea under the blue skies. We’ll order things things like calamari fritte and acciughe fritte. The anchovies are caught in this area are so amazing. And we’re now coming into the tomatoes that have just started to turn up. So just to have the most amazing caprese salad and just sit there for hours. The kids can get up from the table, they can go play. It’s a safe area and just be outside.
Oh Lee, that sounds really special and I hope you can do that very soon.
Lee Trapani (53:31):
Oh thank you. Me too.
I really feel like I haven’t spent enough time in Sorrento or that part of Italy. A lifetime isn’t enough. I’ve loved chatting to you about Sorrento today, Lee. And so before we close up this episode, how can our listeners stay in touch with you and book themselves in for one of your fabulous tours?
Lee Trapani (53:59):
Sure. You can find us at www.gourmetgirlsitaly.com – that’s our website. We’re also on social – on Facebook, @gourmetgirlsitaly and Instagram. We’ve actually been doing a lot of recipes and we’re making little crazy videos of ourselves cooking and we’re happy to send you the recipe after. So while we’ve been out of action, it’s been quite nice because we’ve been putting some traditional things out there like the melanzane parmigiana for example. The eggplant Parmesan, which is amazing, but you’ve got to have the time to make it and things like that. So please, if you want to go and follow us on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll find the recipes on there, which is great fun to be making while everybody’s stuck in the house. And we’re actually talking about putting together a competition as well to celebrate getting out of lockdown. We’re going to put some sort of competition where you can win some Gourmet Girls bits and pieces. So please follow us. Please have a look on our website. We would love to meet you and we would love to introduce you to the food, the real food of Sorrento
Amazing. Well, I definitely think everyone should follow you. Just for the simple reason to get the melanzane parmigiana recipe
Lee Trapani (55:30):
Which is something that you need to get through life with. Exactly.
It’s my absolute favorite dish.
Lee Trapani (55:37):
It’s so good. You know, I have to actually cook it over two days. I do it like in part one and then I deal with part two the next day because it takes so long.
It’s worth it. It’s worth it.
Lee Trapani (55:48):
It’s worth it. It’s absolutely worth it and everybody has the time at the moment
Grazie mille Lee. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say I’m already dreaming of visiting Sorrento and joining you on a very long lunch or dinner very soon. Thanks again.
Lee Trapani (56:07):
It was lovely to speak to you, Katy. Thank you so much for having us on.
We hope you enjoyed this virtual trip to Sorrento as much as we did. If you’d like all the details of Gourmet Girls Italy tours and the places Lee mentioned in the show, head on over to our website – untolditaly.com/21 where you’ll find the show notes and a code that gives you a discount off the girls’ popular food tours in Sorrento. If you’re interested in joining us on the show or you have a topic idea you’d like us to cover, please reach out and let us know. You can find our contact details on the website too. Lastly, don’t forget to subscribe to Untold Italy on your preferred podcast player to get all the latest episodes as soon as they are released. Ciao for now