Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Italy, Genoa 2012: Gran Ristoro – 150 types of Panini

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‘150 tipi di panini’, boasts a sign outside Gran Ristoro. A rudimentary estimation (mine, of course) puts the figure a little closer to 10,000 types of panini, given a choice of two ingredients with the same kind of bread. With over 30 different cured meats, 20 condiments and cheeses and whatever else is hidden out of sight, it’s obvious that while Math may not be their forte, a solid panino is.

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The staggering selection of meats of all shades, sizes, and marbling was enough to stun me. Salami, coppa, prosciutto, lardo, pancetta, and every other what-have-yous under the Italian sun must have found a home behind the glass at Gran Ristoro. They’re all there: whole logs thicker than any of my limbs, and slabs so large you would think they had just cured the animal in its entirety.

The line moves far too fast to attempt to differentiate one from the other, and may you receive some divine intervention of sorts if you cannot understand a word of Italian. Like I did. Well I know enough to know what’s ‘speck’ and ‘cinghiale’ – especially cinghiale – and ‘salame’, and a handful of cheeses that would grant me a decent panino. But I didn’t want decent. I wanted all the ugly ones, the fatty ones, all the olives and sundried tomatoes and pesto and cheese and good grief what a godawful panino I’d end up with if I truly had my way.

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Everything moves like clockwork in that cramped space. Meats are sliced fresh upon order, breads are split open, and money changes hands faster than you would be able to decide your ingredients. There’s little cause to worry though, since the servers are quick to critique your choice of ingredients if they know for a fact that it won’t work, or that you could do better. It’s always nice to know that someone thinks you could do better, although they don’t quite put it that politely. They’ve been operating for at least 30 years, so assuming one panino a day, they’ve probably had every single combination imaginable, so listen to them. Just ask for the server’s favourite panino if you’re ever in a stitch. The Italians love a little ego rubbing.

We had two different panini, neither of which I can recommend because I have no memory of what we chose. Cinghiale (wild boar) perhaps, no, definitely, and…something else. Sorry, I’m not going to be of much help. You’re better off spinning a wheel.

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The bread itself is particularly chewy and cold, which could be a let-down given the excellent fillings available, but that’s how the Italians eat it. ‘One man’s meat…’, as they say. There are a couple more panini shops nearby if the line at Gran Ristoro turns nasty, and I’m willing to hazard a guess that the breads elsewhere may be better.

A panino with meat, cheese, and a choice of condiment averages around 2.50€, and won’t kill your wallet even if you wanted more ingredients. I doubt I’ll find anything like it again. They’re all of great quality, prepared by people who have been doing what they do best and only have the line of locals and tourists alike testify to that.

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Gran Ristoro

Address: Via Sottoripa, 29 16100 Genoa, Italy (Righi)

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