Genoa – More than pesto

Before coming to Genoa, I knew only that it was the birthplace of pesto and Christopher Columbus. I hadn’t known that it’s the busiest commercial seaport in Italy. Genoa is the capitol of Liguria, sitting roughly in the center of the crescent-shaped region that arcs from the French Rivera on the west to through the picturesque fishing villages of the Cinque Terre on the east. Bordered by the sea, the meal mainstays come from nets and hooks, such as anchovies, sardines, cod, shrimp, octopus, and squid. At Antica Osteria di Vico Palla tucked down narrow passageways behind the port, I ate fried baccala (dried and salted cod) and stoccafisso (also dried but not salted) as locals have eaten for centuries. Both of these preserved fish are reconstituted in water like lutefisk of my Scandinavian heritage, but much tastier! Vico Palla has served traditional Ligurian food to mariners and their families since the 1500s. It’s a casual paper-placemat restaurant with rambunctious children and families seated at long tables, groups of parents at one end, kids at the other. The children ordered mandilli (“handkerchiefs” of flat squares of pasta) with pesto, as common here as kids in the US order mac ‘n cheese.

The Old Port neighborhood is a fascinating maze of narrow pedestrian lanes, some just wide enough for two people to pass each other. Looking up from these winding paths, sunlight slices between six-story medieval buildings. A perfect place to get lost. We stumbled upon botteghe storriche (historic shops), including a butchery housed in the same shop for hundreds of years, and confectioner Pietro Romanengo displaying sweets that are works of art. I bought fragrant pastel-colored candies that look like tiny Easter eggs or jelly beans called ginevrine, flavored with roses, peaches, cherries, and violets. The shopkeeper wrapped my little package with paper and string as if it were an expensive necklace.

Genovese children and clusters of families ate together, played together. In tiny Piazza Lavagna, moms and dads played freeze-tag and a game that looked like our Red Rover, their glasses of wine a few steps away at one of the cafes encircling the piazza. Little girls drew on cobblestones with sidewalk chalk; boys kicked a soccer ball. Down another narrow passageway, a street musician sang opera beautifully. I’m hooked.

8 thoughts on “Genoa – More than pesto

  1. Martha,
    Photo journalism is in your blood! It’s always been there. We are so lucky
    to be a part of your free
    When are you opening up your “Martha’s Tours Italy” travel service?
    You’d get to go along for free!
    You have such a spirit of adventure – “..a perfect place to get lost…”
    That takes a certain kind of bravura! You make it sound so rich and fun
    that you might even get us to go along…
    Do I see a group trip forming?


  2. You totally transported me there, Mom! So beautifully captured. Like you said, it really does sound like the perfect place to get lost.

    Love you!


  3. Hi Martha – Cinque Terre is our most favorite spot in the world along with their pesto😀. I can just picture the scene you had there – much like the scenes we have seen in the towns of Cinque Terre. Sounds like you’re having a great trip with lots of adventures. We enjoy reading about it all on your blog.
    Hugs, Judy & Peter


    1. Hi Judy, I can understand why you and Peter love the Cinque Terre…the hikes, the tiny villages pushed up against the steep hillsides, the fish. Let’s swap stories when I get back!


  4. I hope it’s ok if I use a little of this in my homily. It’s a perfect description of the fellowship of those gathered around the table.

    Continued blessings on the journey, Patty


    1. Absolutely, Patty. And happy early Mother’s Day (and grandmother’s day!) to you and the other moms at St Clare’s.
      Pace a te / peace to you,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s