The package from the south

Nostalgia brought about by a gift box “da giù”

Vincenzo D'Angelo
March 4, 2017 - 2:00

In Italy, almost every 20-something from the south lives in a central or northern city to study or work. We bask in our independence, but sometimes we cannot help but feel a little bit of nostalgia for our family and roots—nothing that cannot be resolved by a cenetta tranquilla among friends.

It’s just a casual dinner we have every so often to celebrate our underpaid life as students and interns fuorisede. There’s a ton of appetizers, followed by a primo piatto, a dessert and wine, a lot of wine.

Last Friday we were all excited because my mom had just sent me the pacco da giù, a survival kit for when times get rough. I usually receive il pacco every two or three months and it contains a varied range of homemade goods, from pickled vegetables to ready-made pasta sauces, biscuits, meat and the fantastic, delicious, unique mozzarella di bufala, which is basically the Beyoncé of dairy foods. If you ever have the chance to taste it, you will probably hear your taste buds singing Crazy in Love and asking for more.

Photo by Instagram user @salvogarrafa

While we were salivating over mozzarella, we began talking about these infamous packages that all of us fuorisede have received at least once. More than just a survival kit, they are the truest expression of our regional culture, because the contents vary significantly.

“We do have mozzarella, but ours is saltier and definitely bigger,” said Luigi, who comes from Battipaglia, a small town in the heart of Campania, renowned for its dairy foods. I, on the other hand, was born and raised in the suburbs of Caserta, where mozzarella is taken very seriously. Indeed, we have a love/hate relationship with Battipaglia, rather like Pisa and Livorno in Tuscany and New York and New Jersey in the U.S. While we continued to hotly debate which of our mozzarellas was better (trust me, they are both sublime), our friend Chiara swiftly defused the cheese bomb. “Well, what I like most is that I can eat both of them every time you guys go visit your parents.”

Chiara is from Basilicata, our small neighbouring region often forgotten by everyone but which actually does exist and boasts countless delicious local goodies. “I’ll bring sausages for you all next time I go home,” promised Chiara. “I will ask my aunt Tina to make them, she’s a pro!”

“A sausages pro?” burst out Antonio as we all laughed—the homemade red vinello made by his pugliese father was doing its job very well. Sig. Domenico’s wine tastes like fruit juice and you never realize that it actually contains alcohol until you are totally inebriated.

Chiara wasn’t at all sure how respond to that silly joke, so she just kept drinking her red wine, probably thinking that if her auntie is still single, there must be a reason why.

“It’s a family affair. Every time I ask my mom to send me stuff, she tells the whole family to make something. I get all these phone calls from my relatives asking me what I want,” laughed Marirosa. “I have family in both Basilicata and Calabria, so it becomes a nightmare after a few days!”

That night we talked a lot about the pacco da giù and we all agreed that it’s a way to stay in touch with our roots, no matter where we are. My Mexican-American flatmate heard the whole discussion while eating a piece of mozzarella, tasting a slice of sausizza della Basilicata and fresh tomatoes from Calabria. We were all wondering whether she had a similar experience, so we asked her if her parents ever sent her some comfort food: “My mom just sends me the money for the Esselunga via Paypal!” she answered. She ate three mozzarellas.

After my friends left and I was washing the dishes, I realized that in addition to being a cultural statement, that huge package full of food is also a way my mom—and every mother from the south—has to say “I love you. I miss you”.

I miss you too, mammina bella.

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