What do Italians have in common with Malaysians? Whenever major festivals roll around, they love to gather for a feast.
This is what Tony Delachi, owner of The Row's Heritage Pizza, has observed during his decade-long stay in Kuala Lumpur. Where he comes from, food is associated with love.
“There’s a common joke among Italians that you gain two to three kilograms during Christmas and New Year, and you spend the rest of the year trying to work it off!” he says with a hearty laugh.
What’s a man from Milan doing selling pizzas in Kuala Lumpur? About 11 years ago, Delachi was the CEO of a high-tech machinery firm in his Italy. While he was earning high salary, Delachi was exhausted and unfulfilled. He needed a change of scenery, and what better place for that than Southeast Asia where he had frequently travelled to for his business. That, in a nutshell, was how he came to call this city home.
In the spirit of the Christmas season, we ask Delachi his memories of festive dinners back in Italy, and what his ideal Christmas dinner would be like.
What is your ideal Christmas dinner?
My ideal Christmas dinner is very much connected to my childhood memories. I was lucky enough to have a great childhood: I used to live in the northeast of Italy, in the Venice region. My parents would bring my brother and I up to the mountains during the holiday season, and we’d stay in our beautiful house, which was all covered with snow.
We had very cold winters in the mountains, so there was a lot of strong food to keep us warm. I have memories of dishes like lasagna or pasticcio made from local mushrooms. There was also a lot of soup during the winter as well as pasta. My mother would make a lot of ravioli and different meat courses. And of course, there was a lot of wine. A plate that I could not miss was cotechino, a traditional Italian dish of pork sausage cured with a lot of spices. It’s cooked very slow for hours, and served with polenta and lentils.
My ideal Christmas dinner is all about those memories. But since I now live in Malaysia, it's not really the same. These dishes are also not easy to make. I like to think of myself as a decent chef but it takes a lot of time and effort to prepare so many Christmas dishes.
What are some foods you always associate with Christmas?
There were always a lot of cakes around when we had Christmas. We had so many kinds, like torrone, a crunchy cake with a lot of nuts and almonds and honey, and of course, the panettone with candied fruit inside. Hot chocolate is also a great memory I have. Waking up to a hot mug of hot chocolate made by my mother, with whipped cream on top, which we could enjoy just before going skiing. It was just wonderful.