Some North Americans may know very well what “tartufo” is. Yep, you’re reading this post, and you’re thinking, I’ve got this one covered. Tartufo is that type of Italian ice cream ball that usually has one flavour on the outside and another on the inside. And you’d be absolutely, positively correct. Score one for you! The word “tartufo” in English and Italian, often refers to this ball of ice-creamy goodness:
So think about how confused you are when you’re perusing a menu in Italy and you come across dishes like “pizza con tartufo” (pizza with tartufo) “risotto con tartufo” (risotto with tartufo) and “bruschette di pomodoro con olio di tartufo” (tomato bruschetta with tartufo oil). What the heck!? You decide there must be some mistake and you ask the waiter.
“Mi scusi, but bruschetta with ice cream oil? How is that even possible?” You ask, making a face so that he understands the idea is completely absurd. The waiter looks at you like you’ve just said the Pope is Buddhist.
“Madam, you are mistaken,” he counters kindly once he understands the translation problem that is underfoot in this situation. “Tartufo means truffle in English. Does that make more sense? All of the dishes are very well paired to go with truffles and truffle oil.” He smiles and shuffles off, shaking his head at this misunderstanding.
Meanwhile, you rack your brain for the image that corresponds with the word “truffle“. Eureka! The last time you heard about truffles, it was when your boyfriend was complaining about how expensive they were to buy for you at Valentine’s Day. They were chocolates, those yummy, delicious, rich, chocolate powder-covered chocolates!
But then you think, how does that make more sense? Pizza with chocolate truffles? Rice with chocolate truffles? Bruschetta with tomatoes and chocolate truffle oil? No. Either there’s another translation mistake here, or you’ve stumbled upon one of the weirdest restaurants in the world. Hating to do so, you whip out your guidebook and look like a complete tourist as you search for the “menu decoder” section. You search the word “tartufo” and come up with a description of ice cream, which you already knew, and then a description of: mushrooms!
Yes, a “tartufo” in Italian and a “truffle” in English also refer to these precious, flavourful and expensive mushrooms. They’re a common feature ingredient in Italian cuisine, especially in the fall and winter. So your waiter wasn’t crazy, the menu wasn’t wrong, and I highly recommend that you try a dish with these babies in it. And if you’re eating something with truffle oil, make sure to bring a clothes peg for your nose (the stuff stinks to high Heaven) and some chewing gum for after you’re done (same reason).