Bars aren’t what they used to be in Italy. The simple salami roll of the sixties and seventies has now been ousted by all sorts of truffled concoctions, and you can take your cappuccino with soya milk or ginseng if you like. These days counters are marbled, and the iconic Bar signs of the black and white films have been replaced by gleaming façades. If you have a nostalgic gene, you can still find an old price list with plug in tile letters in some of the old trattorias. One example is Aldina near the covered market in Modena, whose decor and menu have remained gloriously unreconstructed for 30 years.
However, the best panino in Modena is to be had not in a bar, but from my greengrocers di fiducia in Corso Vittorio Emanuele as you walk into town from the station. Mimmo and Franco have been meeting the grocery needs of the older population in this area for years, and Mimmo’s cherry tomatoes and oranges are truly speciali. Once I asked him for some good olive oil, and he searched behind his bottles on the shelf until he found something that his quietly triumphant smile suggested he had been saving for me alone.
Recently Mimmo and Pino have been building up a steady trade in panini, and you can order your filling according to what fresh produce is available that day. If you’re not too much of a control freak, you can let Pino create you a bespoke sandwich, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed. My personal favourite has chunks of chicken, slices of aubergine and a little olio piccante. Pino’s quiet concentration as he assesses your mood and produces a small gastronomic triumph is not to be missed.
But if you want to, skip the fancy stuff and just get a serious salami sandwich. Perché quando ci vuole ci vuole