Mantova & Verona – Ass or Horse?

 In early September, I was in Mantova before heading to Verona for the Arena Opera Festival. As I was only staying one night, I decided to choose a local restaurant for dinner to try the local specialty: donkey meat.

Stracotto d’asino con polenta

The donkey meat dish, stracotto d’asino con polenta, is a red wine braised donkey meat with a side serving of polenta. The intense dark meat flavor is balanced with the sour acidity of the Lambrusco wine and perfectly juxtaposed with the creamy polenta. The plating cannot be simpler, the dark stewed meat against the light yellow polenta creating a delectable yin and yang symbol.

stracotto d'asino con polenta

stracotto d’asino con polenta

The morning after my iPhone broke down and I had a rather stressful time trying to get a cheap phone in a store with an Italian salesperson that speaks neither English nor French. After lunch, I headed hastily to Verona, checked into the hotel and scrambled to the nearby enoteca for a quick dinner before opera. Apparently horse meat is a specialty in Verona. I wasted no time, and I chose it as my main course. 

Pastissada de caval

The horse dish I ordered is the patissada de caval. When the dish arrived, I was how surprised at how similar it was to the stracotto d’asino con polenta I had for dinner just the night before. The horse meat was in a wine stew just like the donkey of yesterday night. However, the wine used was naturally the local Veneto Valpolicella red wine. A grilled polenta replaced the creamy polenta of yesterday. The only difference was a sprinkling of fresh green salad leaves adding a touch of color to an otherwise duo chromatic plating. 

patissada de caval

patissada de caval

A quick check on Google revealed that Theodoric, the Ostrogoth king, was the crucial element to the creation of this dish. Apparently after winning a battle, “he let the people use the flesh of killed horses, and since they have been dead on the battlefield for a few days, they started to smell bad, so people started to marinate the meat with generous amounts of wine, vegetables, and onions, and that’s how pastissada de caval was born“.

Ass or horse?

I could not figure out why two dishes so similar were given such different names, one being stracotto and the other being pastissada. Anyway, which did I like better? I say donkey meat has a gamier taste, while the horse was leaner and worked well in a red wine stew.

Well, I like ass, but I prefer horse any day!

Ass eaten 2019/09/04 in Mantova at http://www.ochinabianca.it/ 

Horse eaten 2019/09/05 in Verona at https://www.enotecasegreta.it/

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