When in Italy, use a moka express

How To, Living Abroad, Roma, Study Abroad

The morning after my arrival in Rome I found myself staring at this small metal object thinking to myself, what is this contraption and how do I use it?

That contraption turned out to be a stovetop coffee maker called a Moka Express. Although originally created and patented by Alfonso Bialetti in 1933, it was actually his son Renato Bialetti who mass-produced and marketed the Moka Express coffee pots to a success.


Bialetti Moka Express coffeemakers in the Campo de’ Fiori

Renato Bialetti recently passed away at 93 on February 11, 2016 in Switzerland. His funeral was held in Bialetti’s hometown of Montebuglio, Italy. According to The Telegraph, “His three grown-up children – Alfonso, Antonella and Alessandra – decided to honour his life’s work by placing their father’s ashes in a giant version of the coffee pot.”  Strange, but oddly fitting right?

The giant Moka Express that contained Bialetti’s ashes was then placed in the family tomb in the neighboring town of Omegna.

His father, Alfonso Bialetti, designed the Moka Express to be an aluminum, octagonal-shaped coffee maker that consists of three main parts. The bottom part is used for the water to boil. The middle part is the strainer for coffee grounds to be placed in. The top section is where the coffee flows into after enough pressure has built up to push the water through the coffee grounds and into the top.

I stared blankly at this eight-sided hunk of metal for a solid two minutes in my groggy, still-trying-to-wake-up state. After unscrewing and examining the different pieces, I realized that preparing the coffee was actually quite simple.

So without further ado, here’s how to make your coffee using your Bialetti Moka Express.

Step 1) Make sure you actually have a Moka Express. If you don’t, go out and find one or order one here. Coffee grounds are also important to have.

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Step 2) Unscrew the top section from the bottom. You should end up with 3 parts.

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Step 3) Fill the bottom with water up to the line or just slightly below.

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Step 4) Place the strainer (the middle part,) into the pot you just filled with water. If you see water leak through the holes into the strainer, you have too much water.

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Step 5) Fill the strainer all the way up with your coffee grounds, but don’t pack it down. (You can also alternatively switch steps 4 and 5 and fill the strainer up with coffee first before placing it into the pot.)

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Step 6) Screw the top section on all the way and place the Moka Express onto the stovetop. Turn the stove on to medium-to-low heat. (You don’t want the coffee to burn or boil over!) Wait until the coffee starts to bubble up to the top and give it another 1 or 2 minutes. (You should be able to hear it.)

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Step 7) Pour your coffee out into a cup and voila! Milk and/or sugar are optional.

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Renato Bialetti took over the Bialetti company in 1947. According to The Local, Renato “launched a huge marketing campaign, renting billboards in major Italian cities and became a mascot for the brand, printing a caricature of himself ordering a coffee on each pot.” Moka Express pots can now be seen in most households within Italy and are sold worldwide.

Gaia Coltorti, 24, is an intern at the University of Washington Rome Center who shares the same coffee habits as me. I’ve been using my Bialetti Moka Express every morning and I asked her how often she uses hers. “Almost every day, every morning,” Gaia stated.


You can get a Moka Express in a variety of colors and sizes

I came across Masin Bathan, a vendor who sells a variety of Bialetti products in the Campo de’ Fiori. When asked how long he has been selling these products for, Masin told me, “a very long time.”

In my apartment, I only have the one cup Moka Express. “One and two cup is the most popular,” Masin said.

The coffeemakers are made up to a 12 cup serving size. Sometimes I think I could use a larger one because the “cups” are really just espressos and honestly, that’s just not enough for me. You can call me a basic American girl but I’m not ashamed to admit that I miss my grande vanilla lattes.

Bialetti claimed that the Moka Express allowed anyone to make “in casa un espresso come al bar,” or, an “espresso in the home just like one in the bar.”

Here’s to Renato Bialetti, who changed the world of modern coffee-making in the Italian household. May he rest in peace.


I just want to breathe in fresh air

Living Abroad, Roma, Study Abroad, Travel

Having fresh air to breathe was never something I fully appreciated until I was trapped in the corner of a plastic box full of cigarette smoke.

One of the most distinctive differences between Italy and the United States is the abundance of smoking here. Italy has recently implemented some new smoking laws, but I haven’t seen any immediate behavioral changes.

According to ISTAT, the number of smokers in Italy for 2013 was 21.1 for every 100 people, aged 14 and older. That’s about 12,624,130 smokers in a population of 59.83 million.

My eyes felt dry and heavy. My hair and clothes were absorbing the smoke. I was choking on the polluted air and I actually thought that asphyxiation was a possibility. There I was, sitting in the corner of the plastic covered outdoor seating of Blanc Caffé in the town of La Spezia.

The raindrops couldn’t be heard over the blasting pop music, but I could see the rain pouring down onto the ground just outside the clear plastic. My companions and I still had 2.5 more hours until our train departure. There was nowhere for us to go.

I have never had a huge problem with breathing in small amounts of cigarette smoke. Most of the time when I’m just passing by a smoker, it doesn’t bother me. But being stuck in a small enclosed space with at least half of the customers lighting up their cigarettes and essentially creating a hot box made me realize that I was not okay with this.

Most of the customers looked young; it seemed like this café was a popular after school hang out spot. In Italy, there is no minimum smoking age, but it is illegal for tobacco to be sold to anyone under 18. Prior to 2013, the age limit was 16.

Albert Hessler, a man I met on the night of the Superbowl at Scholar’s Lounge has lived his life in both Italy and the States. He started smoking at age 16 and continued to smoke for 10 years. He had quit smoking for 4 months but started up again recently “for social reasons mainly.” Albert is 26 now.

“I think you should be 21 to smoke,” Albert said.

I asked him why he thought that.

“Because it’s a very dangerous choice and 18 isn’t old enough,” said Albert.

New smoking laws for Italy came into effect three weeks ago on Feb 2, 2016. These new laws come with some sizable fines. If you get caught grounding a cigarette, that’ll be €300. It’ll cost you €650 if you get caught smoking in a car with children or pregnant women and another €500 for smoking around a hospital. So unless you’re made of cash, don’t do it.

But if you’re interested in the new laws, here is a comprehensive list that The Local has created for your viewing pleasure.

Will these new laws really change anything? I don’t know. I’ve seen at least a dozen people within the past few days toss their cigarette butts onto the ground and one of them could not have been older than 15.


8 cigarette remains on the ground. Photo courtesy of Jennifer McGinty. You can check out her blog here

Albert’s girlfriend, Ilaria Nucci, is a 26-year-old Italian native who first moved to Rome to attend university. Ilaria estimated that the average age to start smoking cigarettes is 16.

I asked her about why she thought kids started to smoke at such an early age. “To be cool. Peer pressure,” Ilaria said.

30 minutes after leaving the café, I was still able to pat down my jacket sleeves and visibly watch the cigarette smoke float up into the air. I’m looking forward breathing in some crisp, clean air.

I should’ve listened to my mom

Disasters, Living Abroad, Roma

Last week I made the mistake of forgetting my wallet in a foreign country and in that moment, I recalled my mom’s wise words of always keeping emergency cash on me.

As I transition into real adulthood, I’ve come to the realization that my mom really is wonderful. So why is it always so hard for me to (begrudgingly) acknowledge when my mom is right?

When I left for college three and a half years ago, my mom told me to always have cash stashed away somewhere, just in case of an emergency. And every time I visit home, she always reminds me of this very thing.

So on the advice of those wiser than me, please make sure to:

  1. Have emergency cash tucked away somewhere in your purse, jacket, shoe, anything.

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    Mom, I should’ve listened to you earlier. Emergency cash is a must.

  2.  Check that you have enough cash before ordering. Or check if the place takes card. – Natalie Kennedy, blogger of An American In Rome

Many places in Italy are cash only and you really don’t want to be in the situation I was in. Gif created by HenryK788 on Imgur..

Let me be clear. Liz and I were not trying to dine-and-dash. I don’t know if it was the exhaustion, forgetfulness, or both, but we somehow both managed to forget our wallets on that fateful Wednesday. So here we were, sitting outside at a corner table of a café in Monti, unable to pay a €6 bill.


Our coffees that totaled out to 6 euro

Liz nervously laughed at our unfortunate predicament. I was terrified of what would happen to us. Would we have to wash dishes in the back? There wasn’t enough time for us to go back to our apartments and come back to Monti to pay our bill before class.

The older Italian woman with the red hair stood behind the register, menacingly communicating to us in Italian. She did not speak English and we had no clue what she was saying. She pointed to my phone and I proceeded to hand it over. Her intent was to keep my phone until we came back with the money, preventing us dining and dashing.

A few days later, I was sitting at a different café, Er Baretto. I asked George Eskindar, the waiter, about situations like these. “How do you know if they [the customers] are lying?

“From the eyes. The eyes say everything.”

Luckily for us, the other waiters talked the red haired woman into letting us go. They were extremely kind and told us not to worry about it. To this day, I still wonder if it was the terror in our eyes or our distressed demeanor that softened their hearts to let us go.

Nonetheless, I have managed to learn from this horrifying experience. After talking to expert traveler Natalie, I’ve come up with a checklist of what to always carry with you.

Before you leave the house, please double-check that you have:

1. Cash and/or a bank card

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I know it’s rare to carry cash on ourselves back in the States, but it’s crucial to have cash here in Europe

2. Various forms of ID

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This means a passport or passport copy, your license and/or student ID (being a student comes in handy in many places,) and your approved documentation that states you’re legally allowed to be here.


3. Your keys

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“Locksmiths are ridiculously expensive. I mean, 300 euro to come on a weekend? The one time this happened to me, I waited around until Monday to pay just 50 euro. I also never forgot my keys again.” – Natalie

4. Your phone


Self-explanatory really. I can’t even count the number of times where I absolutely needed to get in contact with my parents and they didn’t have their phones on them.

5. A metro/bus pass

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Because minimal walking. Also please make sure to have the receipt for the bus pass with you.

Now that you have this list and the wisdom of the more experienced, go forth and hope that you don’t repeat my mistake. Remember to actually apply your mom’s advice to your life and give her a call soon. I know I’ll be calling mine this weekend.

I had gelato and never looked back

food, Living Abroad, Roma

As your typical American girl whose guilty pleasure is eating ice cream at 2am, I knew coming into Rome that gelato would be at the top of my foods-I-must-try-in-Italy list. Once I had that first bite of my heavenly, coffee flavored gelato on my first day here, I was hooked. Gelato now reigned supreme over ice cream in my mind.

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Me with my first gelato in Rome

I’ve been in Rome for about a month now, and the amount of times I’ve had gelato so far is more than I should probably admit. It’s difficult to resist the creamy, silky, deliciousness that is gelato. Now I know what you’re thinking. “Oh no, here’s another typical post about gelato.” Well I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but yes, you’re right.

So what is it about gelato that is so satisfying? Here is an infographic from Gelatissimo that I found to be pretty helpful in defining the differences between gelato and American ice cream.


Unlike ice cream, gelato is churned at a slower rate and is made with milk instead of cream. Gelato contains no egg yolks, and is stored and served at a higher temperature than ice cream. It also contains less fat and air molecules than ice cream which in my mind, rationalizes my consistent gelato consumption.

I met Cristina Rizzioli, who is the gelato maker over at Mamma Mia in the Campo de’ Fiori. Cristina is now 40 years old, but she grew up in Italy eating gelato. “Yeah, it’s a normal dessert for us. We eat gelato a lot of times. We finish every meal with something sweet.”

Gelato technically derives from sorbet, but our modern-day gelato is vastly different. According to gelato history as shown on the Gelato Museum website, “the architect Bernardo Buontalenti is credited with the egg cream gelato but Francesco Redi and Lorenzo Magalotti made it famous by singing its praises and describing its ingredients.”

Cristina spoke with pride in her voice when talking about the difference between American ice cream and Italian gelato. “This is the real gelato. I don’t use additives, chemical additives. I don’t use color. It’s real gelato.”

Back in Seattle, I could easily eat half a carton of ice cream by myself. But here in Italy, a small cup of rich, creamy gelato is enough to satisfy my craving.


Stracciatella and tiramisu in a small cup for €2

On the way back to my apartment, I met Cecilia Parolini, a native of Rome who works at Punto Gelato. Cecilia also grew up eating gelato, and her favorite flavors are either pistachio, or extra dark chocolate.

Although the number of customers vary with the seasons, Cecilia gets quite a bit of business in the gelato shop. “In winter, 100, and in summer, maybe 400, 500.” Because Punto Gelato’s location is close to the Campo de’ Fiori, most of the customers Cecilia gets are tourists.

Gelato may be hyped up for tourists, but locals enjoy a tasty gelato dessert too. Cristina’s favorite flavor is mint. I still consider myself a tourist, and I will gladly get gelato at any time, any day of the year. Gelato may be richer than ice cream, but it’s healthier and consumed in much smaller portions. 

When the time comes for me to head back to the states, I’ll have to scope out some more gelato shops. If anyone wants to treat me to gelato back in Seattle at The Fainting Goat, my favorite go-to flavors are coffee and stracciatella.


Mini markets saved me

Living Abroad, Roma

It’s 11 pm on Sunday night and I’m just returning from a weekend trip, only to realize there’s no food in the fridge to satisfy my hunger. All the nearby supermarkets are closed. Luckily, I spotted the lights of the bright red “Open” sign hanging from the doorway of my street corner mini market and I exhaled a huge sigh of relief.

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Back in Seattle, I’m spoiled with having 24-hour supermarkets like Safeway and QFC. There have been countless times where my roommates and I have made late night 1 am runs to Safeway, just to pick up some ice cream. Here in Rome, you’ll find that many stores close early on Sundays, or don’t open up at all.

I looked into all the supermarkets that are nearby my apartment and here’s what I found out:

  • Simply Market opens from 8 am – 10:30 pm, Monday through Saturday, 9 am – 1:30 pm on Sundays.
  • Conad is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 am – 10 pm. On Sundays, a riposo is included, so the store is open from 9:30 am – 1:30 pm and again from 4 pm – 10 pm.
  • Coop is open from 8 am – 10 pm Monday through Saturday, 9 am – 10 pm on Sundays.
  • Carrefour is open from 8 am to 10 pm Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, Carrefour is only open from 9 am – 1 pm.

Hint: These supermarkets would all be great to go to if you live in or visit Rione Trastevere or Rione Regola.

After a tiring half-day of traveling back to Rome, all I wanted to do was eat and then get to bed. This is where the mini markets played a part in saving me from my hunger.

Just down the street from my apartment complex stands the mini market owned by Salim Raza. I pass by his mini mart every day, multiple times a day. Salim is always very friendly, and after chatting with him for a while, I learned that he and his brother are the only ones who work there. Salim keeps his market open from 9 in the morning until midnight, every single day.

I asked Salim if he ever closes his mini market for any holidays or special days. “No. Nothing. Sometimes I go to Bangladesh, and that’s my holiday.”

Salim’s mini market is so convenient; if I’m heading out or heading back, it’s so easy to make a brief pit stop to pick something up. Salim stocks his mini market well enough to have all the essentials. If my roommates or I ever desperately need something, we can run down at any time to grab it.

Sarah Tripi, a fellow UW student studying abroad in Rome shared the same sentiments as me. “I think they are really convenient for life in the city. The prices are really cheap and an easy place to stop on the way home.”

I would encourage everyone who lives or stays in Rome to scout out their local mini markets for those moments of instant relief. If you get to know the person behind the counter, you may even score a few discounts.

With my shoulders aching from carrying my duffel bag and backpack, I step into Salim’s mini mart. Smiling at me, Salim greeted me happily. “Ciao.” “Ciao,” I replied, exhausted from my trip.

I picked up some clementines, salami, cheese, bread, and chocolate. I took my purchases and stepped out, leaving the brightness of the fluorescent lights.