Il Bar: Microcosm of Assisi Life
As Chiara ordered the pastry tray at Bar Bi, she summed it up: “Anthropologically speaking, the bar is a microcosm of the town, a reflection of town life. Every Italian town – Assisi, too – has countelss bars, but only one is “Il bar” and it’s this one.”
For Assisians, BarBi is their “punto di riferimento,” as Chiara put it. “The Greeks had their agora,” she added, “and nowadays, if we Italians have any sense at all of coming together, it’s at the bar.”
And even after over 35 years in Italy, the full meaning of “il bar” hit just a couple months ago, prompting this note:
Gianluca opens BarBi at 6:45 with a thorough clean-up, inside and outside before Lucio’s 7:15 arrival from Pasticceria Sensi. Mini-van parked right outside the door, Lucio unloads baking sheets of margherita pizze (round, triangular and square slices), a few other pizza types and flat cardboard boxes of cornetti, maritozzi and the rocciata (strudel) and brustengolo, pastries typical of Assisi. Panini – just a few – and filled torte (an assisano flatbread) follow.
How many? Usually 2 maritozzi, 2 pizza alla cipolla e salvia slices, a full baking sheet of pizza margherita, a few panini, 4 pancaciati, 2 mini-pizzette rosse, 2 round pizze al rosmarino, 2 triangular tomato-only pizzas (no mozzarella as on the margherita) and about 7 brustengolo tarts.
How to know what and how much to order?
As first customer Marcello drank his cappuccino (no order needed: Gianluca knew how hot, how much foam, etc), Gianluca proved to be a veritable culinary almanac of Assisi life!
The square pizze margherita awaited elementary school children, arriving before 8 a.m with Mamma or Nonna. “We order squares to easily fold and slip slices into small paper bags for school snacks.” Middle-school or high school students would nab leftover slices before or after school.
Triangles of torte filled with either arugula and stracchino cheese or with salami or prosciutto were for Assisi city employees working late in the 14th c civic palace, right across the piazza.
Why just 2 round rosemary pizzas? “For two children who like the crunchy crust.” Two slices (triangular cut – less crunchy crust) of onion/sage pizza were for two habitué clients. (One would have his at about 11 a.m with orange/carrot/lemon juice and the other, later on with a cappuccino!)
Two pizzette rosse were for Francesco, realtor, who’d come in mid-morning and have tap water to drink.
At about 11 a.m, a customer would come for a maritozzo, cut in half (“so no crumbs on his hands”), to have with “cappuccino al latte freddo (ma poco latte)” – no foam – sweetened with four packets of sugar (!). The other one was for a signora due in at about 5 pm.
About that time, cyclists would drop in for brustengolo – “medieval power bar” – the Assisi cornflour, apples, walnuts/pinenuts tart. Their drink? Lots of water.
I checked BarBi at about 8 pm – aperitivo time – surveying what remained in the glass cases: only one slice of margherita, a few panini (“rain kept away the tourists”) and a few brustengoli. On a rainy day, fewer bikers out.