Anne's Blog

Rieti, Spicy Heart of Italy

Date: September 6, 2014 - categories: , , , - 1 Comment

You know you’re headed towards Rieti’s peperoncino festival, Rieti, Cuore Piccante, as soon as you cross the Velino River and enter Via Roma: huge green and red chili peppers meet in a sort of triumphal arch over the street (and you’ll see people coming towards you with peperoncini plants in their arms, on their way home from the festival). The peperoncino theme continues all the way up Via Roma, fiery red bunches and strings of peperoncino adding color splashes to many a shop window: red swatches of peperoncino set off polished black boots in a store window, necklaces of peperoncini drape blouses in a store next door while bunches of red chili peppers in a vase with palm fronds highlight a boutique window displaying a red coat, red leather handbag. A wreath woven with chili peppers hangs on a shop door, a chili pepper plant welcomes you into a bookstore (where a display of books on the salubrious properties of peperoncino fans out on table at the entrance) and the cosmetic shop displays peperoncino body creams, shampoos and face creams.

Rieti on the Velino River

Rieti on the Velino River

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Peperoncini form an arc over the main Rieti street

Back from the festival with a peperoncino plant

Back from the festival with a peperoncino plant

Peperoncino necklaces set off these shirts

Peperoncino necklaces set off these shirts

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Bright red chili peppers perk up this shoe store window

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Chil pepper reds near the reds of handbag, necklace and coat

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An array of books on chili peppers at the Rieti bookshop

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Peperoncini in face creams, shampoos and body creams

Next door, red pepper bunches add spark to the display of eyeglasses, sunglasses and a scarlet chili pepper bouquet tied with a red rhinestone bow catches the eye in the adjoining jewelry store.

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Even sunglasses are more attractive backed by cheery peperoncini

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Peperoncini adorn the jewelry store window

You’ll pass the florist with cheery peperoncino plants of every imaginable color – vases wrapped in colorful shiny paper with perky bows – in the front row, all the other flower varieties taking back seats during the festival. Right across the street, the cafe’ offers wines with antipasti highlighted with peperoncino and if you’re craving something sweet, crepes with crema di cioccolato al peperoncino. And as you enter the main square, you’ll pass a man on your left with shelves of peperoncini plants for sale and surrounding the fountain in the piazza center, festive booths – with red (what else?) the dominating color – offer every imaginable peperoncino enticement to taste (and take home, hopefully!)

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Chili pepper features cocktails during the festival

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All sorts of chili pepper plant arrangements at the local florist

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Calabrian specialties for sale in this booth

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Booths selling peperoncino-spiced sauces, cheeses and meats – and not only – ring Rieti’s main piazza

Our first stop? The booth of the Calabrian vendors of spicy sauces, cheeses and salamis with peperoncino and of course, ndjua, the famed Calabrian spread of smoked ground pork with abundant Calabrian peperoncino. Alessio (from Florence – “I’m a northerner who went south”) offered us a taste of nduja (sold! and not only. Rosa was in the next booth and of course, we had to taste her nduja and other spicy sauces, too… and then came Alessia’s nduja displayed in an eye-catching flaming red booth. Angela’s stand was next (where red reigned again), offering us tastes of her pecorino cheese with hot red pepper before we moved on to the Sardinian booth where two smiling young women urged us to try their peperoncino goats’ milk cheese. At nearby booth, young Giada sells the jewelry she makes on the peperoncino theme.

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Alessio (from Florence!) offers a taste of a spicy Calabrian nduja

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Rosa from Calabria with her sauces

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Angela offers cheeses and salamis with peperoncino – care for a taste?

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Alessia from Calabria offering up a peperoncino specialty, ‘nduja

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Sardinian goats’ milk cheese with peperoncino entices many

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Giada makes earrings and necklaces with the chili motif

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Peperoncini abidance for Giada’s jewelry creations

Across from the booths encircling the main piazza, enter a narrow backstreet to walk through the exhibition of paintings – from as far away as Iraq – with peperoncino as the main theme. On the other end of the alleyway, blaring disco music competes with the shouts of the announcer urging the crowd to applaud the tricks of Italy’s Bike Trial champion, young Diego (from Rieti) as he leaps on his bike onto huge red tires, rears his bike up on the next obstacle and spins around the track. And not just sports events add spice to the peperoncino festival: over the three days of the festival, theater (in rietino dialect), dance, song, concerts, guided walks through underground Reati (departure point: the 1st c AD. Roman bridge), lectures on the salubrious properties of the chili pepper, a photographic exhibit, a display of over 400 varieties of the plant (from five continents), cooking shows and pasta dinners (main ingredient in the sauces? peperoncino!) draw the visitors.

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Peperoncino in art

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Bike Trial tricks by young national champion, Diego, from Rieti

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You can join in a spaghetti dinner with chili pepper theme, too

While in this Latium town for the 4-day Rieti, Cuore Piccante (“spicy heart”) festival, meander the narrow alleyway to Piazza San Rufo, the “heart of italy.” Just follow the sign pointing you to “umbilicus italiae” and you’ll come to a small piazza with a double-layered limestone orb (like a stage) in the middle, chatting young people seated on it: your destination, “Italy’s navel.” Foligno and Narni – Umbrian towns – claim to be l’ombelico d’Italia, too.

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The so-called “umbilical of Italy”, a two-level limestone orb in Piazza San Rufo

Is the center of Italy actually in our region of Umbria or in neighboring Latium? I’m not sure which of the three towns is truly Italy’s geographic center.
But there’s no doubt about it: Rieti is Italy’s spicy center.

Read about an Umbrian festival where peperoncino reigns

Read about a favorite eating spot near Rieti

Read more about La Baita

Read about my favorite sandwich at La Baita

Read about a stop at La Baita enroute to L’Aquila

Read about a sagra near Perugia starring peperoncino

1 Comment

  • Judy Litner says:

    I’ve always wanted to visit Rieti. If you take the SS4 in the opposite direction of Rome; you will end up there. I wondered what I would find there and now I know. Pepperoncini!

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