Tuesday 16 August 2011

A little bit of Sicily in Åland

Rosario Brancato of Belissimo Glassbar
Åland islands (where we go on our summer holidays) has always been culturally a funny sort of a place. It's closer to Sweden than Finland, yet is an autonomous part of Finland. It has a rich history of seafaring; it even played a role in the Crimean war when the English invaded part of the islands. There's a small green space in Mariehamn called The English Park as a sort monument.

Yet Åland has remained defensively, almost stubbornly, unique. Even post EU membership, there's still legislation in force to protect the islanders from foreign invasion. In order to own land there, or to trade, you basically need to be Finnish and speak passable Swedish (this, odd as it may seem, is quite rare), or marry an Ålänning. Even having passed these tests, you have to live on the islands continuously for five years in order to earn your Åland stripes.

No wonder, then, that there aren't many foreign cafes or restaurants in the capital Mariehamn: so far during the twenty or so years we've been visiting the islands, we've noticed one Thai restaurant, a cafe/home-made chocolate shop run by a Venezuelan lady, a fast food kebab house, and now most recently a Sicilian cafe/bar.

Bellissimo cafe in Mariehamn
This year's newcomer, a Sicilian cafe called Bellissimo, seems to have arrived without much fuss. When the Englishman and I passed it the first time, we didn't go in as the place looked so unremarkable from the outside. But when shopping with my mother in the town a few days later she dragged me inside. (She's always keen to try anything new in Mariehamn.)

We were welcomed with a loud 'Ciao' from the owner, Rosario Brancato, who was busily wiping the counter. When I spotted an expresso machine and a display of ice-creams and the word 'Gelatiera', I was sold. My mother had in her turn spotted the apple cake. Just as in Italy - or Sicily - the man frowned at the request of skimmed milk, so we had double expressos instead of our usual mid-morning lattes. After a long time at the ice-cream counter I chose the cherry yoghurt whip. And boy, was it delicious (so much so I again forgot to take a picture!). My mother's apple cake was equally tasty.

The choice of ice-creams was overwhelming
The apple cake went so quickly I hardly had time to photograph it...
The ice-cream counter was busy
On leaving, Rosario shouted, 'Grazie mille signora!' My mother turned to him, smiled sweetly, and said, 'Ciao'.

This licensed Sicilian cafe should do well in Mariehamn - all I'd ask is that they advertise themselves a little more visibly to the many tourists - an Italian flag outside would do the trick nicely.


Style At Every Age said...

Apple Cake sounds yummy! I'm much more for stodgy puds than ice cream!

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