I’m standing in a pitch-black, stonewalled alleyway, narrow enough for me to touch each end with my middle fingers, if I extend my arms. Four Filipino prostitutes are on the corner, in thigh-high black socks and booty-showing hot pants, beckoning my brother to have a good time. Spanish and Nigerian men catcall me with dirty Italian phrases, as I frantically try to chase my sweet determination–which is quickly fading as it gets darker and darker into the night.
Tucked far away from the picturesque Genoese seashore and breath-taking zebra-like Duomo is Profumo di Rosa. The New York Times, 36 Hours column mentioned the gelateria in a 2010 story about the city and its transformation from “grit” to “glamour.” The article didn’t mention the maze of grit and glamor that it takes to get to the sweet paradise.
My brother, Vivek, and I took a day trip to the Northwestern maritime town last week. I was resolute to make his spring break trip unforgettable and shamelessly show off my improved culinary gusto since studying at The University of Gastronomic Sciences. Little did I know that it would be memorable in more ways than one.
Our shared love of gelato has a long-standing history – from insatiable sweet-tooths (sic) to previous trips to Italy, from a genetic predisposition of Indian confections to memories of hot Minnesota summers with cool, creamy soft-serve.
So naturally it made sense that I still wanted to find the place while standing in the middle of the red light district at 8 p.m. utterly lost–without any help from Google Maps.
Genoa is strange in the sense that you can go through one extremely seedy alleyway and be spat out into a row of five-star restaurants. We eventually found our tired, forlorn, craving bodies on a wider cobble-stoned road, in front of a fluorescent-lit sign: Profumi di Rosa.
After a deep sigh of relief, we pushed open the glass doors to find a chirpy Italian woman speaking to the customer ahead of us. I glanced at the flavors as she artfully spread four varieties of gelato, Spumoni-style, into a Styrofoam container. There were the typical Italian flavors: pistachio, hazelnut, and dark chocolate.
But my curiosity peaked when looking at some of the more unusual titles. Distracted and overwhelmed by the options, I barely registered the voice of the owner, from behind the counter, asking me what I’d like. Rosa notices my dazed, eyes-glazed-over expression and asks, “English or Italian.”
My brother very thankfully answers for me, English. We start getting into a conversation about where we’re from and what we’re doing. As soon as I mention UNiSG, her eyes light up, her posture changes, and we’ve gone down a rabbit hole of origin and processes, Slow Cheese events and the region, gastronomy and gelato-themed t-shirts (she’s wearing one with each of her original flavors listed). We ask to try each flavor, and she obliges with a huge smile.
I ask for a flavor that starts with an m, but she says that variety is actually a sorbet, which is down a few containers.
“Try anything you like,” she says as she hands me a small, green plastic spoon. She goes into detail about how the sorbet is made, why it’s not in the correct spot, and you can see the passion in her brown eyes. Me, being the indecisive person that I am, choose the maximum number of flavors possible: 4.
As she strategically piles hazelnut, “m” flavor (consisting of chocolate, Guinness beer, cookie crumble and vanilla), pistachio and baci into my cone, she doesn’t go into the articles written about her ice cream shop or why she’s the best in town. Instead, she asks if I’ve kept my tasting spoon.
“Italy is not known for recycling, but we try to reduce waste here,” she says nonchalantly.
She hands me a three-centimeter diameter waffle cone with four globe-shaped scoops of gelato. My brother and I walk out into the street before taking the first bites. As we say our goodbyes, she recommends visiting Baladin brewery when I’m back in Bra.
I turn my head as I wave halfway out the door, and notice a 36 Hours window-sticker to the side of the glass entryway. Equipped with my green plastic spoon, I dig in greedily. The gelato is creamy without being overly sweet, strong pistachio notes that sing well with the Guinness creation Rosa made that morning, left with a delicate reminder of hazelnut on your lips after eating the last bit of cone. It only took a walk into (and out of) a dark alley to find it.