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Jan 9, 2013 10:15 AM

Are you ready for "birramisu"?

I confess a near-obsession with keeping track of the beer explosion in tourist Italy -- make that 'craft' beer explosion -- and part of me does want to cheer that Naples is moving up high enough on the tourist radar it sees a ready market for offering "birramisu" which -- according to today's New York Times -- is "a reimagining of the classic espresso-fueled dessert."

Don't know if it will become the international export that the Venice-associated tiramisu turned out to be, but certainly sounds like a tourist crowd pleaser: beer, cheese, sugar all in one cheap shot. The Times urges you to head straight for it just about as soon as you hit Naples.

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  1. I like beer, I love tiramisu, but gross.

    1. Glad to see a report on Naples - we really liked Squisitezze - home of the birramisu - and am glad to hear Sorbillo reopened.

      Would love to go back to that burg!

      11 Replies
      1. re: jen kalb

        And now all that "burg" needs is "craft" burgers and they won't be able to keep the tourist mobs away!

        1. re: barberinibee

          Id just add that squisitezze is as far as can be imagined from a touristic joint - its a tiny place with menu on the wall, a counter for cheese and other stuff, and a friendly staff with great enthusiasm for their regional products and not much english - also a sure touch with their dishes.
          given that tiramisu is made with a bread type product, soaking it with a beer doesnt seem totally insane and Id be willing to give these folks the benefit of the doubt.

          Its good that Naples has an energetic leader again - it seems to happen in cycles - all the peeling cultural signs around the churches date to a previous energetic mayor. But Im not going to be worrying about Naples being overrun by hordes of tourists wanting to experience birramisu for a while, given that most seem to either drop in for a quick pizza and peek at the Archeologico en route to or from Pompeii or else hide out down in Santa Lucia area

            1. re: sunshine842

              I misspoke - a grain product which beer also is. Anyway, my point is that I trust this place which has interesting cooking and is not gimmicky or touristy. Maybe the dish works or not but I would not dismiss out of hand.

              1. re: jen kalb

                Uh, jen: Trust by verify --- and I nominate you as my taster.

                Hardly dismissing it "out of hand." I'd call it an inspired creation of science, the product of keen observation of the eating habits of foreigners visiting Naples combined with sheer logic and the squisito generosity and graciousness so readily found among Neapolitans. Why keep arguing with your guests to sit down and enjoy a meal? Why keep pointing out pasta and beer don't mix well in the stomach? Why keep suggesting sweets are for breakfast, coffee for after dinner, only to have people wave you away. All Neapolitans have in their hearts is make people happy with their food! So why not give in and finally just pack sugar, slick fat, beer and a shot of coffee into a single glob that can be eaten while walking away. You make the New York Times. You make people smile.

                Look, I really feel for Neapolitans, watching those huge cruise ships pull in every day, thousands of people streaming off them and immediately jumping into taxis or onto buses to flee Naples as fast they can. Neapolitans probably look northward to Venice and wonder : "Wtf? We've got the better seafood, the better pizza, the better coffee, the longer history, the narrower old alleys, the nicer weather, the greater scenery, the more exciting art, the more authentic atmosphere -- we even picked up the garbage and got rid of the cars! So they want beer with pizza? Done! Tiramisu? Hell, we'll give them birramisu!"

                Next up: Squisitezze gives us calzone al coca cola (lite).

                1. re: barberinibee

                  yuck. cmon bb you are talking a slowfood place - they are pretty earnest.. their innovations would be incremental. Leave that kind of project to some kind of conglomerate or American entrepreneur.

                  I also suspect most Neapolitans are enjoying going about their lives and dont want their city turning into a Venice.

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    I'm so out of it living up here in Liguria. Apparently birramisu is at least a year old, although who is the originator of this dish, is not clear to me.


                    I'm beginning to think that, rather like the many crimes done in the name of protecting women and children, a lot of culinary crimes are being committed under the protection of "slow food." Tell me if they start selling birramisu in the freezer compartments at Eataly.

                    1. re: barberinibee

                      LOL I dont think Slowfood = Eataly, tho.
                      And Squisitezze/Salon del Gusto is not a freak show. The folks there actually cared whether we were interested in the Campanian regional food, and took us down to the basement to proudly show where they were aging cheese and cured meat. And they had a big jar of annurca apples pickling for their Christmas insalata di rinforzo (something I had not heard of before)

                      Tho Im not a beer drinker or fan in general, Claudia Fleming's ginger cake made with stout is very good. And some of these dark beers have spice and citrus flavors. Maybe a revision if tiramisu from its normal insipid flavor by using a less alcoholic, more bitter moistener creates additional interest.

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        Could be! Could be the best thing since the death of Twinkies.

              2. re: sunshine842

                Tiramisu is often made with ladyfingers or also with pan di spagna, which is a genoise sprinkled with espresso, rum or something similar.

                1. re: lisaonthecape

                  Tiramisu is also sometimes made with Twinkies

                  "This recipe for Twinkie Tiramisu is the same as is served in Classic Hall at Disney's Pop Century Resort, alongside such sentimental favorites as Fluffernutter Sandwiches and Tie-Dyed Cheesecake. This recipe for Twinkie Tiramisu appears in "Cooking With Mickey and the Disney Chefs""


                  Of course, that was yesterday. It's now an heirloom recipe to someday be recovered by food historians and served in solemn surroundings by menu curators.

                  I think everybody knows that many craft beers have become popular because they are so often sweet beers, and that once you are playing around sweet beers (or stouts), then a Nigella Lawson chocolate cake or Guinness Irish Cheesecake Bombs (created, by the way, as an homage to IRA car bombs), can't be too far away, and lots of people love cute desserts. We have this mug of Guinness Ice Cream with Chocolate Covered Pretzels for St Patrick's Day from YumSugar:


                  "Birramisu" is just so cloyingly cute, and such catnip to novelty-seeking travel writers and editors, I don't think anything could get me to say something nice about it, let alone eat it, most especially if anybody tries to foist it on me as "slow food." What is curious about Italy's entrepreneurial youth rebellion is how much it feels a need to wrap itself up in traditionalist artisan "cred" even as it tries to ape the frivolous Gangnam-partying style of unanchored youth in more affluent countries (where Italy's youth fears it will be forced to go to find work).

                  I think beer and birramisu is most certainly being waved with full knowledge of the male foreign tourist preference for beer over wine in a hot country and gooey desserts for women, and to rebrand Italy that way for mass tourism. But it's also the way the Italy's youth distinguishes itself as a new generation pondering a full break with the past. Since youth rebellions are meant to be annoying, and are usually confused, what could be more annoying or confused than birramisu?

        2. I don't think I'd get close to beer AND coffee in a dessert but apparently the birramisu is made with very dark beer INSTEAD of coffe. Interesting bu I think I'd prefer a vinomisu, possible with a good passito :)

          2 Replies
          1. re: madonnadelpiatto

            Okay, madonnadelpiatto, you asked for this -- and it is only for the truly brave.

            Recipes for "birramisu"!





            (PS: Birramisu apparently contains beer AND coffee AND chocolate. But you could have guessed that, right?)

            1. re: madonnadelpiatto

              I can see how that might be really good. I've had steamed brown bread (as in Boston baked beans with....) made with stout or porter, and it was delicious.

            2. Great news to report to all!

              You actually don't need to come all the way to Italy to eat birramisu!

              It has already reached America (that was fast!) and is on the menu at Spiaggia restaurant in Chicago. Some might even say it has been improved as well -- some might think 'further dumbed down?' -- by the addition of GELATO (made with Verdi Imperial Stout from Birrificio del Ducato, in case you wanted to know). Chance to save on the air fare.

              1. I would expect that from Eataly ... not from a Neapolitan! Mamma Mia!!

                And B - of COURSE it has made it to America, where we specialize in bastardizing everything!!

                Shaking head and walking away in search of a glass of barolo in which to drown my sorrows ....

                4 Replies
                1. re: ekc

                  yes I wish to join for the barolo please. I might even do beer, then chocolate, then coffee, oh my, oh my.

                  1. re: madonnadelpiatto

                    Here's the problem:

                    The "slow food" movement was born of an idea to save flavors we were in danger of losing because imitation foods and novelty foods were becoming the norm, and we were forgetting what real food and real meals were meant to taste like. We were raising generations who had no experience of eating honest things.

                    So we were going to get together and save these flavors, these traditions, save the public food market, so that people would always have that connection, and underneath was a quiet assertion (not too patriotic please!) that this food connected people and helped sustain their culture.

                    What we've ended up with is the rapid-fire corporate marketing of novelty flavors and food culture experiences, and worse, the mimicking of traditional food, the creation of faux-public experiences of the historic food market, the reworking of food beyond all recognition like a kind of plastic, to create novelty imitations of familiar foods.

                    As long you can cite "pure" origins -- no chemicals, no corporate backer, grown under candlelight in your basement -- or even just "pure intentions," then this novelty is "craft", it's "slow", it's "serious", it's "squisito." I say it's s---t.

                    I think it is a pity when a travel magazine article comes out supposedly applauding the revival of Naples as a world class cultural destination -- a city with some of the greatest traditional pastries in Europe you can't get elsewhere -- and travelers are told to run from the airport as fast as they can to a place where they can eat a "birramisu."

                    Just this week, I read about the death of the author of one my very favorite books, "Goodbye History, Hello Hamburger." The book isn't about "birramisu" precisely, but the obituary quoted a part of the book that I think is so apt to this discussion:

                    "“I wish people would stop asking me what my favorite[s} ...are. I do not think it really matters very much what my personal favorites are, except as they illuminate principles of design and execution useful and essential to the collective spirit that we call society. For irreplaceable examples of that spirit I will do real battle.”

                    Nobody ought to care if I (or you) eat tiramisu or birramisu and then say "Yum!" or "Yuck!" The point is it matters if people forget what food and flavor has been historically in the face of HUGE forces that would rather we forget, because that much better suits their purposes, whatever it does to the whole.

                    The same deceased author of "Goodbye History, Hello Hamburger" also lamented how much the popular press became the ultimate arbiter of taste throughout society, and that is what I am ranting about here (I do know I am ranting). The media thrives on novelty, the novelty of beer replacing wine in Italy, menus being tweaked to add the burgers that go better with the beer, the "re-imagining" of so-called classics to give it all a whiff of progress and respectability in the same breath, and you are scolded if you don't allow for it as "creativity."

                    Not that everything should always remain the same or ever could. But how awful for the New York Times to tout birramisu -- however "yum" -- as something to eat if one only has 36 hours in Naples.

                    1. re: barberinibee

                      the 36 hours articles are always shallow and about new and trendy. and not about the classic cultural attractions and eating at a the location. anyone who has only 36 hrs in Naples should be hoofing it up to Capodimonte for about 4 of those hours, for example. I did appreciate the update on Sorbillo and the article did not make clear/make me wonder whether the new Metropolitano line down to the harbor area had been completed.

                      Im frankly sorry to have given you the slowfood morsel to riff on. The restaurant is good and worth visiting based on our visit - its not a nonna restaurant, it has a chef, its not totally without innovation based on our small exposure. But its neither flaky nor pretentious. How many times does a foreign tourist go to a place (good food a given) and have servers ask whether we like naples and its food and be sincerely pleased that they do? their welcome ranks with other highpoints of our travels over the years, where the experience comes together to make a pleasing whole.