By Tess Sanders
The Di Palo family’s shop has been a vital presence in Manhattan’s Little Italy for more than a century. It began as an unassuming latteria that Lou Di Palo’s great-grandparents opened to to serve immigrants mostly from their area of Montemilone in the region of Basilicata.
These days Lou and siblings Sal and Marie run a full-fledged grocery store. When visitors ask who owns the store, the current shopkeepers gesture to their great-grandparents’ photo on the wall. Di Palo’s moved only once at the turn of the 21st century and still boasts its exquisite dairy products. “Cheese is our life,” Lou says.
In the newly published Di Palo’s Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy, Lou shares generation-spanning stories that feature key Italian ingredients as their characters. For Lou, it’s a book about relationships. Relationships between food and people.
Lou worked with food writer Rachel Wharton to create a narrative that glides as smoothly as Di Palo’s signature cannoli cream–from the origin of the family’s life and shop in New York into the stories of the foods that form that life. The book tells the tale of eleven essential Italian foods, from ricotta to sea salt ending with piave and speck. Lou worked with Rachel to fold in many personal reminiscences “for other people, to invoke memory for them—their ancestors, what they did and how they did it.”
The tales of how these essentials are created and savored makes for a compelling and informative reader experience. An interaction not unlike the customer’s experience shopping at Di Palo’s where the staff prizes the sharing of flavor and knowledge above all else.
Speaking with Lou in the wine store Enoteca Di Palo that son Sam Di Palo opened next to the grocery, it became clear that he could pen another book’s worth of essentials right now. Working within the space confines of a printed book, Lou had to select the essential essentials.
He revealed to SimpleItaly some other essentials that didn’t make it into the volume: