Cristina Fortini met me outside the Nuovo Mercato Esquilino, an indoor market offering produce, meats, and cheeses near the Roma Termini train station in Rome, Italy. After quick introductions, we went straight into the market where my education in Italian ingredients began.

The truth is, I never wanted to travel to Italy. At least not like others who dream of vacations filled with pasta and red wine. Food and travel have been my personal and professional passion for years, but I’d grown proud of my ability to seek out the unexpected, to find notable foods and inspiring stories in places not often celebrated for their culinary contributions.

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