So let’s say, hypothetically, that you’re a Texpat living in the province of Reggio Emilia (totally hypothetical), and you want to treat your Italian girlfriends to a Margarita Night.
You can’t make them from scratch because the things they call “limes” here cost €3 each and have been drained of all juice before arriving at the supermarket. So you use imported margarita mix that you smuggled into the country in Costco quantities in your luggage, prompting customs to ask why you have several bags of white powder in your possession.
Then you purchase the wildly overpriced and completely sub par (but only) option for Tequila – Jose Cuervo. If you’re lucky the same store will have TripleSec… but you’re not lucky usually, so you will probably have to go the “city” to find it. Cointreau will substitute in a pinch.
You line up all your ingredients and resign yourself to the fact that they will have to be served in martini glasses, as apparently there is no market here for imported Mexican margarita glasses. Such a shame.
And you stop to breathe, because that was the easy part.
Next up – ice.
Making ice in this bel paese is not quite as straight forward as you’d think. First of all, there are no ice machines in Italian refrigerators. In order to get an ice machine in your fridge, you have to buy one “all’americana“. You then have to justify your expense (which you will never be able to do), and fend off your friends and family’s judgement that you’re lazy.
It’s similar to what I call “The Great Italian Clothes Dryer Embargo“. Modern conveniences are just that – conveniences. And if you can afford conveniences (even if you prioritize them over 3 weeks crammed into a sweaty beach in August), then you clearly are not suffering from the Crisi.
And if you are not suffering… well… you are not living.
So, you can try a number of things. For a really good laugh, you can head down to the local bar and follow this script:
“Buongiorno, io ho una domanda un po’ strana!“
translation: “Hello, I have a strange question”
It’s always best to prepare them, I find. Remember to smile.
“Avete, per caso, una macchina per fare ghiaccio?”
translation: “Do you, by chance, have an ice machine?”
At this point a wave of suspicion and intrigue will wash over the face of the bartender. He/she may reply hesitantly or evade the answer by asking why.
“Sarebbe possibile acquistare un sacco di ghiaccio?”
translation: “Would it be possible to purchase a sack of ice?”
The short answer will be no, but you won’t get a short answer. They will want to know what it’s for. How can you possibly need so much ice? What are they supposed to do if they give you all their ice and someone comes into the bar asking for a drink with ice in it? (Note: that has never happened in the history of Italy. Everyone knows that ice makes you ill, just like drafts of air.) Then he/she will meh-maw back and forth for a bit and say the following… every time, without fail:
“Sai cosa si potrebbe fare? Si può acquistare quei sacchi da mettere in freezer!”
translation: “You know what you could do? You could buy those sacks to put in your freezer!”
This will be suggested as though it is a brilliant idea and an all-encompassing solution to your problem. Never mind the fact that you would have had to start this process at least a day before, and in order to make enough you will have to borrow at least two other people’s minuscule freezers.
Now some of you don’t know what I’m talking about with these “sacks” that you put in the freezer. Please allow me to explain:
The concept is on par with ice trays. Why do we not use ice trays, you ask? Well, because the average Italian freezer will comfortably store 3-4 ice trays. That will give you 3-4 frozen margaritas and it will take up your entire freezer… which is conveniently designed to be made up of only drawers, causing the ice trays to spill over into the drawer as you slide it back into the freezer.
So, back to the sacks. They sell these things… that are like disposable, one-time use, empty, plastic bubble-wrap. They have an opening at the top of the plastic sheet, which you hold under the tap to fill each bubble with water. Because of … physics … you can’t do this too quickly, because the funnel at the top is small. So you must keep the water on a slow trickle and patiently wait 1-2 minutes for one sac to fill it’s little bubbles.
Once your ice bubbles are full, you detach the two little flaps on either side of the funnel, along the perforation provided. As you are doing this, you must not tilt the bubble sac, lest you lose all the water you just filled into it. You must take these flaps and tie them into a knot to block the funnel and prevent the water from escaping.
It’s really quite a lovely exercise in manual dexterity, should that be something you need to work on.
Once that one sac is filled and tied, you may move on to the next one.
One to two hours later, you will have enough bubble sacs full of water to prepare ice for a Margarita Night. Now you need to freeze them. You may be able to fit 5-6 in your freezer, 5-6 in the freezer your suocera insisted on putting in your cantina so she can have a place to leave you copious amounts of food, 5-6 in the freezers of the ladies invited to Margarita Night, and you’re set.
Finally, on the night of making the actual frozen margaritas, you must remember to factor in the time necessary for liberating the little ice bubbles from their plastic prison. To be safe, calculate 2 times the number of minutes it took to fill them. Consider asking a friend to help, but warn them that they will not be able to feel their fingers afterwards.
By the time you get the last ice bubble in the blender, the first ones (which you liberated 30 minutes before) will most likely have begun to melt. So it’s best to have the rest of your ingredients ready to go immediately. Quickly blend until of frozen slushy consistency, and serve in a salt-rimmed martini glass with a wedge of “lime” (for color more than taste).
Trust me, they will be very impressed.