I was born and raised in a small Italian town surrounded by the countryside.
Those who are born in a village know it. Life flows slowly.
I consider myself lucky. Otherwise, I would not be here telling the story of a small-town milkshake. The Popeye’s strawberry milkshake.
The eighties and life in a small town
Today everything is changed. But I think that in some places you stay a child longer.
When I was a teenager, there were no social media, and, also, for this reason, you grew up slower.
My window on the world was teenage magazines. And the world, to me, was Milan, which seemed like another planet from where I lived.
In the mid-1980s, I was 14 years old when I discovered paninari (the Italian pronunciation is pani-na-ro). Paninaro identifies a youth phenomenon born in the eighties in Milan, which then spread throughout Italy. The word paninaro comes from panino (hamburger), the signature food of the generation that discovers American hamburgers.
The phenomenon emerged in contrast to the previous, highly politicized decade and proposed a light, consumer-based lifestyle. To have to be. It has been a hedonistic and disengaged style that became the hallmark of the entire decade, not just the youth.
At that time, these reflections did not interest me.
Above all, I used to read in teenage magazines about the habits of paninari and what they wore and ate.
I dreamed of eating and drinking a hamburger with a milkshake in a Burghy, the first fast-food restaurant that opened in Italy in 1981.
But teenagers like me, who lived in a village or small town, could aspire, at best, to a homemade hamburger in the local bar.
Popeye, hamburger and strawberry milkshake
In Imola, there was a place called Popeye’s.
It still exists, but today it is something else.
It was a cozy, small place. Most of the space was occupied by the wooden workbench. Beyond there were a shelf with a few stools.
Popeye’s had a soul that was hard to define. It was a truly, genuine family businessA little bar, a little artisanal fast food. Don’t think it was a hangout for gangs of kids.
Gianni and his wife’s place was frequented by people who stopped for a coffee or a gourmet sandwich or passed to chat with the popular owner.
I was about ten years old when, after the pool, my friend Claudia’s mom would bring us there for merenda. A few years later, I got permission to go with my two best friends.
We would sit on stools waiting for burgers and milkshakes.
Gianni grilled the meat, heated the artisan bread, cut fresh tomatoes and salad, and prepared the sauces, mayonnaise, and ketchup. His wife was in charge of the milkshake: milk, strawberries, no sugar, and instead of ice cream, to get the consistency of a milkshake, she added a banana and a few ice cubes. When she turned on the blender, it was impossible to talk for several minutes.
Waiting for my sandwich, I always said “Gianni, no tomato for me”.
And regularly, between the two slices of bread peeked out a shiny red slice served with Gianni’s laughter. The same, I would taste both with a joy I don’t know how to describe. Think of a happy moment of yours, but a really good one. I was feeling that happiness.
Over the decades, I have drank many milkshakes and eaten dozens of gourmet or fast food hamburgers. But, still now, the taste of Popeye’s burger and strawberry milkshake is one of my favorite food memories. Like Gianni’s good smile, which I have never forgotten.
Homemade milkshake is made with fresh fruit and milk.
No sugar except that of the banana. And don’t forget a few ice cubes to disguise the banana as ice cream. I’ll leave you with Popeye’s recipe as I remember it.
The red bag you see in the photo is an iconic Naj Oleari. In the 1980s, it was The Bag of the Wishes. I still find it beautiful today. Besides, mine is vintage!
Buona cucina, Monica
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Popeye no-sugar strawberry milkshake recipe
List of the Ingredients
cold milk, 150g
ripe, organic strawberries, 150g
3 ice cubes
Place the banana in the freezer for one to two hours.
Wash and dry the strawberries and remove the green stem.
Cut the fruit into large chunks, also the iced banana, after removing the peel.
Put all ingredients in the glass of a blender and blend until the milkshake is creamy.
Pour into glasses, garnish with a strawberry, and don’t forget a paper straw.