The one thing we have been amazed about the past few months while we have been in Umbria is just how many food festivals, or sagre there are. Every Friday listed in the Umbrian weekend paper are a list of every sagra being held in the region, and there can be dozens of different festivals running through any given weekend. One small town may hold a Sagra di Gnocchi while a neighboring town might celebrate a Sagra di Fritelle. It seems any food or ingredient you can think of has been used in these local celebrations, and this ingredient will be the focal point of the meal being offered for sale. As well, after dinner there is usually a live band and dancing that may (as we have found out) run into the wee hours of the morning.
Although we did visit a couple of local sagre at the beginning of the summer we were not overly impressed with the ones we experienced. I think you really need to pick and choose each sagra carefully or you may just may end up eating a mediocre meal sitting on picnic tables in a large crowd of strangers on a dusty soccer field. The one sagra we repeatedly were told was one we should not miss however was the Sagra della Cipolla in Cannara. Cannara, is a small town in central Umbria known as the onion capital of Italy, and so revered are the onions of Cannara that every September a week long festival is held that attracts thousands of visitors. At this Festa della Cipolla you can buy large bags of the local onions, as well as dine on any number of dishes from antipasti to dessert that all spotlight the lowly onion. The Festa della Cipolla began last weekend and runs through next weekend as well. We headed over on Sunday looking forward to seeing exactly what everyone had been raving about. Cannara is a small town, and although the 5 dining areas did not open until 7:30pm, when we arrived an hour earlier the town was already bustling with people and vendors were busy setting up tables along the streets to sell everything from the obvious bags of locally grown onions, to cured meats, honey, and costume jewelry. As soon as we stepped from the car the aroma of roasted onions permeated the air and it was pretty obvious there were a LOT of onions being prepared for dinner. The one food we noticed everyone walking around with at that time was a slice of onion pizza, or focaccia that smelled heavenly. So, even though we were to eat shortly we searched out the pizza stands and shared a slice of crisp flatbread topped with paper thin sliced onions. See photo below of my version!
We browsed the dinner menus at each of the food stations before heading to a local bar in the main piazza where everyone seemed to be passing through and bided our time until dinner with a glass of wine and some people watching. Just before 7:30 we headed to the closest dining tent only to find it almost completely filled already with a line halfway down the street. As there were just two of us they found room for us at a table and we enjoyed a lovely meal of everything onion. I initially was really planning on trying an onion dessert, but after a bowl of gnocchi with an onion tomato sauce, and then slices of roast pork with onions, as well as sharing sides of onion parmesan and fried onions I was quite frankly all “onioned out”. It was obvious though watching the locals take orders and serve the food that this is one sagra that has been very well organized and long standing. It was a great meal and after our earlier disappointing sagra experiences, it is certainly one food festival I would recommend folks try to attend. We returned home happy with two large sacks of onions and finally one positive sagra experience to add to our memories.
Bustling Streets Lined With Vendors
The Dining Tent We Chose For Dinner
My Version of Pizza della Cipolla