David Downie: Delving into the Heart of Genoa and its Food Shops and Cafés

Published by Tuesday, December 13, 2011 Permalink 0
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by David Downie

genoa, genova, shrine, madonna, old town, medieval alleys

A Favorite, Fabulous Specialty Food Shop and Historic Café in Genoa

North of Genoa’s historic harbor — the celebrated Porto Antico — spreads the recently pedestrianized Piazza Caricamento. It’s most imposing and significant building is Sottoripa cafes in Genoa, for centuries the HQ of the Banco di San Giorgio — the bank that gave “banking” its name, and helped make Genoa one of the world’s richest cities. The frescoed palace — part medieval fortress, part baroque mansion — now houses Genoa’s port authority. Few visitors think to visit the interior, which is open to the public and worth a peak. Frescoes, high ceilings, antique furniture and plenty of salty atmosphere are to be found.

Sottoripa cafes in Genoa


The square is backed by Sottoripa and Via Turati, two shopping arcades lined by mom-and-pop stores of all kinds: fry shops, cafes and bars.

One of my favorite shops along Sottoripa is Armanino, a specialty foods boutique founded in 1905. The Armanino family still runs this narrow, deep cavern. Celebrated for its wide variety of candied fruit, handmade by a candy-maker in Savona, Armanino also offers scores of highest-quality Ligurian specialty foods. You’ll find Santa Rita brand dry pasta, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil from the Frantoio di Borgomaro and many other small producers, Savona anchovies bottled in olive oil, authentic artisan-made bottled pesto and flours derived from chickpeas or chestnuts, perfect for traditional Ligurian recipes (and naturally gluten-free to boot).

Even older than Armanino (though a relative newcomer to the city’s medieval neighborhood) is nearby Klainguti, one of my favorite cafés in Genoa. Klainguti opened for business in 1826, the brainchild of a pair of Swiss brothers — which explains the utterly un-Genoese name. The Klainguti brothers were pastry makers. They had planned to sail to America from Genoa to make their fortune. But they literally missed their boat, opened a shop here instead, and the rest is history.

Klainguti’s is a tale of sweet success, from the archetypal Swiss butter cookies and rich cakes (including the caloric but irresistible “torta Zena” made with rum-flavored zabaglione cream, sponge cake and almond paste) on up. Another centuries’ old classic is the “torta Engadina” (a variety of German dark chocolate cake, filled with heavy cream and assembled from layers of light sponge cake made from almond flour).

Just over a decade ago two new, affable owners—also brothers—named Sauro and Fabrizio Ubaldi, plus Fabrizio’s son Luca, took over Klainguti. They trimmed the proverbial sails of this flagship café and got it flying along the Mediterranean circuit again after decades of doldrums.


Everything at Klainguti is made in house. The gobeletti are goblet-shaped apricot-jam cookies and they are very good. But there are also chocolate-dusted meringues made to look like miniature porcini mushrooms. The Falstaff is a croissant stuffed with hazelnut paste. Local legends claim it was one of composer Giuseppe Verdi’s favorites. Verdi was a regular at Klainguti whenever he was in Genoa, which was often.

The larger-than-life Verdi was a jumbo-sized individual and reportedly had no trouble dispatching giant portions of whatever he ordered. Those who can’t even imagine gobbling an entire torta Zena can get a fair idea of its excellent flavor by ordering a patatina rosa instead. These pink, baby potato-shaped confections explode with rummy zabaglione.

Klainguti’s outdoor tables are set up in the pocket-sized Piazza di Soziglia, a charming spot in the bull’s eye of the center of Genoa’s medieval alleyways. This is the perfect place from which to watch the multi-cultural, multi-racial Mediterranean world walk by. In case you’re hungry for the savory side before hitting the desserts, Klainguti also serves light lunches and many snacks. Don’t miss the cozy, handsome little backroom decorated with antique crystal chandeliers and colorful stone floors. It’s a good place to get out of the weather, whether hot or cold.

For addresses and opening hours, and much more on Genoa, its history, culture, food, wine, hiking trails, treks, guided tours, restaurants, food shops, best coffee, best focaccia and more, keep reading WanderingLiguria and pick up our books, Food Wine Italian Riviera & Genoa and Enchanted Liguria: A Celebration of the Culture, Lifestyle and Food of the Italian Riviera.

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