Our sleep was always broken by a small, three-wheeled cart scurrying down the stone streets with a large megaphone strapped to the roof. Political ramblings poured unrestricted out of that speaker, echoing off buildings and stone-paved streets as it ran down the length of each avenue — faster and louder than I’m sure anyone in our family’s hometown in Southern Italy cared for. Without the desire for air conditioning1, every single house had their window open overnight to let in the cool breeze. And the opportunistic man in the speedy cart was keenly aware of this situation. As a kid traveling to visit family, waking early wasn’t nearly as bad as going to bed early, after all, it just meant you’d get to play sooner. But probably my favorite thing of all, and the reason I secretly hoped that man would drive by even earlier, was it meant heading out early with my brother and dad the local baker for fresh bomboloni.
Back then I didn’t quite appreciate the lives these bakers led. For them to sell fresh baked goods first thing in the morning they likely worked through the night: mixing, folding, shaping dough, and finally baking in the old ovens just as the sun streamed through the city streets. We’d walk in oblivious to all of this, instead focused acutely on which pastry to buy and devour on the walk back. I like to think our enthusiasm for their baked goods somehow validated their long night of hard work. I do know they were there every morning ready to discuss a recent soccer game, wrap the pastry in paper, and send us back on our way.
Naturally leavened bomboloni are essentially sourdough doughnuts (with no sourness). They’re also known as berliner, krapfen, ballen, pączki, donut, and many more names all over the world. It seems everyone at some point figured out that frying enriched dough was incredibly delicious. I’m sure glad they did.
I still don’t understand this! But then again, I grew up in the US where air conditioning is everywhere without question.↩