Emiko Davies is a writer and chef who lives in Florence with her Italian husband and daughter. Growing up in a multicultural family with Australian and Japanese parents, her diverse upbringing, and traveling the world from a young age meant that she was continually exposed to new and different cultures. Early on Emiko discovered that making and sharing food was a great way to help understand and connect with people from these places, and this is where her enthusiasm for cooking began.
In the historic city of Florence, Emiko documents her love affair with Tuscan food on www.emikodavies.com, her blog contains a wealth of knowledge; mouthwatering Tuscan recipes, beautiful photography, and tips on regions across Italy that make you want to pack your suitcase and take off on an Italian adventure. The Author of 2 books Florentine, showcasing recipes that represent the city of Florence, and Acquacotta, a guide to the lesser known part of Tuscany, the Silver Coast, inspire and show a side to Italy from a local point of view. We chat to Emiko about her life in Florence and the best things the city has to offer during winter and the festive season.
You are half Japanese and half Australian and have lived in many countries including China and the USA. With so many diverse influences and experiences growing up, did this change how you experienced Christmas as a child?
I think what happened was it made Christmas for me a very personal thing, something that was celebrated with my immediate family, exchanging gifts and eating together (sometimes in a hotel room, while on holiday in South-East Asia, where we might dress the room's pot plant in cheap, sparkly tinsel as a Christmas tree substitute!). It didn't matter where we were (Santa Claus always managed to find us, no matter what), it mattered that we were together – today, it still doesn't feel quite like Christmas for me if I'm not with my parents and siblings!
You have now settled in Florence where you live with your husband and daughter Mariu. What are the best things to do in Florence as a family at Christmas time? Are there any festivities unique to where you live?
I love Florence at Christmas time, every street in the historical centre is decked out with decorative lights and there is a very festive atmosphere. My daughter has recently discovered ice-skating at the temporary ice-skating rinks that are set up around town and we usually visit some of the very creative 'presepe' – these are Nativity Scenes, which are set up in churches or little spaces around towns all over Italy and some are extremely creative, whether they are complete with moving parts, running water and flickering lights, or completely made out of pasta or some other unusual material!
What are some top places to visit in Florence during the wintertime?
I like to make the most of the cosy atmosphere in Florence during the winter and visit a really classic cafe like Rivoire for their famous, very thick hot chocolate, perhaps grab a bag of roast chestnuts from a street vendor, then take a wander through Piazza della Repubblica where between the carousel, the enormous Christmas tree and the glittery facade of the Rinascente department store you can really feel festive. If I still need to do some Christmas shopping, I like to wander the flea market in Piazza Ghiberti for something unique, or pop into places like Il Cuore delle Cose (beautiful homewares), Cup of Milk (for children's clothes) and Todo Modo (can't go wrong with a bookshop with a great cafe).
How will you be celebrating Christmas this year?
We will visit my relatives in Japan for pre-Christmas celebrations and then be back in Florence in time for my daughter's birthday and Christmas (which are only a few days apart!). So there will be a lot of celebrating this year. In Florence, we do things the way my in-laws have always done them, with a huge seafood dinner on Christmas Eve with all the extended family, which goes on well after midnight. Christmas day is relaxed here, usually visiting relatives, and I like to do a few traditions from my side of the family then too, like opening the presents left in stockings over the fireplace from Santa Claus!
You have a big passion for Tuscan food, tell us what is it that makes it so special and what will be on the menu for Christmas lunch?
What I love about it is that each dish, each meal is a celebration of tradition, which means that for many, every dish is connected to a family memory – of nonna or mamma, of a time of the year or a family ritual. The bigger, more elaborate meal in my Tuscan in-laws family is Christmas Eve dinner, which traditionally is meat-free, which means there is a focus on seafood or legumes. Some of my favourite dishes for this dinner is pasta with chickpeas and a seafood and tomato stew of some sort, like triglie alla livornese (recipe below). For the next day, Christmas lunch looks more like a classic Sunday meal, which may be a beautiful huge bistecca alla fiorentina (a very thick, large t-bone steak) with stewed cannellini beans and roast potatoes.
From La Coqueta AW17 what would you love to see Mariu wearing this Christmas?
I absolutely love the smock dresses, they remind of the handmade dresses my mother used to dress me in when I was her age, adorable with a beret and Mary Janes!
Livorno-Style Red Mullet
4 whole red mullets, each about 7 inches long
Salt, for seasoning
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 clove garlic, whole
1 pinch dried chile flakes
One 14-ounce (400 gram) can chopped tomatoes (you can also use fresh tomatoes, peeled and de-seeded)
1/2 cup (125 mililiters) red wine
Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Crusty bread, for serving
1. Carefully scale and gut the mullets and snip their fins off with kitchen scissors but keep them otherwise whole. Sprinkle them with salt on both sides and set aside.
2. In a skillet large enough to hold the fish, gently heat the olive oil. Add the garlic clove and infuse over low heat until the garlic begins to become fragrant but not yet colored, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the chili flakes and the tomatoes, followed by about 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) of water. Cook over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the wine. Bring to a simmer.
4. Add the mullets to the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, flipping them carefully so as not to break them. If the tomatoes begin to dry out too quickly, add more water to the pan. Serve with parsley scattered over the top, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, and plenty of crusty Tuscan bread to mop up the juices.