A Lunch Visit to Chiavari - Our Favorite Ligurian City

Beautiful and Sophisticated - Visit Chiavari to Appreciate Liguria. 

Try Ligurian Specialties at Osteria Luchin - a Chiavari Insitution Since 1907.

Streets with colorful buildings & arcades in Chiavari, Liguria
Behind Piazza Mazzini, the streets become smaller as do the juxtapositions. These card players filled the street with shouts.

Chiavari couldn't be more peaceful. Although it was once a border city with mighty walls to protect against incursions by rivals such as Lavagna just across the Entella river, today it is unwalled and relaxed.  This part of Liguria has many slate quarries so a dark stone predominates, creating a comforting urban gravitas to complement the traditional warm Ligurian colors. Most of the beautiful streets have arcades supported on the street side by squat columns of diverse designs, and in the shadows of the arcades are specialty shops with elaborate old woodwork, bright pastry stores with mouth-watering window displays, and busy cafes with movie-set perfect patrons. On a recent Saturday morning the streets were filled with family after family shopping and doing errands, trailed by socializing pre-teens.

Mazzini speaks still on Piazza Mazzini in Chiavari, Liguria.
Mazzini speaks still in Chiavari, Liguria.
On the central Piazza Mazzini, the outdoor market was in full swing, as it is every morning. The huge assortment of colorful vegetables took up most of the space, but the cheese stands did their best to match the array, and the truck with roast meats added that great aroma to the market vibe.

The buildings around the piazza are a triumph of Ligurian variety. A bold gold building with dramatic window surrounds is next to a centuries old stained stucco building in need of attention, next to a vivid display of trompe l'oeil on a rose colored field..

On the west side is the white mass of the Palazzo di Giustizia. It's tempting to assume it's of ancient medieval origin, but it's from only 1886 in a style called Tuscan Gothic, which we presume is a disguised Italian slur.

A little further west towards the ocean is the Basilica cathedral of Nostra Signora dell'Orto. A very large church, it's not old by Italian measure but pretty interesting. It's origin is the 17th century, but it was refashioned in 1907. This influence provided an art nouveau feeling in the graceful golden embellishment inside.  In one chapel near the alter, there are works by Anton Maria Maragliano of Genoa, one of Liguria's most famous and original sculptors who worked wood in a style all his own.

Trompe l'oeil building facade on Piazza Mazzini in Chiavari, Liguria
Trompe l'oeil building facade on Piazza Mazzini in Chiavari, where the building diversity magically creates a unified city.

Osteria Luchin in Chiavari, Liguria.
Osteria Luchin in Chiavari, Liguria.
When the streets mysteriously become less busy, it means Italy is calling you to lunch. We once again chose a Chiavari institution with good food and an irresistible panache. Osteria Luchin was founded in 1907 and it's still going strong. It's popular because there's something for everyone, a really good variety, all at an affordable rate.  Passing through the doors will feel like passing back through time. It's busy and bustling with long tables used family style.

Menu Notes: many of the daily unique dishes are listed on chalk boards outside, and there's no information inside, so either have a look before you go in, or just wander back out and take your time.  Also. while they have an English language menu, it's not quite the same as the Italian menu, so if you can muddle through in Italian you'll have more choice.

The farinata oven is one of the reasons that Luchin is famous - the chickpea pancake is baked in very heavy pans so that the top gets brown and crispy while the bottom stays creamy and smooth.  We sat near the oven and could watch the whole thing - it's an art to balance the pan, shift it, keep the fire just right.  Lots of people got the farinata as an appetizer, it looked wonderful.

Homemade ravioli in meat sauce. Osteria Luchin in Chiavari, Liguria.
Homemade ravioli in meat sauce. Osteria Luchin in Chiavari, Liguria.

For primi piatti, they feature a minestrone that's a meal in itself, just chock full of vegetables and beans, as well as pasta dishes with home made pesto and their homemade ravioli, which was our choice. The sturdy pasta was filed with greens and served with an old fashioned meat sauce.

We heaped them with grated parmigiano-reggiano and tucked in. This is Italian food 101.
The green filling components were not readily identifiable, but they coordinated with the sauce and the pasta perfectly, so we stopped asking questions.

Stecchi di Chiavari. Osteria Luchin in Liguria.
Stecchi di Chiavari. Osteria Luchin in Liguria.
When it comes to the second course, the printed menu offers a couple of dishes of sanato, which is a type of veal; a stuffed veal breast called cima; and a casseroled rabbit that looked great. And in the fish department there's baccala, fried anchovies, octopus salad.  There's even a menu section on stuffed vegetables and tortes, or you can order just vegetables.

We went for a serving of stecchi di Chiavari as a secondo. These are a local piatto tipico and that makes them required eating for these alleged travel writers. Inside the little fried, breaded roll is finely chopped and seasoned meat. Said to have come to this seaport town ages ago from the Middle East, they make very interesting eating. Improving as they cooled, we judged they were a status-seeking sausage - which is something we can all relate to.

Cappon Magro. Osteria Luchin in Chiavari, Liguria.
Cappon Magro. Osteria Luchin in Chiavari, Liguria.
Now the hard part: our second secondo was cappon magro. Why hard?  Because nobody knows what the name means, nobody agrees on what's in it, and we couldn't get a proper photograph of the darn thing. The not-hard part - it's an astonishing concoction, and absolutely delicious.

This Ligurian specialty is essentially a fish and seafood salad.  There's a base of ship's biscuit, then layers of different ingredients which vary according to the cook and the availability of the components.  This cappon magro had potato, green beans, asparagus, tuna, white fish, carrot, and artichoke, all dressed with pesto, and was topped with a giant shrimp, accompanied by hard boiled egg and a stuffed cherry pepper. We've tried about eight versions over the years and it's always a favorite dish and a unique experience.  Stay tuned for additional editions of this mystery.

Our bill in May, 2018 for 1 primi, 2 secondi, 1 dessert, water, & wine was 47€.

Osteria Luchin in Chiavari, Liguria.
. Osteria Luchin in Chiavari, Liguria.
More Info

Osteria Luchin
   via Bighetti 53, Chiavari. Closed Sunday.     Osteria Luchin

Where to Stay
In the Historic Center, Hotel Monte Rosa has a great location with good amenities.

Nearer the train for easy excursions, as well as the seaside promenade, consider Albergo Stella del Mare.

Guidebook  We were once again helped by Rosie Whitehouse who knows Liguria in and out. If you go deep in Liguria, you want her with you.
Liguria - Brandt Travel Guides   (Amazon US)

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Ligurian Proverb: Ogni promessa e un debito. (Every promise is a debt.)

Written by Martha.
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