Chow Town

A trip to Livorno, Italy, is not complete without trying Ponce

The famous Bar Civilli serves up a digestive called a Ponce alla Livornese.
The famous Bar Civilli serves up a digestive called a Ponce alla Livornese.

Americans need to enjoy more digestive drinks! Perhaps a Ponce alla Livornese?

On a recent tour of Livorno, Italy, I was introduced to a unique digestive called a Ponce Livornese by the Tuscan Divina Cucina Judy Francini.

Ponce (prounced pon-che-è) was born in Livorno in 1614, when a Saracen felucca docked there, laden with coffee and barrels of rum. The mysterious scented coffee beans immediately aroused the interest of several innkeepers who tried to use them in their taverns. They added hot rum to produce a strong, restorative drink for the shivering sailors forced to stay on land because of bad weather, according to the city of Livorno’s official website.

We arrived at the famous Bar Civilli mid-afternoon and were greeted by one of the owners. Judy ordered 12 “Ponce” for our Slow Food tour group and while explaining the history of the drink, The owner was busy behind the espresso machine mixing the world-famous concoction.

Ponce plays a very important role in the lives of the Livornese people. As a matter of fact, the owner actually told us that no visit to Livorno would be complete without enjoying a Ponce. He told us the word Ponce actually comes from the English word punch. When the English sailors got it in the harbor of Liverno they enjoyed a quick punch. The English version of punch usually consists of tea, sugar, spices, lemon juice and rum. Makes sense to me!

The lemon peel twist is known as a “la vela” which means a sail and probably refers to the sailors, of course. My friend Judy compared this to an Irish coffee without the cream on top. I think I may just try it with a little bit of cream on top for a different variation.

Visiting Bar Civilli and enjoying a Ponce alla Livornese was one of the highlights of our trip to Italy and this unique city. Seriously, the warm espresso and rum gives you a nice kick after relaxed long meal to help digest and also to warm you on a cold winter’s night. And like I said, I think Americans really need to enjoy more digestives after dinner!

Ponce alla Livornese

1 part spicy dark rum

1 part espresso

1 tablespoon of sugar

Lemon peel

Place sugar, rum and lemon peel in a shot glass. Stir well. Add hot espresso. Serve immediately.

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 62-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.