INTERVIEW Antonia Schmidt
If you want to have a cheap lunch in Milan, L’altro Tramezzino is the place to go. In the center, very close to the Duomo, Marta Matilde opened her little store in 2018. A manageable selection of sandwiches, salads, bowls and something sweet can be ordered here. However, the tramezzini are not like all the others, they vary according to seasonality and availability of products. It is important to the founder to incorporate the influences of other cuisines, to open the Italian traditions. With specific collaborations, she invites different chefs to create the tramezzini. In this interview, she talks about the beginnings, the awareness of tradition in gastronomy, and why she doesn’t want to open a second space in Italy.

Antonia Schmidt: First of all, could you tell me what a tramezzino is? 

Marta Matilde: A tramezzino is a sandwich that is cut in half, resulting in two equal halves. To prepare a tramezzino, you start with a square shape and then cut it diagonally. These sandwiches are well known in Italy, although they vary in different regions. Tramezzini can be found in Venice, Rome and Turin, each with its own distinctive shape. In Rome, they are rectangular and flat, while in Turin, they are triangular and flat. Only in Venice can you find the unique shape we are discussing. But we make it even larger. We’ve emphasized the shape, giving it a distinct smile-like appearance. This larger variation is our own innovation. In Venice, the tramezzino has gained considerable popularity. The main difference in Venice is that tramezzini are typically served as a side dish in bars.

AS: Like an appetizer. 

MM: Traditional places focus on serving tramezzini as a side dish. They don’t offer a wide range of options and the traditional recipes for tramezzini tend to be quite specific, featuring combinations like tuna and eggs, shrimp and eggs, or ham and mushrooms. These flavors remain consistent and this is good as well. However, our approach is different. We like to introduce variety by changing our menu on a monthly basis, incorporating seasonal vegetables and fruits. This means that every month, we have a special menu featuring the vegetables and fruits that are in season. We also collaborate with other chefs for limited edition tramezzini creations. For instance, we have partnered with chefs from New York, Japan and, soon, Mexico, combining their expertise with the essence of tramezzini. We believe in celebrating the fusion of Italian products with different cultures. Last January, we collaborated with a chef from Tel Aviv, featuring traditional Jewish recipes from her grandmother. What is different for us is our constant exploration of new recipes, mixing traditions and ingredients in innovative ways for these sandwiches which never happened before. 

AS: That’s super interesting. So, maybe you can tell me a bit how you have started your business in the first place. 

MM: This originated as a joint idea between me and my stepfather while I was studying fashion. Initially, he started a tramezzini place in Milan, mirroring what he was doing in Venice. The concept involved offering a wide variety of classic sandwiches, around 50 types, which often left customers confused. It was reminiscent of the confusion experienced in the 90s, when there were countless pizza options on menus. When I came into the picture in 2018, with a background in fashion communication and PR, I wanted to introduce something fresh and innovative to the food industry. I wasn’t entirely sure if I could contribute positively to the company at first. I decided to make some changes. I began by reducing the menu to a maximum of 10 tramezzini, focusing on using seasonal vegetables, and sourcing ingredients directly from farmers. I emphasized the importance of quality, selecting the best cheeses, hams and vegetables available. Another key aspect was organizing events and introducing limited editions, drawing inspiration from different cultures, chefs and brands.
We also started offering personalized catering services, catering not only to the fashion industry, but also creating brand identity with personalized packaging. This allowed us to provide a unique and tailored experience to our clients. Over the course of six years, the business flourished and evolved. During this time, I decided to give the company a new twist by revamping the logo and adding a fresh touch to its identity. It was nice because it was something from my family. Now, I work alone, but the business continues to evolve and develop. 

AS: How come the decision to open this in Milan?  

MM: I was born in Venice and I moved here when I was 19. While spending my childhood there, I had at least one tramezzino per day, like most children growing up in Venice – as a snack and then before dinner. It is really the most typical snack you can have in Venice. 

AS: What has been most frightening about this process? 

MM: There is a significant amount of competition, especially in Milan, where the food scene is abundant. This made it challenging because numerous establishments are opening all the time, each trying to stand out. We aimed to differentiate ourselves, even though we were offering a simple product. We are not doing fine dining; you can have a proper meal at our place for 10 euros. We want to be affordable for everyone, although in Venice, tramezzini are even cheaper, sometimes costing just two euros. That pricing wasn’t doable in Milan due to higher rent costs and other factors. Our tramezzini are also good for catering events and photo shoots. They require minimal preparation – no need to heat or refrigerate them. They can remain outside the fridge for a few hours without any issues and still maintain their quality. They are easy to handle and consume without making a mess or getting your hands dirty.

AS: What has been the most eye-opening realization? 

MM: The biggest challenge is the fact that you basically you can’t stop because the whole business depends on you. You are on it every second of the day. If you stop, the business stops because it depends on you 100%. It can be stimulating, but at the same time, also stressful. If I go on holidays for one week, the business also stops for the week. Luckily, I have people helping me with the sandwiches. They’re amazing and a huge help. But, of course, I am doing the business part by myself. 

AS: You have a very modern approach to your business, combining it with a feeling of life and collaborating with fashion brands, etc. Have you been criticized for that?

MM: In Milan, particularly in the food scene, not everyone comes from a fashion or lifestyle background like myself. My establishment is located in an area dominated by banks and lawyers, and they may not fully grasp the concept. Some people believe that the aesthetic aspect outweighs the importance of the product’s quality. However, our aim is not merely about superficial aesthetics. Aesthetics, in its true essence, holds a deeper meaning. It goes beyond the surface and is connected to emotions and experiences. It represents purity and authenticity, something genuinely powerful. We value local products, seasonality and multiculturality.

AS: So, how would you how would you describe the Milan food scene at the moment? How do you see it evolving? 

MM: I find that really interesting, especially because I spent two years in Paris. Compared to Paris, I feel that Milan can be somewhat behind in terms of progress. We are linked to tradition and roots and are slow to change or develop, in technology, food or other aspects. We are the last ones to adopt new trends.
Many people believe they already know everything there is to know about food because we have the Mediterranean diet and it is the best cuisine. A lot of restaurants have remained unchanged over the last 50 years and it feels like magic visiting them. But the world is becoming more globalized. The fusion of cultures and the exploration of different ingredients can lead to even more interesting experiences. Our culture is diverse and it is important to show these influences and show that our country is not purely Italian.
Fortunately, Milan is perhaps the most open city in Italy when it comes to opening up to other cultures and integrating them. I believe that something interesting is happening in Milan right now. 

AS: It is something that can also be seen in other scenes in Milan, right?  

MM: I think we are finally starting to be more or less at the level of other capitals in Europe. Well, besides the fact that Milan is not the capital. Maybe it will be an example to others cities in Italy. In time. In restaurants in other major cities, you can discover a world in only one plate. Here it’s still hard to find that, but I think we’re getting there. It’s nice to be here right now. Except for the pollution. 

AS: Would you say that this wealth of tradition is the reason for this backwardness? 

MM:It is something unique for Italians to be so passionate about our traditions and culture, but at the same time, it can also be limiting. You need to know other cultures to appreciate yours. You need to explore. There is no best or worst kitchen – they are all different. We have witnessed that it is not clever to isolate yourself economically as a country as well. It is neither modern nor the future of living together. 

AS: What are your next steps, personally? 

MM: People often ask me why I don’t open more stores in Milan or expand through franchising. I don’t really like franchising in the food industry. I have met many people who have opened large franchise chains with hundreds of stores, and while they have made money, I don’t want to abandon my baby. I believe I can keep doing things for my city, the people and the community. The events we do bring people together. I like to see how people connect. How someone met their girlfriend or boyfriend at my event or how others founded a company together. I want to spread that essence further. If I open multiple locations in the same city or different cities, it might lose the identity and become less familiar. It’s a wonderful feeling to maintain that familial atmosphere for now.
At some point, I would love to open another location in a different country. I have had some proposals and discussions about potential openings in Amsterdam, Barcelona, or Paris. My biggest goal is to have the occasion to travel and discover the country and do it as a cultural exchange. I give something to you and you give something to me in the most positive way. 

AS: Thank you so much, Marta!