Ok guys. Time for me to vent. Pet peeve numero uno comin’ at ya.
It really rubs me the wrong way when tourists arrive in Italy and expect to find the same dishes (cooked the EXACT same way) they enjoy in Italian restaurants at home. Most ethnic cuisine that has made its way to America ends up changing a fair amount on our shores. In Japan, for example, I highly doubt they serve the Philadelphia roll. And a chimichanga is something that has never graced a real Mexican table. So while Italian food in America is, without a doubt, inspired by the food in Italy, there are things on an American-Italian menu that just don’t exist in Italy (at least not EXACTLY as they do at home).
I was reminded of this over an English lesson with a friend who works at a local Florentine restaurant. She and her fellow waitresses laughed at the idea of spaghetti and meatballs. You heard me right. Possibly the most Americanized Italian food ever, the quintessential spaghetti and meatballs really doesn’t exist in Italy (well at least not in a version that any American would recognize). Another famous dish that stumped the waitresses is the well-known (in the good old USA) fettuccine alfredo. There is a restaurant in Rome where this dish was invented and while it has really taken off the States, it is rarely on menus in Italy.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with these items being ordered and enjoyed (I mean pasta covered in melted cheese is hard not to like), but you should be aware that if you go to a restaurant in Italy that makes them (with the exception of Alfredo’s restaurant in Rome), chances are they’re just doing it because they get asked so often or because they are appeasing American tourists. Let’s keep in mind that it’s a big country with a wide range of gastronomic traditions that vary dramatically in cities barely 50 miles apart. In fact, most Italian-American cuisine is based on food from only one city, Naples. Perhaps in Naples you’ll fit right in, but don’t expect any Florentine to tell you that there is not “that big of a difference” between these two culinary traditions. For Italians, the difference is huge!
So this week, I want to try and get some better food knowledge out there. Now this is really to follow up on my intro information on how to pick the place to eat, how to order and in what order to eat all these delicious things in our Top Ten Tips for Studying Abroad blog. If you’re lost, perhaps start there.
Below is a list of food items that are:
#1. Unknown in the Italian gastronomic world (so take note if they appear on an Italian menu and maybe consider not ordering them).
#2. Fake friends: words that sound like an English word we would expect to find in food and yet are not at all what we think.
Or #3. Food items we rarely see on American menus but are often the most delicious ingredients on an Italian menu and sadly get skipped for lack of familiarity!
I hope in the course of this list to also impart some important Italian cuisine knowledge so while you’re here you are sure to eat some REAL Italian food.