Tips on Food & Eating in Italy

Italian_salamiOk 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.
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Italian Festivals: Festa della Rificolona

festa_della_rificolanaWho doesn’t love a local festival inspired by dowdy farmers, reenacted for hundreds of years by a procession of lanterns (that end the evening in flames) and children with spitball assault rifles. Answer: no one. Do I have your attention?
Welcome to the (seemingly innocent and wholesome) Festa dell Rificolona! To the uneducated eye, it is a perfectly quaint event involving one contingent of children processing with lit lanterns while another (perhaps slightly more unusual) contingent uses long pipes and putty to shoot spitballs at the passing paper targets. Everyone involved seems perfectly happy with the situation, so you assume it’s all part of the fun. It is. And it is fun, if a bit of an odd way to honor the eve of the birth of the Virgin Mary.
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Highlights from Week Three: Cinque Terre, Chianti & Siena

Week_three_tripsWhy go to just one new place when you can go to…say…three? Our thoughts exactly. This week, instead of going to one city, we went to three very different locations: Cinque Terre, Chianti (Montefioralle), and Siena. Essentially, in one weekend we saw the Italian coast, the Tuscan countryside, and one of Italy’s most beloved hill towns. What else could one ask for?! Oh, right. We also ate…like queens. Would you expect anything less? I thought not. Onto the pictures!
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Highlights from Week One of Select Study Abroad!

sunsets_florence_duomo
It’s that time again. Not just summer, but also the time where our world stops and we get to take some of the best students (ever!) around some of the best cities in one of the best countries, for an entire month. The first week is always a favorite. Everyone fights off the jet lag and tries to stay awake so as not to miss one precious moment. We were blessed with some breathtaking sunsets on our first week in Florence and some glorious Pisa-Leaning-Tower-photo-bomb-magic during our first weekend trip to Pisa and Lucca. Can I just say…it is already going too fast.
Check out the magic below.
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Top Ten Tips for Americans Traveling in Italy

Florence_italyThere is nothing worse than a cultural misunderstanding, especially if it has the potential to ruin a trip. I find these incidents especially painful in Italy simply because they can so easily be avoided if you’re properly prepared. Every time I happen to overhear an American traveler recounting some miscommunication, I make a mental note. There are, of course, your classic repeat offenders, but there are also some that stand out because they represent the points at which these two cultures differ. Hence, they are the same things that Italians misconstrue when they’re on American soil. So instead of letting another potential mix-up ruin even just one afternoon of someone’s long awaited adventure, I thought I’d jot down ten of the most common cultural disparities specifically for Americans traveling in Italy. Knowing these before you leave will save you headache and heartache, I promise!
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