“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” George Bernard Shaw wrote once.
Can you think of a better quotation if you wish to describe the relationship betwen Italians and food?
Globally well known as the home of “La Dolce Vita” because of its cuisine excellence, we Italians take food very seriously.
The habits of junk food and snack meals are now spreading all over Italy as everywhere else, but we are fond of dinners with good food, good wine and a great company: one of the pleasures of life, no doubt.
Italian restaurants are probably everywhere in this world: I found some in Cambodia and one serving tomato sauce spaghetti even in one of the small islands of the Cabo Verde archipelago a few years ago.
Italian chefs work in restaurants all over the world and Italian delicatessen shops can be spotted wherever.
And yet, there are many stereotypes foreigners have about our food and the way we eat so I felt compelled to list a few ones and open Italian food lovers eyes.
1. Spaghetti alla bolognese
I know you can prove me it is in all Italian restaurant cartes and menus but…have you really ever heard an Italian ordering it? No you have not. Why? For at least 2 main reasons:
a. ”alla bolognese” does not mean a thing to us. The tomato sauce with meat is simply called “ragu’” or “ragout”.
b. You do not eat “spaghetti” with ragu: you eat “tagliatelle with ragu’”. The spaghetti pasta is not the appropriate kind of pasta to eat with the tomato meat sauce. Why? I do not know. It is in our DNA: we simply eat tagliatelle with ragu.
2. Pizza with pasta topping
Again, I know you can even send me pictures of pizza with pasta toppings on it but…once again have you ever found something like that in the grocery shop of any Italian city or even village? Have you ever been invited for a pizza by an Italian native and being served one?
If so, s/he is not Italian.
Her/his parents were but when mama taught her to cook she was thinking of the college quarterback or of the hottest teenmusic band of the month.
3. Pizza with different toppings on it
Ok, I have to admit some party of friends order the “1 meter pizza” and ask for 3 / 4 different toppings on it: ham and mushrooms, “quattrostagioni”, tomato and buffalo mozzarella cheese and even seafood. But this is just for 1 meter of pizza to be served to a party of at least 4 people: 25 cm of tomato and buffalo mozzarella, 25 cm of ham and mushrooms and so on. Can you see the point? Each topping has its own specific place on the pizza and you can say what is what.
We do not order a regular pizza with 6/7 different toppings: we like to eat and savor.
When someone eats heaps of food you cannot distinguish what is what, we call it “eating disorder” and it is not healthy.
We Italians love to eat and we treat it as one of the best life pleasure.
4. Red and white checked tablecloth
I know I am going to break your heart and demolish all your romantic idea of what the original Italian restaurant should look like; it is hard but I have to do it: Walt Disney “Lily and the tramp” lied to you all this time.
We do not have just red and white checked table cloth.
To be honest, most Italian restaurants are likely to have one color, usually white or creamlike color tablecloth. It is easier that way for laundry reasons and it goes with any kind of dish and glass design the restaurant selects.
Do not panic: you may still be able to find some restaurant whose tables are dressed with a red and white tablecloth and they even have an old empty bottle holding a wax candle in it. Just be sure most Italians will love it and exclaim “How pictoresque!” and “How romantic!” exactly as you do.
5. Old fat mama in the steamy kitchen
I know you still think best Italian chefs are “mama” and you are almost right on this point. Yet best chefs all over the world are men: Alain Ducasse, Ferran Andria, Gualtiero Marchesi, Gordon Ramsey, etc.
And we are not different: why should we?
Most Italian restaurants have men chefs.
We do have great women working as chefs and some have been recently awarded (Nadia Santini is one of them) but though most Italian women master the cuisine affairs pretty well (I must admit I am the exception in the Italian panorama) the kitchen of a restaurant is still “a man’s world”.
Have I confused you? Is your world going upside-down?
You will never be able to enter an Italian restaurant and order the “spaghetti alla bolognese” anymore?
Well, I am sure you can survive and please note you can still:
1. Drink a cappuccino with your main meal
2. Use rice and pasta as a side dish
3. Buy canned pasta
4. Add oil in boiling water for your pasta
And perform other tons of other misbehaviours we Italians would frown at.