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Old 09-20-2005, 06:11 AM   #1
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Wink A few things I learned in Italy about Italian food

Ciao again!! As I have mentioned a few times, living in Italy I came to realise there are some big gaps between the Italian cuisine which are actually made in Italy and what are believed as "Italian foods" outside the country. For those who are interested I would like to "introduce" some of the differences and misinterpretations. I would like to remind you all that I don't intend to be a smart a$$ or dis any of the "foreign versions", as some of them are quite good in their own rights, it is just that some of the stuff you have long believed to be "the Italian gourmet" are not really Italian at all!!

Firstly, a few example of general practice in Italian kitchens... many of the recipes are surprisingly simple with relatively few ingredients. They focus more on freshness and the quality, and make sure you can enjoy the flavour of the each item to the full extent. When they cook pasta, they never rinse it after being cooked. When you use enough water, the pasta shouldn't be sticky. Each servings of pasta is much smaller than that of foreign measure, because the pasta is only "primi", the first course, there are the "secondi", other plates to follow. In proper dinner, there are usually 5 courses, antipasti(appetizer), primi(first course, pasta, risotto etc) then secondi (fish or meat), contorni (vegetable side dishes) then either fruit or dessert. In everyday supper/tea, it is often shortened to primi-secondi-fruits/dessert. On to a little more particular aspects...

-Some of the plates that are prominent in so many Italian restaurants, like "Fettucini Alfredo", "Caesar's Salad", "Chicken parmesan", "Pasta Primavera", "Tetrazzini", and, oh "Italian salad dressing" are purely foreign invention, here in Italy they would have no idea what they could possibly be!!

-"Garlic Bread" that so many folks eat with pasta and pizza... for appetizers they eat "Bruschetta" (toasted crusty bread, smeared with garlic and then topped with chopped fresh tomatoes), or "Crostini" (again toasted crusty bread, with variety of toppings), but "Garlic bread" as eaten everywhere else is utterly unknown in Italy, you would get a bemused look if you requested it here!!

-"Spaghetti Meatballs".... Many folks do like Ragu, bolognese sauce, or meat sauce, but throwing "meatballs" (or polpetti) into spaghetti is not a very appealing idea to the Italians, as "spaghetti" is considered as the first course, and "meatballs" are considered a part of "second course", the two just don't mix like this...

-"Peperoni Pizza".... if you order this in Italy you will get a pizza with bell pepper on it. As in Italian bell peppers are called "peperoni". In some cases they do use some spicy version of "SALAME" on pizza, but greasy salami are not particularly the most popular choice here.

-"Marinara Sauce"... They do exist, but they are sauces with seafood, as "marinara" indicates something to deal with ocean. "Marinara sauce" as you guys know is simply referred to "Sugo pomodoro" (Tomato sauce), or just simply "Sugo".

"Manicotti" only means tubes used in constructions etc. (i.e. sewer pipe) Nobody here would associate this word with anything edible. The tubed pasta filled with spinach and ricotta cheese is also called "Canelloni", just like the meat version.

-"Biscotti", those crunchy biscuits with nuts are called "Cantuccini", one of Tuscan specialty. If you say Biscotti, it means any and all tipe of biscuits / cookies.

Just a few curious facts and "food for thought" for the day... I hope some of you find it interesting!!

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Old 09-20-2005, 08:03 AM   #2
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Ciao urmaniac13,

Come va? I really enjoyed reading your post, marrying into an Italian family (my husband was born in Rome), I only intensified my love of Italian cooking, and bought a couple books that are considered tomes of Italian cooking. Where I got a crash course in "real Italian cooking". Indeed these things you mention and many others are true.

North American (& rest of the world) Italian creations are similar in many ways to how we in the west have created Chinese and Indian dishes that were not born on the respective soils of those countries!

Another neat thing is that traditioanally pizza did not contain cheese, as I'm sure you know

Grazie for sharing these fun facts
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Old 09-20-2005, 08:11 AM   #3
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So very interesting, thanks for all the info. Guess I would of felt pretty stupid in Italy ording food. Not that I will ever get over there.
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Old 09-20-2005, 08:41 AM   #4
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Great info and very interesting to read. I bet we would find similar types of things comparing Americanized ethnic food to the real thing. American Chinese food for example is nothing like what they eat in China. Just as Italians would not know what chicken parm is, I bet the Chinese would have no idea what General Tsos Chicken is as well.

Thanks urmaniac13. Now if I ever go to Italy (which I really hope to do) I will have some valuable info
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Old 09-20-2005, 08:53 AM   #5
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excellent post. It is true that immigrants mix their ethnic customs with available local ingredients to create new recipes. And what might have been slang in the home country becomes the designation in the new.
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Old 09-20-2005, 09:53 AM   #6
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One thing I've heard Mario Batali say over and over is that we Americans use way more sauce on our pasta than they do in Italy...there, it's just a condiment for the for the pasta.
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Old 09-20-2005, 10:32 AM   #7
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Quote:
One thing I've heard Mario Batali say over and over is that we Americans use way more sauce on our pasta than they do in Italy...there, it's just a condiment for the for the pasta.
I think it's true, I love to drown my pasta in sauce most of the time (especially cream sauces), but my hubby likes just enough to coat the pasta lightly. In fact there is often a pile of sauce left on his plate if I've been too liberal with my sauce distribution
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Old 09-20-2005, 11:32 AM   #8
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Thanks for sharing Licia! Very interesting! I've always wanted to visit Italy, especially Tuscany, Venice and Rome. One of the my many reasons is the great food. One of these days, it will happen... :-)
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Old 09-20-2005, 11:55 AM   #9
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My Dad used to live in Italy and the things you mentioned are things that drive him crazy! I'll have to refer him to this post so he can see he's not the only one who thinks it's blasphemy (maybe a little too strong...) to call some things Italian when they have absolutely no Italian origin...
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Old 09-20-2005, 12:09 PM   #10
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I am glad you guys found these tidbits interesting and useful... it would be also nice to hear about similar input from someone in the know with indian cuisine, mexican cuisine etc etc....!!
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Old 09-20-2005, 12:09 PM   #11
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Hi!!!!

I totally agree with you on the "American" versions of Italian food. My grandfather is Italian and he doesnt eat to live but rather lives to eat. So I know all these differences. Nevertheless, I just love alfredo sauce on my pasta and italian dressing on my salad.

When I was in China, I ate some things I think no western person could ever think of. The food in China is just so different from the Chop Suey drive thru.

I guess it is just a matter of interpretation but for those who are interested, mexican burritos are also an American invention. No mexican across the border will ever serve burritos for dinner.

Oh, and Santa Claus is just a marketing gimmick of Coca cola. The traditional version of Santa is St. Nicholas.
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Old 09-20-2005, 12:16 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paolita
I guess it is just a matter of interpretation but for those who are interested, mexican burritos are also an American invention. No mexican across the border will ever serve burritos for dinner.

Oh, and Santa Claus is just a marketing gimmick of Coca cola. The traditional version of Santa is St. Nicholas.
And I bet no chihuahua in Mexico would want Taco Bell, either!!

In Italy, the real St. Nick is called "Babbo Natale"!!
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Old 09-20-2005, 12:27 PM   #13
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Quote:
In Italy, the real St. Nick is called "Babbo Natale"
And it's a tooth mouse, not a tooth fairy...or so I've been told
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Old 09-20-2005, 12:34 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by ICadvisor
And it's a tooth mouse, not a tooth fairy...or so I've been told
That is so funny! I just got an image of a mouse with huge human size teeth in its mouth.
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Old 09-20-2005, 12:38 PM   #15
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whoa Jessica, I didn't know that one!! I must ask Cristiano this evening, oh wait better ask Lucilla, his daughter... she's got one loose tooth about to fall off!!
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Old 09-20-2005, 12:41 PM   #16
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whoa Jessica, I didn't know that one!! I must ask Cristiano this evening, oh wait better ask Lucilla, his daughter... she's got one loose tooth about to fall off!!
I wonder if it is the same through out the whole country??? I know that when my husband told me I thought the idea was a bit scary, mice are not the sort of thing I'd like to imagine crawling around under my pillow...
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Old 09-20-2005, 12:45 PM   #17
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Well depend on what kind of mouse... I wouldn't mind my little Napoleon around my pillow I just have to be careful not to squish him...

Napoleone, my white hammy!!
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Old 09-20-2005, 01:22 PM   #18
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In Spanish, or at least in Colombia, a mouse whose last name is Perez comes around looking for teeth too!!!
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Old 09-20-2005, 01:50 PM   #19
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Thanks! You took a lot of time to think about this. Nice!
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Old 09-20-2005, 03:03 PM   #20
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Thanks for sharing. I always wonder how food get's transformed to suit the palate of the audience. I am sure all cuisines go through these transformations.

I know about Indian cuisine. There are many dishes that are altered to suit the American palate. Dishes like papadums (called papads in India) are accompainements with rice and dal (not dahl) but here in the US, restaurants serve them as appetizers with dipping sauces.

Chicken tikka masala to me is a totally western concoction. I never heard of it in India and I grew up there. A lot of recipes here are embellished with cream and sour cream which is not readily available in India.

Use of packaged curry powders is not something you find in Indian households (yes not even in the US). A lot of these powders are specifically made for the western market.

The term chutney has also undergone a transformation - cranberries to apples to anything and everything under the sun can now be combined to make a chutney. Just throw in some ginger and curry powder along with sugar and you have a chutney. Again in India chutney refers to a specific preparation of herbs (such as mint or cilantro chutney). Most of the other prepartion with fruits and veggies are called Achaars. There are both sweet and savory achaars.

Finally packaged naans are nowhere to be found in India (well maybe now they must be but they surely were not when I was there). Indian's eat roti (simple bread made with wheat flour) with their everyday meals and in most household these are made fresh everyday. Naan's are strictly limited to restaurants.
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