Are Italians food-nazis who don’t conceive culinary experimentation and fusion cuisine?

But, most importantly, do you really want to embark on a discussion about food with Italians?! Good Lord, you don’t know what you have put yourself into…

hawaiian_pizza

[Original photo by @joefoodie from USA (Close up – Hawaiian) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons – modified by me]

I had not planned to write a post about this, but this week an article published in a news site prompted me to do it (according to their disclaimer I cannot even link it *sigh*).

As you probably already know if you have read the news, the mayor of Florence has decided to put a stop to camping tourists outside the Doms of Santa Croce and Santo Spirito by flooding the steps during the lunch hours in order to “avoid the bivouac of tourists who eat dirtily on the steps […] of religious and cultural places”. The journalist suggested that what in his opinion the mayor really wanted to do was to control how visitors snack and he started with a series of considerations about how Italians attitudes toward food demonstrate our lack of culinary adventurousness and how non-experimental we are. This is not the first time I heard these things, so I wanted to point out our stance on the matter. But first…

…DOES FOOD HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE FLOODING OF THE DOM’S STEPS?

I’m quite positive that the decision of Mayor Nardella was not dictated by his refined culinary taste nor by the pressure of some phantasmagorical lobby of restaurants. Italians do not eat in gourmet restaurants all the time and do acknowledge the existence of sandwiches. The panino (the Italian equivalent of  the sandwich) is quite a common presence in the everyday life of an inhabitant of the Belpaese and Italian tourists do eat packed sandwiches when on a trip.

The swamping of the Dom’s steps does not represent some sneaky manoeuvre against the culinary barbarians who eat sandwiches (!!11!), but a trial run by the city of Florence, made to avoid the scattering of litter on the steps of the church by tourists (Italians included) and to keep the passage free. Just think about it: would you enjoy to see hordes of tourists camping and leaving litter in front of the Lincoln Memorial or the Taj Mahal? I don’t think so.

Just because Italy is “an open museum”, it doesn’t mean people are allowed to camp, lunch and leave garbage everywhere, and mind, this behaviour is something authorities wouldn’t accept even from Italian tourists, it’s not some form of intolerance against foreigners and  “foreign sandwiches” (seriously?!) We are intellectually honest enough to recognize that as Italians we are generally not tidy and respectful when we find ourselves in public spaces. So, as I said, this is directed to all tourists, Italians included.

DO ITALIANS IGNORE WHAT CULINARY EXPERIMENTATION IS?

Sorry, but when I read in the article that our dogmatic attitude of mind on food can become “intolerance of difference” and that point has been reached the moment the mayor ordered to “attack” tourists eating their locally sourced lunch with water cannons, I literally facepalmed. Seriously, are we implying that “dogmatic Italians” water-bomb people who eat their local produced food?!

First of all, I don’t see how flooding  the steps with water is “attacking tourists with a cannon” and, again, this was not a manoeuvre against “foreign food” (I don’t think the Mayor of Florence will run after tourists with a water-gun if they’ll go eat their packed lunch in a park).

Yes, when you state that as Italians we can be rather protective and vehement in defending our culinary tradition, I do see your point. I fully admit that when I saw pictures of pizzas with pineapple and witnessed to Donald Trump advising Italians on how they should make carbonara, I literally had chills running down my back, but asserting that Italians are non-experimental is frankly incorrect. Let me just give an example.

My municipality is Vicenza, a city which is 37mi from Venice, but that is located in the hinterland, immersed in the hills and surrounded by mountains. You know what our main and most famous dish is? Baccalà alla Vicentina, which is made of cod. Yes, fish. And not from the Venetian Lagoon or the Adriatic See, but from Norway. We have quite the profitable business relationship with Lofoten in the Arctic Circle , that has provided us with exsiccated cod since the XV century.

Vicentinità #polenta #baccala #fagioli #food #veneto #Italy #foodporn #yellow

A post shared by 🇮🇹 SaRA 📸 (@fka_sara) on

Not experimental enough? How about bagna cauda from Piedmont? As the name suggests this is a region located “at the feet of the mountains”, but its most famous dish contains salted anchovies which were traditionally imported from Provence, in France. What about the Sicilian granita, a derivation of the Arabian sherbet? I could go on for hours, I swear. Our cuisine is actually the result of centuries of cultural contamination.

You see, when they say that as Italians we don’t accept foreign versions of our dishes, it’s not just a question of arrogance: since we have perfected the art from such a long time, it’s difficult for us to comprehend adaptations which are…approximate? That do not make much sense? You see, when some British people accused us of being “non-experimental and boring” when we criticized their “lasagna sandwich” (I swear it exists), they failed to understand that our was a right confutation: why adding more carbohydrates with bread to a dish which is already full of them and not that easy to digest? You should always follow a logic when experimenting.

I repeat it, I do agree that as Italians we tend to dismiss foreign versions of our dishes and sometimes we can be rather vehement in expressing our opinion (and also funnily so), but you should not consider us childish when we defend something that seems a trivial matter to most of the people. It’s nothing but trivial. Food-making is not something we approach as a mere matter of surviving, it’s an art form perfected during the course of centuries. Art is something which is supposed to bring out emotions and connect people, and this is exactly what happens at an Italian table: when you savour your portion of gnocchi, you remember your nonna that used to cook them for you when you were a child, and by sitting down at the table with fellow guests in a typical Italian fashion, you experience conviviality, which is the capacity of living and eating together enjoying each others’ company. It’s not by chance that several peace treaties were discussed around a table.

Also consider what the logo “Made in Italy” means for us. In an economy that struggles a great deal in this country, Italian food is a precious resource in terms of income. So when we wander around the shelves of foreign supermarkets and we see them packed with items which 99% of the times falsely claim an Italian origin, we are positively enraged. It’s unfair competition and it’s a disservice to our producers. Everyone is surely allowed to make and sell their own version of Italian dishes, but then take away the Italian flag from them and the “made in Italy” logo. And dear foreign producers, don’t claim your pulped tomatoes come from Italy, when they haven’t seen the Belpaese even through a postcard.

Besides, consider that the “food culture” is the subject that brings a fragmented and local-minded country like Italy together, as also our former President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano has stated some years ago. Is it weird that food is what unite a people? Maybe, but that’s how our history worked. Italy is all but a normal country.

So, are we a little bit too protective of our food? Sure. Do our comments on the Internet about foreign version of Italian dishes seems a little too hash? They surely do. But there are cultural reasons behind this kind of vision, which are all but lame. I’m sorry, but concerning this matter you’ll have to be patient with us, make an effort (which, honestly, is not THAT demanding, we are talking about awesome food after all ;P ) and try to walk in our shoes. It’s what we all are supposed to do when we are in a foreign country, I guess. You won’t be required to agree on everything, but you should surely try to investigate the reasons behind a certain mentality. Don’t stop at the surface.

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14 thoughts on “Are Italians food-nazis who don’t conceive culinary experimentation and fusion cuisine?

  1. Hi Sarah, I’m so glad you wrote about this topic! I was just discussing it with some Italian friends actually. I saw a video on youtube by a popular food channel, and the recipe for carbonara included onions, bacon, and cream…as you can imagine the Italians were going wild in the comments section clarifying the real carbonara recipe doesn’t include cream or onions and should have guanciale instead. (In defense of the Americans, I have no idea where to even find guanciale, so bacon is the closest readily available substitute). I am very passionate about Italian cuisine, culture, and history, so knowing the traditional recipes is very important to me. After spending a lot of time in Italy, I realize that most Americans don’t have the slightest clue what Italian food truly is because our “Italian” restaurants serve very American creations like “fettuccine alfredo with chicken” or “spaghetti and meatballs.” I think every country interprets foreign cuisine through their own tastes and availability of ingredients. The interesting thing about American cuisine is I can’t even define it…it is always evolving depending on the current health trends and outside cultural influences. And I could say that is exactly why I am so drawn to Italian cuisine – the idea of a timeless traditional recipe that has remained the same for generations feels extremely comforting to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kelly,
      thanks for your comment! I do agree, every country interprets foreign cuisines through local tastes and availability of ingredients, this is so true! But I have to say that, as I stated in the post, I personally don’t like when ingredients (tomatoes, cheese, etc.) are indicated as Italians when they are not from here. Different countries can have their own version of Italian receipes, but imo they are not allowed to sell local ingredients stating they’re Italian. By travelling around Europe, I’ve seen several times tomato sauces, cheeses and stuff like that with the Italian logo printed in the package and this is just scamming the customer and contributing to unfair competition :\

      LOL at the comment section of youtube videos: Italians go completely wild and some of us definitely go hopping mad there!

      Yeah, I was baffled when I saw what the majority of Americans thinks it’s Italian, like Fettuccine Alfredo, garlic bread and Chicken Parmigiana, all things that in Italy do not actually exist o_O Concerning spaghetti with meatballs I have discovered that something like that do exist in some towns in Southern Italy, but the meatballs are tiny, not like the ones you see in the American version.

      Like

  2. Excellent post, but I must say that the photo of the “Hawaiian” pizza almost turned me off from reading at all. Funny about the British saying that Italians aren’t adventurous in the food department. I had a British roommate for a few months once. The first day, I cooked lunch and invited her to eat with me. Well, before I could stop her, she put the salad on top of the pasta. Luckily, only on her plate, but I was horrified. I can’t remember exactly what I said. I think I tried to be diplomatic, but it really didn’t matter what I said, as she was offended that I would say anything. She viewed her pasta/salad combination as perfectly legitimate. In our time together, I tried to delicately impart the whys and wherefores of Italian cuisine, but I was unable to make a dent…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ihih, the photo of the “Hawaiian” pizza with the disconcerted face was intentional ;D I conducted a survey on twitter the other day and pizza with pineapple was voted by Italians as the most atrocious dish ever xD

      OMG, SALAD ON TOP OF PASTA…This is just…inconceivable xDDD How!??

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, I missed this post and the news from Firenze. It’s totally right that Italians protect their recipes and food production. You are not regularly among the top three most healthiest nations for nothing. You are right – the recipes are the result of centuries and all those people can’t be wrong. Your indignation and protests at how others choose to consume their food are often funny and deserving. That said, just like with Italians in general, it can come across as arrogant. I often wish to kick a waiter or server for making the face when I order something not in a way that an Italian would. Or when amore’s father is making jokes when I adjust something in a meal (that he made!) to my taste, such as put vinegar on fagiolini. 😀 I’d like to see him in Slovenia, ha! He is most certainly not adventurous in his eating habits. 😉 The fact is that my (Slovenian) father, for example, is not able to make one dish twice in the same way, because he always uses stuff in his kitchen that needs to be used and plays around a lot. It’s fun watching amore eating my dad’s lasagna. Completely different styles. The truth is that every nation has come up with several useful and yummy rules with generations, and they are all fun to explore.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You should have read that article, Manja, I was literally rolling myself on the floor, haha. Writing that Italians physically attack people who eat “foreign sandwitches” was just…too much, sorry. I know we can be weird,but this is just incoincevable! And how hosing down the steps became “attacking tourists with a cannon”?LOL. Ma vabbè.

      Uh yeah, our indignation at how others consume their food can actually result as arrogance (at the end of the day every person should do what one wants ), but often we do have a point. I don’t excuse waiters making faces, because you’re the one paying and you should get what you want (but this is not only in the food department…customer service in Italy is quite bad in general, let’s not talk about shop assistants…), but I honestly think other countries should stop using the “made in Italy” logo, which is copyrighted and it’s the main source of our income. That’s called unfair competition, in my opinion. I know first hand how much farmers struggle in this country and I’m really angry when I see foreign stuff claming an Italian origin (tomatoes etc.)

      Hey, my parents do put vinegar on fagiolini, there’s nothing wrong with it! Fight for your rights!!
      But yeah, especially the old generation of Italians is not adventurous in the food department…the most “exotic” things I was able to make my father eat were durango chicken wings :\

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There are things that, uhm… Pineapple on Pizza. Spaghetti Bolognese. Which is my pet-peeve for obvious reasons. [Of every type and kind of pasta, they got the ONLY ONE kind that’s not suited to ragù at all.]

    But after the knee-jerk reaction, I think at how Italians deal with the cuisine from an entire continent, specifically Asia, and I really doubt the things served in asian restauants around here are in any way, shape or form related to any kind of Asian cuisine… I always wondered if ‘cantonese rice’ and such might be a kind of ‘spaghetti bolognese’ for a Cantonese person…

    Pots and kettles, as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re definitely right!! The only Asian stuff we “might” be doing right is the sushi with tuna, I guess…as long as I know, Japanese people import red tuna from Italy, sooo… xD

      Personally the thing that makes me see red the most is not the foreign version of Italian dishes, but when abroad they sell stuff claiming it’s Italian. “Made in Italy” is copyrighted, you just can’t do that!

      “Of every type and kind of pasta, they got the ONLY ONE kind that’s not suited to ragù at all.” = LOL, SO TRUE!

      Like

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