Italian Myths and Truths

What happens when most people hear you’re Italian:

Foreigner A: “Ahh buongiorno Tonino!”

Foreigner B: “Ah I love cheese”

Foreigner C: “Ah pasta, I love Italian pasta, I’m sure you eat pasta every day, lucky you!”

Foreigner D: “Do you eat pizza every day? I love pizza with pepperoni!”

Foreigner E: “I can’t wait to go to Rome and try out the original pasta Alfredo!”

And these are the latest ones I received:

Foreigner F: “I’m Italian too! From Cremona. Yeah… my grandparents were from Cremona, I was born in Santiago”

Foreigner G: “Ohhh you speak Italian?? Please say something to me!”:
Stanito: “What do you want me to say?”
Foreigner G: “Ohh anything ^^”
Stanito: “… ”

I get that all the time, and like me, many people I know. But last week it got to my nerve, particularly the assumption of eating pasta everyday because you’re Italian. So a friend and I were discussing this and without even realizing it we came up with all sorts of myths and derivates that are normally attached to the word “Italian”. And this is the purpose of this post: knowledge sharing.

Gladly, I’m one half-Italian born in Rome who will not mind if:

– I see people adding or altering the Amatriciana recipe by adding anything not originally contemplated in the recipe;

– I see people eating spaghetti with a spoon or directly cutting them;

– I see people having pasta with seafood and parmigiano cheese;

– I see people having cappuccino after having a fish meal;

– I see people cleaning with a piece of bread the remaining of sauce on a plate (it’s the best part, why wouldn’t you?);

– I see people mixing more than one piece food with another on the same plate;

20130529_215755© Stanito, 2013

Dear reader, all the above is safe ground and should be accepted by my local people, because:

– if you don’t grow up or become familiar with spaghetti, it becomes a Herculean task if you try to eat them without making a mess, so yes, it takes time and practice;

– if you don’t become aware that certain combination are as severe as death sentence (cheese+seafood), there is no reason why you should be castigated;

– there is no rule which stipulates that is forbidden to have cappuccino in any other day time other than breakfast. You will not die if you choose to enjoy a foamy cappuccino after a fish meal (I see people having chocolate after fish, what difference does it make with coffee? none);

Italian culinary tradition tends to be too strict, I see it happening all the time. I remember when I had a cappuccino right after “fritto misto” (fried seafood). I was perfectly fine and that cappuccino was exquisite. But my dinner friends… were not fine with the situation. It’s all about combinations basically, if you don’t mind mixing one flavor with another, then you’re good to go. One of my favorite dishes is Serbian, and it’s literally meat + parmigiano + white cream all in the oven. In Rome, this dish has never been popular among our family friends and it’s because of the combination meat + either cheese or cream.

Nikon D50

However, there are things which I consider an assault to Italian culture, a way to include certain concepts under the name of “very Italian”, for which I felt obliged to satisfy several people requests by compiling an urgent list with the attempt of raising awareness against cultural pirates (bear in mind that I skipped all those suggestions regarding misspelled names and apparent typos, ie. Ñoqui instead of Gnocchi, there are too many and frankly you can accept them as “adaptations”):

– There is no such thing as Alfredo sauce in Italy, there never was.
– There is no Bolognese sauce either! The real name is ragú.
– There is no pizza or pasta with chicken. If you do find it… that’s not Italian.
– There might be pizza “quattro stagioni”, but definitely not a pasta with the same name.
– There is no pasta “primavera”, honestly, I’ve never heard of such thing before in my life.
– There is not “spaghetti sauce”, spaghetti is a type of pasta that can go with MANY sauces, but spaghetti sauce? No such thing.
– There is no “Italian seasoning”, I actually had to look this one up to see what it is: water, soybean oil, garlic, spices, xanthan, red pepper, paprika… Paprika? Xanthah? Sorry, that’s not Italian.
– There is nothing Italian about adding oil to pasta boiling water.
– Panini is the plural for “panino”, which literally means sandwich. It’s a sandwich, not a type of sandwich.
– Salami is the plural for “salame”, a highly seasoned type of sausage. Why in plural then?
– Caesar salad is not Italian, and never was.
– Latte… Latte means “milk”, and in the list of Italian ‘milky coffee drinks’ there’s no Latte on its own. You caffé-latte, yes, also latte-macchiato, of course, I love it, but no ‘latte’ alone… Kind of lousy if you think about it.
Cappuccino never had cream on top, is just foam.
Biscotti is plural for “biscotto”, which literally means… cookie.

Any suggestions or addition? 🙂 Feel free to comment!


16 thoughts on “Italian Myths and Truths

  1. I am sorry, I am Italian 100%, Neapolitan, and I would say something.=)
    It s true that putting grated parmesan on spaghetti with clams is a terroristic attack but seafood+cheese, in some combinations, is really interesting, such as: cozze e pecorino, gamberi e mozzarella, salmone et cream cheese, alici e ricotta…
    There is a pizza 4 stagioni and the ragu alla bolognese that is made up of lard (strutto) and melted meat while in Naples, ragu is made up of oil and big chunks meat so ragù alla bolognese is a kind of ragu.
    Ÿou need to add oil at you pasta cooking water when It is a fresh pasta to avoid a bad sticky effect!

    Sorry, I am strict :D!

    1. Pummaroo (I love your nickname)
      when it comes to cheese (any kind) I have no restriction,that’s why I don’t see the big deal in seafood and parmigiano. I don’t like it personally because seafood already has a strong taste, therefore no need to add cheese to it, but some people love it.
      As per Ragú, the technical name is Ragú, not Bolognese nor Napoletano. Ragú, depending on the region call follow any variation but the name is the same.
      And as per the boiling water… you seriously add oil in it? 🙂 If we are strict about it, then we should stick to the rule which goes like this: drain the pasta and then add a piece of butter. But nothing while the pasta is still in the water.

      I’m strict too, technically 😉

    2. I am not Italian, but have been heavily influenced by Italian cooking in my native Uruguay. NEVER add oil to pasta, fresh or otherwise. I have never had the pasta get sticky with this method.

  2. Isn’t it lovely that the first comment is from a 100% Italian who disagrees with you, Stanito? 😉 That’s the trouble with rules: They are there to be broken. And I also believe that every different region of every country on earth has their unique takes on what and how to eat.
    I was at a Ferragosto festa a few years ago and we ordered the set menu. The pasta was a carbonara and arrived in a plastic dish with plastic silverware. If I’d tried to eat it just with a fork, I would have had a lump on the end of it the size of the entire stuck-together portion. So I proceeded to cut my pasta. The Italians at the table found that extremely amusing, but what’s a girl to do? My mouth is just not that large – and most of it would have landed in my lap anyway. Pragmatism is an underrated virtue! Thanks for your great post! dch

    1. Hey Debbie 🙂
      I’m not surprised at all! I expect Italians to defend their our traditions with their claws.
      I agree with Pummaroo regarding cheese and spaghetti with clams, not as bad as a terrorist attack but I do believe that parmigiano and clams are both really strong flavors, and their combination is just bad.
      What you ate that day of Ferragosto is very unfortunate :O basically they gave you pasta “ben scotta” if it got so stuck, yayyk! You know? if those Italians next to you wouldn’t have noticed that your pasta was so ‘scotta’ they would have got angry when they saw you cutting it. Where was it exactely?
      I guess pragmatism is a valuable tool everywhere you go, but, it can offend the locals hahaha
      Thanks debbie 🙂

      1. Hi Stanito, my ben scotta pasta was in a very tiny villiage in Le Marche. Don’t know if the people who laughed at my use of fork and knife were from there or also just visitors. I do agree one should try to fit in and not provoke the locals with uncouth practices (assuming one is even aware of what the accepted practice is!), but again, for me, pragmatism is the only rational way forward! Cheers, debbie

  3. I love it. I am especially against the use of the word “Latte”. I truly can’t stand when people in Starbucks order a “latte”… It makes me want to stand up and say “Excuse me, do you know what the word “Latte” means?!
    Awesome post. I love it.

    1. Cristina,
      this is a very sad development… so now Macchiato has a thick layer of sugar at the bottom…? For your birthday I shall have Lavazza Crema e Gusto shipped to your address 🙂 to compensate!

  4. Yes, when past is fresh, especially made up of eggs, oil helps, while for dried pasta there is no reason at all.

    Ì speak about fresh pasta, homemade, so not the fresh pasta you buy at supermarket.

    Pummaroo means tomato in Neapolitan!:)

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