Saturday, May 15, 2010

What Italians Don't Do...

10 things people think are Italian, but really aren't.. in other words, 10 Things Italians Don't Do:

1. Putting grated Parmesan on top of Pizza
(or salad). Why? Because there is already Mozzarella cheese.. Parmesan is only going to add more salt and cover the flavors. Italian cuisine is all about balance.. covering and adding ingredients isn't going to make a dish better. When you have fewer ingredients, you can taste their true flavors. This also means that they MUST be fresh.. putting too much on something makes Italians think the chef is trying to "hide" something that may not be fresh. So, when eating pasta or pizza, we don't smother them with sauces because we also want to taste the flavor of the pasta and dough.

2. Drinking coffee during lunch or dinner. We usually have an espresso (caffe') after a meal and cappuccino is only for breakfast. Any coffee with the addition of milk is seen as being too "rich" to have during a meal.. changing the flavors and interrupting digestion. For sake of comparison, it would be kind of like having a milkshake with a hamburger... oh wait, did I just say that?! Well, I guess that example doesn't count....

3. Drinking wine outside of a meal. With the exception of Prosecco, Italians think someone drinking wine without food is an alcoholic. Sorry, did I just call YOU an "alcoholic"!?!? Well, I sure didn't, but wine for Italians is perceived as a complement to a meal, an inseparable element of it. There is no meal without wine, there is no wine without a meal. Wine is a pleasure to be enjoyed in moderation.

4. Dipping bread in oil and vinegar before a meal. Yes, I know.. you're thinking "But THAT'S exactly what Italian restaurants serve in the U.S.!!", however, it's still an American thing. In Italy this is actually looked down upon, as if you're "starving" or a very cheap person who can't afford to pay for an Antipasto (which may be true in some cases). The fact of the matter is that we don't do this here. A possible reason to why Italian restaurants do this in the US is to offer a better alternative for customers who like to eat bread and butter before their meal.

5. Putting garlic on pizza. No need to scare off vampires in Italy.. And don't forget that Italians love to kiss.. garlic is romance's greatest nemesis.

6. Putting garlic on everything. We use it very lightly and often remove the whole clove before serving sauces. I know, it's hard to accept, but just let it sink in for a few minutes... it'll all be alright.

7. Having a lot of kids. We used to in the old farming days, when families needed more "arms" to help out in the fields. But with people living in small spaces in the cities now, the Italian birth rate has dramatically dropped down to a low 1.2, the second lowest in the Western world. Oh, and although the Pope may not like it, Italians have caught up with the practice of birth control...

8. Doing shots of any hard liqueur. We see liqueurs as "digestives" (aids in digestion.. especially after a big meal, you can consider some of them a sort of "liquid plumber") so we like to savor them taking our time, enjoying them with friends at the dinner table. Popular ones are Grappa, Amaro, Limoncello. The first two can also be added to espresso, making it a "caffe' corretto" (corrected coffee).

9. Using "Italian salad dressing", Alfredo sauce, garlic breadsticks, spaghetti & meatballs, and other unfortunate culinary mishaps. These things are not Italian and you won't find them on your trip. If you do, you may want to go to another restaurant for dinner as the one you found specializes in serving tourists.

10. Eating lasagna in a restaurant. Lasagna is typically a home-made dish, which pretty much any common soul is able to make. Ricotta cheese, mozzarella, and plain tomato sauce DO NOT GO in lasagna. Ok, I'll give you that in some areas in Southern Italy ricotta is used, but most Italians use "besciamella" (white sauce) and "ragu" (a meat-based bolognese sauce) instead. Check out the original recipe here (warning: it's in Italian!)

Finally, when in Italy... do as the Italians!!! But also relax and have a good time.. who cares what people think, just enjoy your time there and you'll be just fine!!!

Ciao for now!

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  1. Good list - the only thing I have to disagree with you about is the wine outside of a meal - aperitivo is very big here and lots of wine is consumed outside of a meal :)

  2. Most of these I did actually already know. The one that I find confusing is the Mozzarella in Lasagna. Many of the recipes I found on line from Italy do include the cheese? I think I will stick with it....but no ricotta!!!!