It’s been sixteen years since I was in the Eternal City. And while a lot has undoubtedly changed, much has probably stayed the same—the chaotic traffic with Vespa scooters careening around the Colosseum; the well-dressed Italians; and most importantly, the delicious food. Because of my lengthy absence, I wanted to do some homework on the latest food scene in Italy. I wanted to know Italians actually eat, as well as how they eat.
For many Americans the food in Italy is a big selling point. After all, we Americans love our spaghetti, pizza, and ravioli. Compared to the heavy wurst of Germany or the funky cheese and Escargot of France, Italian food just seems like home. But what we call “Italian” food in this country, remains a distant cousin to true Italian food. Take pasta for example. In America, it’s almost always the main course and a big one at that. In Italy, by contrast, it is only the third course—called primo—in a traditional ten-course Italian meal And yes, Italians do eat pasta almost every day (especially Romans) but they don’t get fat. Really?! Well, that’s because instead of a bowl of pasta that comes with its own ZIP code, an Italian pasta dish may weigh in at a mere 3.5 ounces.
There are other interesting difference between the way Americans eat Italian food (or how we eat generally) and how Italians eat Italian food. Here are some interesting "rules" the Italians follow.
Italians never drink cappuccino after 12:00PM, it is strictly a morning drink. So this means that, unlike us Americans, they never order a cappuccino after a meal.
What about breakfast? Breakfast for Italians is quite different than ours. Denny’s would file for bankruptcy in Italy before the dinner rush on opening day. (For a lot of other reasons I can think of, there’s not a single Denny’s in Italy.) If you ask Italians what they had for breakfast, many will tell you, “Non mango niente” (“I don’t eat anything.”) The typical Roman is likely to only have a quick espresso and a cornetto (Italian for “croissant”) on the way to the office. Of course, this leaves room for a wonderful, languid lunch at the piazza!
And speaking of when you may eat something and when you may not, there’s the issue of street food. Here in America, food trucks are everywhere and we eat on the street, in the park, in our cars, on the bus, on planes, on the subway, or just about anywhere. This makes sense for a country always on the move. But for Italians, eating in public or, even worse, eating while walking is just barbaric. In fact, Italy has passed a law that makes it illegal to eat within ten feet of a monument or fountain, which in Rome means one is essentially barred from eating anywhere outside. But like all rules, there are exceptions. For Romans, this means gelato and pizza bianco. These are allowed to be consumed outside, though gelato is typically a late-in-the-day snack and pizza is only eaten for lunch and never dinner. More rules!
Are the Italians more Type A than I thought? In about a week, I’ll find out. During my trip I will attempt to validate my research into these so-called rules, and I'll discover some new ones, much to my embarrassment. So, stay tuned for part two of this post—a summary of my delicious field research.