Over the last few centuries immigrants have flocked to this country to live their version of the American dream. Among their most prized possessions these brave pioneers carried with them a cherished part of their homeland-the recipes of their heritage.
With each generation the dishes their grandparents knew were slightly less “old country”, bearing instead the influence of their Americanized palate. In some cases the old country ancestors would have a hard time tasting the homeland in these homogenized versions of the so-called traditional recipes.
We all know the multi-cultural cuisine we enjoy in the United States has been modified from the original. What we consider Chinese, Thai and even Italian fare are very different from their assumed culture of origin. While your local Italian restaurant’s Chicken Parm and Ravioli with Meat Sauce are certainly delicious these dishes are examples of America’s Italian food and not the foods of a country of many regions and influences.
Oh my goodness! Is there anything as luscious as crusty garlic butter-soaked bread, topped with a sprinkle of fresh crushed garlic and a little parmesan? Sadly, this calorie-laden, sodium rich staple of likely all Italian restaurants in the U.S. - you will not find it in Italy.
When in Rome-and elsewhere around The Boot-you’ll find bruschetta to be the true staple. Thin slices of fresh, grilled, crusty bread are topped with tomatoes and a melange of other flavors. Sometimes a sprinkle of fresh basil, perhaps a little garlic, and always a drizzle of liquid gold that is Italian olive oil.
Not to shock you dear friends, but there is no traditional dish served in Italy that involves a breaded chicken (or veal) cutlet of any kind, topped with cheese and served over marinara-topped pasta. Comforting though it may be, Chicken Parmigiana is not true Italian fare.
Order a salad at pretty much any Italian restaurant in the US and you’ll be treated to a bowl of iceberg lettuce, topped with cheese, garbanzo beans, pepperoncini, croutons and drenched in“Italian Dressing”. Your salad will come, often along with your garlic bread, prior to your entree, or main course.
A salad in Italy is a very different thing. An Italian salad is simple fare. Often freshly picked lettuce with a drizzle of the outstanding olive oil that’s a constant on the Italian table, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Finish with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and that’s all you need. The fresh flavor is unmasked and thoroughly enjoyable.
And speaking of marinara, hold onto your spaghetti forks. Marinara is unlike any of the sauces you’ll find in Italy. For one thing Americanized marinara sauce follows a tomato-heavy recipe and relies on the robust red fruit for its dominant flavor. In Italy sauces are traditionally light on the tomatoes, so the other flavors of fresh herbs, spices and olive oil can dance upon the palate. Also, Italians are devoted to fresh foods, so the flavors of your sauce often depend on what’s in season.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
Ready for another shocker? Spaghetti and meatballs is a completely American concoction. Steaming mounds of pasta topped with golf ball sized meatballs don’t qualify, by any means, as authentic fare in Italy. What’s more, very rarely are meats of any kind mixed in with pasta.
If you have a hankering for meatballs while visiting Italy you can order them as an appetizer.
A Few More “Italian” Foods to Mention
Fettuccine Alfredo: While a tasty classic in the U.S. this dish breaks a rule commonly held in Italy. Cream is rarely used in pasta sauces, except, occasionally regionally.
Pepperoni Pizza: Your go-to during the big game is not served in Italy. If you order a pepperoni pizza in Naples, you will be brought a pie topped with peppers. And don’t expect the thick, cheesy mile-high pizzas you’ve come to know and have delivered regularly.
Italian pizza has a much thinner crust, less cheese, less sauce and typically no meat other than thinly-sliced prosciutto or, occasionally, depending where you are, a lean sausage.
Mozzarella Sticks: Really? OK, this bar food staple has one ingredient linking it to Italy; mozzarella cheese. But please, at the risk of embarrassment, don’t order these fried, cheesy party-timers in Italy.
A Deliciously Authentic Experience
Italy's agri-centric food culture, wine and gloriously friendly people offer one of the best foodie experiences you’ll ever have. Taste each morsel of authentic Italian food and immerse yourself in this truly Italian pastime. Mangia! You’ll make memories, make friends and discover real Italian food.