Thursday, September 05, 2013

Italian Food Rules

This is the only acceptable way to eat long pasta

 It’s no secret that Italians are passionate about food.  And it’s no secret that Italian food is, for the most part, delicious.  Living so close to Italy, I get to experience a lot of it.  And while I love Italy, I wouldn’t consider Italy to be a front runner for strict rules.   I mean, all you have to do is experience driving in Italy to know that rules of the road are a mere suggestion rather than a die hard law. 

But then again, maybe it’s because Italy isn’t so hard and fast when it comes to every day rules that they do have pretty strict rules when it comes to food.  Some of the best arguments I’ve witnessed are when my Italian colleagues talk about how different dishes should be made.  If you want to witness a war of words, I suggest you ask a Northern Italian and a Southern Italian how lasagna should be made:  it’s almost as much drama as witnessing an episode of Jerry Springer.

In the past year and a half, I’ve learned a lot about Italian food rules.  Note that I say learned and not followed.  For even though it’s a “rule”, where I come from, rules are meant to be broken.  So what are these rules you ask?  Here’s a sampling of what I’ve gathered:

-       Pasta should ALWAYS be cooked al dente.  There’s nothing worse than overcooked pasta.  Also, whatever you do, don’t cut your pasta.  A colleague of mine said she nearly felt physical pain when she saw me cut my pasta.  Also, don’t use a spoon to roll it either.  Learn how to roll it on your fork.

-       Cheese is good. Fish is good.  But for godsake, whatever you do, don’t put them together.

-       Coffee.  Coffee comes as espresso in child size cups.  Capuccinos come in slightly larger cups and never too hot.  Both should be drunk in a relaxing way, or, if you’re in a rush, standing at the bar.  Coffee to go is sacrilege.  Having cappuccinos after 10 is also not ok.  I risk judgement everytime I order a cappuccino past noon.  I just smile.  I’m ok with their judgement.

-       Bread- In north America, at an Italian restaurant, you often get a swirl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip your bread into.  That would never happen in Italy, you’re meant to put things ON your bread and not dip your bread INTO something.  I have no idea why.

-       Fettucine Alfredo isn’t Italian.  Neither is spaghetti & meatballs.  So don’t even think of trying to order it. 

-       As amazing as Italian food is, Italian breakfasts are almost as appealing as a prison breakfast (not that I would know!)  Italian breakfasts usually consist of coffee (or cappuccino- it’s allowed at that time) some dry toast, cookies and if you’re lucky some jam and yogurt.  Bacon and eggs? Don’t even think about it.

-       There’s a “right” pasta shape to go with a “right” sauce.  There isn’t a spreadsheet of what the “right” combinations are, but if you’re at a restaurant and you order the “wrong” combo, they’ll let you know. And make you choose an alternative.
Like anything, some people are more tolerant of you breaking certain “rules” over others.  So what has learning these rules taught me?  Food in Italy is almost on the level of religion (maybe even higher) and Italians are extremely passionate about their food.  If you want to get into a heated debate with an Italian, discuss food.  Or politics.