In modern-day, we gorge down Pizza and Pasta in a matter of seconds, while there’s a lot more to Italian Cuisine. I am here to show you beyond what we eat as a regular Italian meal in this post. Italian cuisine has affected world cuisine and some perceive it as an art form. Though cheese, wine, and pasta are common in Italian meals, there are various shapes and sizes of pasta, like lasagna, fusilli, linguine, penne, and spaghetti.
For Italians, food is not only about nourishment, but life. The boot-shaped country, as it is often called, Italy contains a wide range of diverse scenic beauty and a varied range of food in different regions as well. In this south-central European country, food is often the bonding agent for family gatherings.
- Italy: North, Centre, South and its beautiful islands of Sardinia and Sicily
According to CNN, each region has its own take on “Italian Food,” for example, what Americans see as pure Italian food like Pizza and Spaghetti are from Central Italy. Northern Italy is known for its use of distinctive types of cheeses; rice, fish, potatoes, pork, and sausages. A common dish is pasta with tomatoes and several kinds of stuffed pasta, risotto, and polenta just as well. In Southern Italy, tomatoes dominate the dishes as they are served cooked in puree or sauce or eaten as fresh. In the South, Italian food also involves ricotta cheese, eggplant, garlic, artichokes, olive oil, olive, peppers, and capers.
Wine is a vital part of Italian cuisine and the nation is home to a few of the most popular vineyards. Recently, the oldest trace of Italian wine has been discovered near a cave that is close to the southwest coast of Sicily. In this blog post, we will follow some of the histories of Italian cuisine along with their food culture and some of the best places to test the taste of Italy. So, hang tight, and let’s begin!
A Concise History of Italian Cuisine
The coastal ports and roads of the Italian peninsula have been the intersection of diverse influences of various cultures from ancient times when they entwined for centuries. From the Arabs, Greeks, French, Celts, and Jews to Austrians, Normans and Spaniards and so many more. And we are all aware of the fact that even the fundamental ingredients such as tomatoes, chili pepper, and chocolate have come to Italy after the discovery of the Americans. Moreover, the modern regional cuisine of Italy has left clear historical footsteps for us to trace back.
- Though the taste and preparations are different, Ancient Roman Food has many similarities with the dishes we serve today at our tables. Such similarities include even the most used basic ingredients, like olive oil, along with cheese, fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, eggs, legumes, cereal, etc. Just like nowadays, pork was both salted and smoked to preserve and produce delectable ham. Some cheeses that we still enjoy can be dated back to the Roman, such as mozzarella, pecorino, and ricotta.
- During my research, I came across two authors to whom we all have to be grateful because of the amazing testimony of ancient Roman cuisine. Firstly, there is Apicius and his book De Re Coquinaria or Manual of Gastronomy, where you will find recipes made by cooks. And secondly, we have to thank Columella for his book De Re Rustica, which concentrated on what we now know as agricultural science.
- Towers of Badia Fiorentina and Bargello along Via del Proconsolo. Firenze, Italy.
Credit: Wander Virtually
- Italian convents played a major role in cultivating the raw elements and the significance of the kitchen in the Dark ages. Did you know the influence the monks had on living with us for a longer period on making liquors and wines? From the creative nuns, we now have many quintessential sweets that were born in that era, such as the Sicilian sweets like cannoli and marzipan, along with cassata that was prepared and served to celebrate religious festivals.
- Then, the Renaissance brought the vital role of the court on Roman cuisine as it converted food into works of art to impress and enhance the reputations of the landlords. Maybe we should remember the famous description of Trimalchio as the Roman emperors perhaps had been entertained the same way. Scalco was the proper manager of the kitchen who was in charge of looking after each detail. Bartolomeo Scappi (1500-1577) was one of the best chefs of that time who can prove the creativity of Italian cuisine of this era.
- When the international trade by the sea extended, the usage of spices from distant nations became more popular and remunerative again. Spices like nutmeg, cloves, pepper, cinnamon, and the list goes on, became the star of Italian food. The shops in Speziers sell sugared almonds along with other delicious sweets. Then, with the discovery of the American continent, many classic ingredients were introduced, like cocoa, turkey, tomato beans, hot pepper, corn, and many more.
- Italian Seasoning
Credit: Fairway Foodservice
- In the nineteenth century, the Risorgimento witnessed the emergence of middle-class Italian cuisine or Borghese, which is neither poor nor rich, perhaps gourmand. This is also the time that we invented the art of making coffee and sorbet, chocolate and ice cream, as well as drinks like citrate and lemonade with various specialties of truffles could be identified in today’s menu too. This century observed the start of industrialization and the utilization of food in tins or cans. In the year 1856, the first Italian was Francesco Cirion who put chickpeas in “scatola” using Appert’s technique of sterilization.
- Only after the unification of Italy, the celebration of the diversity of the regional cuisine occurred by the publishing of the book called Pellegrino Artusi’s “La Scienza in Cucina e L’arte di Mangiar Bene, 1891.” The most exciting fact is that it was the first time someone has gathered all the regional recipes in a single volume for us to taste the taste of the time in the modern-day. Artusi’s book is still a significant reference today as the book is full of his experiences from his journey and his friends.
- At the beginning of the twentieth century, the focus transformed towards motorists as the travel guides were concentrated on them. Due to the appearance of Locanda in various routes, a few standardizations happened of the local cuisine. The borrowed dishes from other regions and countries have been reinvented by the local cooks. However, the taverns run by the families offer, till to this day, simple and authentic local dishes and are famous for their Sunday family lunch meals.
- Ancient Roman Tavern Uncovered in Southern France
- A reference to conflict came in the form of a cookbook named Il Talismano dela Felicia or The Talisman of Happiness by Ada Boni in 1929. The dispute was because the book was for making perfect housewives and it lasted until society at that time moved on. Another bestseller, Il Cucchiao d’Argento, came as a rescue for contemporary post-war housewives in 1950 to act not only as the best collection of over two hundred regional recipes but also as an artistic outlet for many.
- It is at the same period, we received the iconic “Mediterranean Diet” from the biologist Ancel Keys. In favor of time management, long recipes like legumes and polenta rapidly disappeared and quick and simple pre-cooked practical supermarket food became popular due to the promotion added by the television.
Nonetheless, due to DOP Certifications of Products and the Slow Food Movement, we are finally taking care of our health, and are conscious of the biodiversity, environment, and sustainability by using organic products straight from the farmer’s market nowadays.
5 Fundamental Culinary Cultures in Italy
There is no argument that Italian cuisine is one of the succulent dishes in the world. With its rich taste and history, the diverse trends, customs, and culture surface. So, while uncovering the truths behind Italian cuisine, let’s delve into the basic food culture in Italy too.
Superstitions For Your Stomach:
It’s not harmful to be a little cautious about superstitions related to your food that is dated back to old civilizations. Such as spilling salt or spilling olive oil are meant to bring bad luck. The Bible also has some impact on these superstitions, like there should never be thirteen people at a table referring to The Last Supper.
It is also believed that bread should not be upside down on a plate relating to the Christian faith. However, on bringing some good luck, you should eat lentils on New Year as it brings prosperity.
Always Fresh Ingredients:
When it comes to purchasing their food, Italians mostly go to local markets instead of big supermarkets, which has also increased the rate of home cooking and baking in 2014, according to a report from Euromonitor International.
Keep Your Breakfast Light:
By and large, Italians save their appetite for lunch by having a light breakfast. Traditionally, they have a coffee, mostly cafe latte, pastries, cookies, and bread rolls. Other alternatives include yogurt, fruit salad, and muesli.
- Fresh Herbs and Vegetables
Credit: Envato Elements
Eat Your Vegetables:
Eating seasonal vegetables is one of the conventions of Italian food culture. While Summer has its own vegetables like radishes, aubergines, cucumbers, tomatoes, winter has broccoli, cabbages, artichokes, cauliflower, and so on as well. And there are also the vegetables that grow throughout the year which are carrots, chicory, and lettuce.
Go For Gelato:
As summer comes, the very old battle between Ice Cream and Gelato begins. Gelato means to freeze or frozen and is the healthier option between the two. There is also Sorbetto which comes from Southern Italy while Gelato is from the north. The only difference between the two is Sorbetto uses water, unlike Gelato that needs milk with sugar and various fruits.
I have come across this very detailed blog that informs you of the basic food customs in Italy.
Places To Visit in Italy
It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, there are a ton of places where you taste the authentic delicacies of Italy. However, it can be really overwhelming to know or decide which place to go for gelato or a bowl of spaghetti. Therefore, I am enlisting here some places or regions that you could visit in Italy.
Spaghetti from Rome
After tiring yourself out by visiting all the beautiful spots in Rome, you have to experience the divineness of a simple dish called Carbonara. It’s made of hard cheese, fresh eggs, pancetta, or guanciale and sprinkled with chopped pepper. Some of the best restaurants in Rome are Le Pergola, Pane e Salame and Il Tamburello di Pulcinella. And to have some of the best gelatos, drop by Verde Pistacchio on Via Nazionale.
Tiramisu in Venice
After savoring the art and architecture of Doge’s Palace, Gallerie dell’ Accademia, Saint Mark’s Basilica, and many more gallop down some of the best Tiramisu, the Veneto region, Pudding in Venice. Made with a strong espresso, a little cocoa, mascarpone, savoiardi, and egg yolks and your heaven is ready.
Have some Lemoncello at the Amalfi Coast
While being transfixed in the magnificent scenery, sip on some Lemoncello to refresh your day. One noteworthy fact is that you aren’t be so engrossed in the natural beauty of the Amalfi Coast as it has more to offer, like several towns named Amalfi, Positano, Atrani, Ravello, and Sorrento. If you are worried about where to stay, then Villa Piedimonte could be the place for you.
- Florentine Steak
Salivate on bistecca alla Fiorentina in Florence
If you dream of steak, then Florentine steak or bistecca alla Fiorentina will be your dream come true. It’s huge, but it’s mouthwatering. Quintessentially, it is served pink on the inside, but if you prefer anything else, then you can order a lighter steak. After feasting on a big meal, take a stroll to watch the sunset over Arno with some wine from Chianti.
Try Some Mondeghili in Milan
About five hundred years ago, the Spanish introduced Mondeghili to Milan and it still holds its former glory. Very similar to beef meatballs, Mondeghili is one of the territorial dishes of this region.
When to Visit
- Vineyard in Autumn
Credit: Wego Travel Blog
From September to November, the Fall season or Autumn is the best season to visit Italy as it’s harvest time. It starts only after the busy peak season and has some of the similar benefits as Spring has but with pleasant weather and thinner crowds.
As harvest season, the countryside explodes into iridescent color, and Italians throughout the country celebrate the festivities with incredible wine and food. Tuscany, Piedmont, and Le Marche are the greatest places to enjoy the harvest and truffle festivals. Mostly, northern Italy gets cold at the end of Autumn, so you should visit in late September and October.
Here we are, at the end! I have touched up from the history of the customs to the famous regions the food in Italy is placed in. However, experiencing it in person is another whole story. My job is to encourage and inspire you. You can visit here for more information. Until then, eat well and be well!