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Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Two weeks ago I toured around different parts of Italy. Italy is obviously home to the most delicious food in the world, in my opinion. The cities are beautiful and so much fun, but the food is what sold me. This is no Olive Garden. Italian food is part of the Mediterranean diet so it is considered quite healthy, to the surprise of many. There are three major differences between genuine Italian cuisine and what Americans think is Italian.
First, the quality of the ingredients is crucial in Italian cuisine, not the quantity of food. In the United States, one single meal at an Italian restaurant could feed a small family. In addition, before this massive feast we are served bread and sometimes a salad. This is uncommon in Italy. They may serve you bread with olive oil but it is sort of an appetizer because they charge you for it. The dipping of bread in olive oil is not an Italian tradition. Restaurants keep olive oil and vinegar on the table but it is intended to be used for a salad. In Italy, the portion sizes are much smaller and more reasonable. The ingredients used are fresh and much lighter, unlike our American expectations of heavy cream sauces and layers of cheese. Italians pride themselves on the freshness of their ingredients. The professor of the Intro to Food and Beverage Management class at UNH is from Italy and she prides herself on preparing fresh pasta, gathering fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables to cook all of her meals. She essentially does not believe in pre-prepared meals. This directly reflects the Italian ideal. One night I got a salad, not expecting anything stupendous. This was the best salad I have ever had. It was the restaurant’s “house” salad, made with fresh crisp lettuce, carrots, gorgonzola cheese and fresh prosciutto. Anywhere else this salad would have been mediocre, but the freshness of all the ingredients made it fantastic.
The famous gelato is a great example of how the quality of the ingredients creates an amazing product. Gelato is made of more whole milk than regular ice cream. Regular ice cream is made with more water which is why you get that crunchy crystal texture. Gelato is denser because it is churned slower so less air is brought into it, unlike ice cream. There is more fat in ice cream which coats your mouth and lessens the flavor. This and the fact that gelato is served at a warmer temperature allow the flavors in gelato to become more intense and wonderful. I ate gelato almost every day while I was in Italy, but Italians consider it a special treat. A typical Italian dessert is fighi e albicocce (fresh figs and apricots. A much healthier option than gelato every night, but I was on vacation! I have zero regrets.
When we Americans think of Italian cuisine, we think of pizzas piled high with cheese and toppings with delicious think crust and huge pasta dishes with heavy cream sauces and garlic bread. On the contrary, the pizzas in Italy have a thin crust and are just sprinkled with cheese and toppings. The pastas are served with light sauces that are much less salty that the Americanized version. The tomato sauces are almost always made from scratch and have an incredible taste. Italians eat almost no red meat. They eat a lot of chicken and tons of seafood. I had some unbelievable mussels and clams while I was there. Salad dressings are rare. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar are used instead and are put on the table like salt and pepper in the US. This article perfectly described the cuisine as “simple and genuine.” The article also noted that Italians make an effort to eat like their grandparents because it is part of their tradition. If Americans adopted this idea they would be substantially less overweight.
Second, a meal for Italians is not something that can be rushed. They eat their food slowly, enjoying every bite and the company around them. At restaurants in Italy you have to ask for the check. Once the waiter clears your plate and asks if anyone wants coffee or dessert he or she walks away and will not return with the check until you wave him or her down to ask for it. They also do not interrupt your meal to ask how the food is, (probably because they know it is awesome,) and because they know that the customer wants to enjoy their meal and the friends and family while they eat their meal.
Lastly, despite how long their meals usually take, Italians do not typically overeat. Once they feel full, they stop eating and might order a cappuccino or a coffee while they chat. Dinner is also typically served around 7:00 to 8:30 at night so they avoid the snacking before bed, (another horrible American habit).
The article so accurately pointed out that dieting to Italians is a foreign concept. Most just live a healthy active lifestyle because they care about the inside of their bodies as much as the out. (This is why the amount of Italian smokers boggles my mind so much, but that is another story). Everyone walks or bikes everywhere. This is clearly visible all over Italy, I noticed. Everyone looks perfect all the time. To summarize, the men are good-looking, people walk everywhere, everyone is happy and friendly, the weather is beautiful and of course the food is delicious and great for you. I can’t think of any reason not to move there.
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