Tell someone that you’re going to live in Italy and the first thing they’ll probably do is lick their lips and say ‘Ooh, pizza, spaghetti, all that good food!’, followed perhaps by other approving comments on the weather, art and hot girls and guys in designer clothing.
Truth is, though, Italian cooking just isn’t that great.
Tell an Italian that, of course and they’re liable to wish they were the sort of person who carries a knife. Food is an obsession in Italy and if you witness a heated discussion in the street it’s more likely they’re arguing about which kind of sauce goes with which pasta. There are hundreds of kinds of pasta and though each one tastes pretty much the same, being made of the same white flour, each has its own shape and thus, to the Italian tongue, its own relationship with the various sauces.
And there’s the essence of Italian cooking – it’s incredibly refined/specialised or limited/narrow minded according to how you see it. Italian cuisine is the result of a rich oral tradition of debating the virtues of various consistencies of tomatoes and locality of mussels but suggest cooking garlic and onion together and you’re liable to be thrown out of the kitchen.
Hence why Italians suffer so much when they travel, especially when they head somewhere like England. I’ve heard tales of Italians abroad who have been offered pasta served with ketchup, microwaved eggs or even roast chicken garnished with Pringles. Serious. It’s a comic sight to see an Italian inspecting the tomatoes in a Northern European supermarket, sniffing suspiciously at the genetically modified produce that neither matures or rots.
So what am I saying, that you don’t eat well in Italy?
Of course not, Italian food is great. But not because the cuisine is the best in the world – it’s good but very limited – but Italian produce is excellent. A simple Italian pasta might just involve a bit of fried garlic and some fresh tomatoes and basil sprinkled on top. Try cooking that in Germany and you’ll be wishing you’d gone out for lunch. In Italy, however, the food tastes like… food. Which is why when you order spinach in the restaurant, a little plate of spinach arrives with no other garnish. If you want to liven it up a bit there’s always the excellent olive oil or balsamic vinegar.
Ok, so I can hear the Italians sharpening their cooking knives already – as everyone knows, Italians do it better. I’m just lucky that few of my friends speak enough English to make their way through an article like this…