The unique features of foods in Italy: quality, simplicity, fantasy, health and tradition

Despite their great variety, foods in Italy share a few common features which make them so famous and appreciated all around the globe.

The feature which best describes Italian food is, in my opinion, quality. Quality of the ingredients. Quality of the production process. Quality of the displaying (because you should also please the eye).

The ingredients: vegetables, fruit, oil, cereals, wine and any other product are produced according to strict safety rules. A recent study on the percentage of pesticides contained in Italian foods has showed that only 0,7% of them resulted in being produced using chemicals.

Even the production process is of a high standard. This is true both for the industrial output and the home made traditional Italian food.

Production of parmesan cheese in Emilia
parmesan production

Let’s take, for example, Parmigiano Reggiano. Despite its huge production to be exported everywhere in the world, this cheese has been produced more or less in the same way for nine centuries. A slow process which requires attention and great care.

Not to mention handmade fresh egg pasta. Italian grandmas rarely buy it in shops for the Sunday lunch. They make it in the morning in the traditional way it was made by their mothers and grandmothers.

Another unique feature of foods in Italy is simplicity. Italian cuisine is great with just a few ingredients: tomatoes, oil, bread and wine, to name a few. Bruschetta, a classic traditional Italian food, is just bread seasoned either with garlic, oil, and tomatoes. The famous caprese salad, a typical starter from southern Italy, is made with mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and oregano.

Caprese salad
caprese salad

Again quality of ingredients such as mozzarella and tomatoes is what makes the difference. This is why the most simple dishes are delicious in Italy, but usually tasteless abroad (and so many rich sauces are needed to make up for poor ingredients). In Italy we don’t have salad dressings. All we need is the freshest vegetables with great olive oil and possibly some balsamic vinegar.

Even a dish such as lasagne, rich in taste and smell, is made with basic ingredients: flour, eggs, spinach (for the pasta layers). Milk, butter, flour, salt and spice nutmeg for the béchamel. And finally the Bolognese sauce.

Yet simplicity on its own would not be enough to make Italian food so delicious. Fantasy is the other fundamental ingredient. Italians have the talent to improvise sumptuous dishes from an empty fridge.

A delicious healthy orecchiette dish

Healthiness as well makes traditional Italian food so popular around the world. The Mediterranean diet is famous worldwide for its benefits in preventing heart-related diseases.

Olive oil, for example, is used much more than butter and cream. Ready sauces are still regarded with a sort of shame among the majority of Italians. Any sauce should be rigorously handmade.

Obviously the modern lifestyle left its mark even in Italy. The original Mediterranean diet is now contaminated with refined carbohydrates, sugars and processed foods.

Eating a well balanced mediterranean diet will definitely improve your health. If you want to learn about some basic life-changing principles, take a glance at these Healthy Eating Guidelines.

Moreover, regional and local traditions make foods in Italy so special. Within a few kilometers radius you could find more than one way to prepare the same dish. Let’s take, for example, a traditional first course from Romagna, cappelletti. It is a stuffed fresh egg pasta whose filling can be either with or without meat.

These differences may be explained by social and historical changes. In the past meat was a very exclusive food and many people could not include it in their diet. With the economic development meat has become affordable and this new social condition changed the way some foods are prepared.

You travel 50km westwards and in Emilia you find tortellini, a very similar dish, just slightly smaller. The attachment to the customs and traditions of an Italian town can become true competition. The neighbouring cities of Modena and Bologna will dispute forever the ownership of the original tortellini recipe.

Women in Colonnata
Women in Colonnata

Even today the origins of most foods in Italy are strongly rooted to the poor classes. A typical example is polenta, a traditional dish from Lombardy and Veneto made with corn flour. For centuries polenta was the main food of poor people. It is still very popular in their diet, but today is also served in restaurants as a culinary specialty.

Or lardo di Colonnata, a delicious type of lard, originally the food of the quarrymen working the famous Carrara marble.

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