Italian food culture, all about joy, family and tradition
Certainly Italian food and culture go hand in hand, we may say there is no difference. For Italians food is not merely a means for survival. Food defines us. It belongs to our history and culture as much as Raffaello and Leonardo da Vinci do.
The main aspect of Italian food culture
By all means this is conviviality and joy. And slowness of course. Enjoying a meal with friends or family is the main ingredient of any Italian dish.
Italian Sunday lunches are the best example, a unique experience you should try at least once.
They say only 5% of Italians eat out on Sundays, while 95% are at home eating as much as humanly possible. Sunday lunch is usually spent at some relatives’ home, in my case my grandparents’.
In any household there is always a grandma or aunt who thinks you are malnourished, too skinny and need to be filled as a Christmas turkey. You will not be able to leave your grandma’s table if you do not eat every single crumble she thinks you need.
This will also be your fate if you are invited for lunch at an Italian gathering... be prepared!
Lunch usually starts between 12am and 1pm depending on the region, and can last literally all day, sometimes even until dinner time. It’s the main occasion to bring the extended family together, and the only time ALL courses are included.
Starting from antipasto, closing with dessert, followed by caffe’ and ammazza-caffe’ (lit. coffee killer, a small amount of liquor or spirit). Even the poorest class used to save their meat for this special weekly gathering.
Classic antipasti are usually made of charcuterie, cheese, pickles and whatever the matriarch comes up with.
In Italy the main course is usually split in two, primo and secondo (first and second courses). Primo consists always of pasta, risotto or a soup like minestrone. Traditionally, pasta is freshly hand-made on the same day. Secondo varies from region to region but is usually based on meat or fish, with countless side dishes.
Usually at family gatherings it’s all about traditional local food. This means the food will be excellent, locally sourced and tested countless times.
A few pieces of cheese usually close the main part of the lunch. But the fun has still to come... Sunday lunches go to the long distance with desserts, fruit, coffee and ammazza-caffe’.
The socializing fun usually starts over a cup of coffee and a bit of limoncello (lemon liquor). Forget about your afternoon commitments, if you have any. And be prepared to endless chats.
Tradition and regional diversity
Another pillar of Italian food culture is regional diversity. Every dish, even the most simple, has roots in the past and traditions of that particular region. While travelling from the north to south of Italy you could experience as many different dishes as you travelled around the whole continent.
For example, in the north you can try polenta (a dish made with corn flour), but you will hardly find it in the southern regions.
Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan) is produced only in Emilia-Romagna because cows used for it are typical of that region only. As it is for buffalo mozzarella in Campania.
I think the downside of Italian food culture is a sort of narrow-mindedness. The family matriarchs do not generally like to experiment with other types of cuisine... even if from other Italian regions. At family gatherings every one expects the same local traditional food.
The easiest way to learn Italian culture is to hang around at the local bars!
This aspect is quickly changing among younger generations.
I managed to serve macrobiotic brown rice and a raw chocolate dessert at one of my family gatherings, but my older relatives did not take this act with a light spirit…
Needless to say, Italian food culture has also strict rules.
Have a look at this
and start familiarize with our 'weird' unwritten rules!
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