FOOD CRIMES: THE ITALIAN ETIQUETTE24/03/2023
Italian cuisine is the world’s most popular. If this means that there are billions of people in any area of the globe who love it, it is also true that the price it pays for popularity entails surrendering to a series of “food crimes” that would make any Italian cringe. Leaving out of the discussion the (in)famous ‘Hawaiian’ pizza (the one with pineapple which, being a fruit, should be eaten at the end of a meal), the most common mistakes reveal a lack of knowledge of what the Italian food culture really is about. If ketchup is widely appreciated as a pasta sauce in East Asia, there is a great number of western people who add cream when preparing Carbonara: the point here is not personal taste, it is knowing the Italian cuisine better in order to master it.
Snapping spaghetti in half is unnecessary: they are supposed to wrap around your fork while collecting some sauce from the plate. If they are too long for your pot, you can either opt for a shorter type of pasta or use a larger pot. Cutting them with a knife while eating is not contemplated either. And since pasta is usually the main part of an Italian meal (especially lunch), it should be served alone in order to enjoy the perfect pairing between the type of pasta itself and the sauce. No garlic bread has ever been spotted together with a pasta dish in Italy.
Cooking pasta is another subject for discussion. Despite the array of recent theories around its preparation in cold water, the boiling temperature is what prevents the pasta from getting mushy and making it “al dente” helps control the glycemic index. Also, rinsing cooked pasta under cold water takes away the heat that helps to blend the sauce in: draining pasta with a colander will suffice.
Although being very popular abroad as a side dish, rice is regarded as a first course in Italy. Risotto is a valid alternative to pasta as it equally provides carbohydrates but less calories. Rice varieties used in Italian recipes tend to be starchier than Asian ones, thus lending themselves to an endless number of preparations which typically reflect the local traditions of each region. Just like for pasta, it is not only a matter of combining Italian ingredients in order to enjoy an Italian dish. Since the ingredients are now available worldwide, it is our culinary culture that should be considered before trying a new recipe.
As the world becomes more interconnected, younger generations of Italians tend to have a softer approach to what used to be considered major food crimes. They do not despise meatballs on top of a pasta dish nor really mind experimental combinations, such as grated cheese on seafood-based preparations. When it comes to drinking cappuccino though, not even the generation gap can save those who choose to have it after a meal: even the youngsters know that it is a breakfast affaire only. This is why it is never featured on restaurant menus in Italy.