As you will have read in my last post, Italians treat food as a religion, and there are very definite ways how dishes should be prepared. Another thing that annoys Italians is when a dish is claimed as “Italian” by someone, even by “Italian restaurants” abroad, with dishes that have never graced an Italian dining table.
So, here are ten dishes which are definitely not Italian, and which you should never try to order in Italy.
Want some spicy salami slices on your pizza? Then don’t ask for ‘pepperoni’ in Italy – it’s the plural for peppers, so you’ll end up with a pizza covered in grilled peppers. If you want to order a ‘pepperoni’ pizza in Italian, then you have to ask for ‘salame piccante.’
This is a definite no-no in Italy. Legend has it that, back in the 1920s, an Italian brought a similar dish over to America that was cooked with butter and sage. However, short of ingredients one day, he substituted cream for the butter and parsley for the sage. The dish is now common in English-speaking countries. Not in Italy, though. In Italy, the only parts of the chicken you put in pasta are livers and kidneys when you make a ragù sauce.
Spaghetti Carbonara With Cream
Carbonara is definitely never cooked with cream in Italy, and it should only be cooked with guanciale (pork cheek). If you can’t get hold of this, then some pancetta will do. Other genuine Italian tips: the cheese should be either Pecorino or Parmesan. Crack the egg (about one egg yolk per person but some Italians also use a whole egg) over the top of the pasta.
The idea that this could ever be considered Italian is particularly perplexing to Italians. A baguette is not even Italian in the first place. Italians, of course, rub their garlic on bread to make bruschetta. It’s easy to spread the garlic on Italian bread, but try it on any other sort and it just breaks apart. Maybe that’s why English people use garlic butter!
Ham & Pineapple Pizza
Just no! This has America written all over it, and I never liked it even as a child. You have a snowball’s chance in Naples of getting one of these in Italy. As with everything food related, the Italians have a fixed idea about what should top a pizza. With good reason though, as each one I have tasted is absolutely delicious!
Spaghetti with meatballs
This is definitely not Italian. It was probably created by Italian immigrants who moved to the US in the early 20th century. Unable to find good-quality tomatoes, they added meat, which was cheap and readily available, to the sauce in order to make it sweeter and thicker. Traditionally, meatballs, or ‘polpette’ as they are known in Italy, are served either as a starter or a main course with potatoes, vegetables or beans. But definitely not with pasta!
You may have come across this orange-coloured concoction of sugar/syrup, vinegar, vegetable oil and peppers on British or American supermarket shelves. But there’s nothing “Italian” about it. In Italy, there’s really only one way of making dressing: by mixing olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or occasionally red or white wine vinegar. You can either drizzle this directly on to the salad or mix it beforehand. Italian food is simple when the ingredients are at their best. Why the Americans and the British love to complicate things escapes me!
In Anglo countries, Spaghetti Bolognese is a classic. For Italians, it’s a heinous crime against food. For the reasons why please see my previous post!
Macaroni and cheese
This has to be another American invention. In Italy, however, there are strict rules about which sauces you serve with specific pastas, depending on their texture and shape. Macaroni (‘Maccheroni’ in Italian), for instance, is typically served with ragù or a tomato sauce. The closest Italian dish to macaroni and cheese that I can think of is “pasta pasticciata”, where you mix left-over pasta with béchamel and bake it in the oven. However, it’s not the same, and Italians would never go out of our way to cook that!
In the UK, a “panini” is a grilled sandwich. Ask for “panini” in Italy, however, and you’ll get several ordinary sandwiches as “panini” is simply the plural of sandwich! Instead, you’d need to ask to have it toasted (“tostato”). Sandwiches in Italy also tend to be simpler. They normally don’t contain butter, for a start. Normally, a sandwich is just a roll filled with cheese, cold cuts and, more recently, a helping of grilled vegetables.” If you fancy a more British-style sandwich, I suggest ordering a “tramezzino” – a triangular sandwich made with soft white bread with the crusts removed.
A final tip. If you do see any of these on a menu in Italy, you’re in a restaurant that’s specifically aimed at tourists, and you’re just about to pay a large amount of money for some sub-standard food. Italians cook delicious food – if you’re travelling in Italy, eat like the locals!