Inside Italy: Mamma Mia

There must be some Italian mammas out there rustling up homemade tortellini and tiramisu but I haven’t met any of them.   Most of my Italian friends are working mums who stop off on their way home to pick up a pasta pronto (ready meal) of lasagna or stuffed peppers.  We were guests at a recent dinner party where the starters consisted of cubes of ham.  The prima course was pasta with a tomato sauce, followed by a main course of grilled chicken with a green salad.  Hardly a herb, spice or flavour to be seen.   However, a jar of dried chilli flakes was available to provide some zing/interest/joy to the meal, which everyone added liberally.

Pudding began with a fruit bowl.  Not a fruit salad or prepared fruit but literally the fruit bowl placed onto the table. Fortunately this was followed by tiramisu…from a shop.  Even at a dinner party, this is perfectly acceptable.  No need to hide the M&S boxes here!

There’s also a myth that Italians don’t drink much, just a glass of red wine with dinner.  Really??  I could barely keep up with the speed and quantity of prosecco, red wine and limoncello being thrown down necks.   Am I mixing with the only drinkers in Italy or is this more indicative of modern Italians??

Whaddya mean you want some flavour with it??
Whaddya mean you want some flavour with it??

I really have yet to see why Italian food is so revered; yes you can get great tasting ham, fantastic cheeses or yummy pizza – but you can get those in England too.  All the Italians I know do their shopping at the supermarket, topping up with a few choice items (maybe bread or cheese) at a specialist shop – just like I would do in England.  It costs too much to do a full shop at the local alimentary (grocery), macellai (butchers) or pasticceria (bakery).  I’ve also been surprised to find that people here eat a lot (and I mean a lot) of packaged goods – Nutella, Kelloggs cornflakes, Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream, the same staples we have in England.  Italians especially like shop bought sweet items – biscuits, cakes and pastries.  Children are met after school with a merenda (afternoon snack), maybe a Ciambella (a ring donut kind of cake the size of your head) or a huge slab of pizza Bianca (pizza base).  Not once have I seen a piece of fruit or a home-made treat being handed out. So I’m totally skeptical when English chefs (yes, you Jamie Oliver) bang on and on about how amazing (and healthy) Italian food is.  Now, if you want to start talking about fish & chips, afternoon tea or a full roast lunch then I’m with you all the way! What do you think?  Does Italian food live up to the hype?  Am I missing something??  Or do you agree with me that it’s overrated and overpriced?

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24 thoughts on “Inside Italy: Mamma Mia”

  1. I was recently chastised by an Italian, who said that England had no national dishes whereas Italy had a fine tradition of cuisine. I pointed out to him that not only did we have a great tradition of pies (chicken, beef, apple), but also roast meals, with different meats and vegetables, not just ‘carne’ (meat), and of course fish and chips! But we had also embraced the food of the world: Chinese, Indian, Asian fusion, American (north and south) as well as European, yes including Italian into our daily cuisine. Trying finding any decent Indian or Chinese restaurants in Italy, or being served anything international ‘a casa’ (at home) and you’ll see what I mean.

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  2. I think it does live up to the hype! I love Italian food if it’s prepared with patience and love. In my little town in Sardinia no one buys pre-made or frozen meals; everything is prepared with care. Wish I had the patience to prepare some of the meals I’ve had here.

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    1. Rome definitely doesn’t seem to be as ‘foodie’ as other parts of Italy and working mammas don’t have much time to stuff mushrooms. I need to hang out with more Sardinian mammas!! x

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  3. I’ve never been to Italy so I can’t really say, but I do know that I have several Italian cookbooks and love to prepare Italian food and find the recipes full of flavor with lots of herbs, olive oil, garlic, greens, tomatoes, beans, etc. Maybe everyone’s too busy now to make real Italian food? That’s sad, though. I’d like to come and see for myself. One day!

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  4. I agree with you. When I was in Italy last year I was very disappointed with the range and quality of food on offer. There’s really only so much pasta one can eat. Plus the cost of eating out was extortionate, especially given that you have to order any potatoes or vegetables separately to your main course. Give me a good meal in a great British pub any day!

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  5. Food in Sardinia amazing? I’ve not had that experience, and I’ve visited many times, and absolutely love the place. It’s simple and it’s expensive. And generally unexciting. Except the pizza, that is great! I found Liguria to be far better in terms of food.
    Jane x

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  6. Where I live most mammas cook from scratch, it’s no wonder really, with unemployment among women above 70% (!) in my province (Caserta) they all have plenty of time. Gender roles are stricter here too. (Big sigh.)

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  7. Thank you for the ‘like’! As for italian food, I used to think that it was a big deal, but only because where I’m originally from (Hawaii), there is no such thing as buffalo milk mozz, burrata, and top-quality prosciutto. Nowadays, I find that cooking at home using quality ingredients is way better than what I might find at a restaurant. I also love making pasta from scratch when I’m in the mood, but when my mother-in-law found out about it, she said what for? You can buy the dried stuff at the supermarket!

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  8. dude…

    You guys need to come to Reggio Emilia. Si mangia bene qui. Furthermore, if sub-par food somehow makes it past your lips, not only do you have license to badmouth the cook… but others also have license to mock you for not identifying it as bad beforehand!

    Honestly, the attention given to food here FAR surpassed any hype or expectation I had before arriving. To the point where it kind of stresses me out now…

    Perhaps it is regional, like you said. I remember we had a harder time finding excellent food in Rome. Here in Emilia, you can walk into any rural Osteria, pay 15 euros a head and get perfection.

    Yes, with LOTS of wine. That part about Italians not being heavy drinkers is definitely a myth. They just redefined ‘heavy’.

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  9. Wow! It must be a city thing because here in Liguria it is all about home cooked meals with fresh ingredients. I have gained 6 kilos since moving here and gone up a dress size.
    I have made homemade pasta, used the old pestle and mortar to make pesto and salsa di noci and we grow most of our own herbs too. Ligurians are very proud of their prowess in the kitchen and I have benefitted greatly 🙂
    You must come visit!
    X Leah

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    1. Yes, I do think things are different in smaller, rural regions. We do eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, all grown in Italy (not sure how local to Rome!), which is different to the UK where a lot of produce is imported. Maybe I need to meet some real local ‘foodies’ who can share the secrets of where the amazing food is in Rome?? Or come to visit you! x

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  10. Ouch! You’re hitting on a very controversial subject there! Personally, I do agree with you but I am also aware that Italo-Italians (those born, bred and still living in the Boot) don’t realize that. It’s like when they say that a doctor’s children are always sick (if there is a saying like that in England). Italians have so many amazing natural products: juicy, red, rich tomatoes, deliciously sugary tiny zucchini, lavish aubergines and crispy purple artichokes…so many perfect natural ingredients that….they end up not eating them as much as they could/should. I guess that in Northern Europe people are so deeply touched by the appearance of sunny vegetables and fruits that they have made the most of them.
    My Italian friends too survive on a diet of sugary biscuits/cake/sugary cereals and cappuccino for breakfast, pasta in all of its states (and often these are industrially produced tomato sauce and pesto), cheeses, ham, and sometime a few vegetables (covered in oil). I complained about it here:http://ottominuti.com/2013/07/11/when-childhood-memories-are-not-enough-how-expatriation-can-change-your-palate/

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    1. Great post, I’m glad we’re in agreement. I’m sure there is delicious Italian food to be had but a lot of it seems to be bland and ‘same old, same old’. I will keep looking!

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