Eats from Italy: The Good, The Bad and The Too Much Pasta

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My parents, upon their arrival, told me that they wouldn’t — they couldn’t — get sick of eating pasta during their two-week trip to Italy.  I listened, nodded politely laughed and told them that we’d see.  About the time we arrived in Bologna, my dad admitted the once-unthinkable, that he was getting sick of pasta.  I wasn’t surprised.  Soon after, my mother concurred.

Italian food isn’t necessarily dull, there just isn’t  the variety that you find in America and the UK.  Upon reflection, it’s understandable, though surprisingly difficult to adapt to, even for just two weeks.  You begin combing menus for something new, something you haven’t tried yet.  Your taste preferences, however, don’t mutate.  I can’t tell you how many times someone ordered a variation of spaghetti ai frutti di mare or tagliatelle con funghi porcini.  Really, you don’t want to know.  It’s kind of criminal.

Pizza margherita con funghi

Yet, my parents and I agree that we ate well.  There were only a few clunkers out of our dinners and lunches during the two weeks (breakfast, however, is a different story).  Even with the lackluster meals, the food wasn’t exactly bad, just a bit blah or not suited to our personal tastes.  Turns out, I don’t like fresh tuna either.

One of our first meals, pictured in part above, was sandwiches from I Due Fratellini in Florence.  It’s a famous sandwich shop that sells small, cheap panini to hungry hoards, eager to eat in the street.  While I’d heard people rave about the sandwiches and talk about them as if they were mythical creatures, I found them solidly lackluster.  They were fine.  Had I not had truffle-infused cheese on mine, I would have been solidly disappointed.

Lunch at Osteria Grattacielo

A favorite meal came the next day for lunch in Siena.  Newly-arrived in the city we left our hotel room in a daze and stumbled to Osteria Il Grattacielo and sat outside on a table sloping down a hill.  Ordering is quite the adventure, but worth every moment of confusion.  Walk in and go to the counter, look at the food they have for that day.  You can either choose one or two things for yourself or choose a plate to share.  That’s what we did.  They pile on and arrange all the eats and bring your plates.  It’s quite the nice meal, though I would recommend eating inside where you don’t have to worry about the awkward slope.

Dinner at La Taverna di Cecco

Of course, we did eat some meals in restaurants.  One of the few notable ones, because all that pasta begins to blend together after a while, was also in Siena at La Taverna di Cecco.  Located near the Campo di Palio, but tucked away enough on a side street to avoid being touristy, this cozy restaurant is worth a visit if you happen to find yourself in the Sienese hillside.  I ordered gnocchi al tartufo, my dad ate some pici con sugo di cinghiale (thick tuscan spaghetti with wild boar sauce) and my mom … well, we’re not sure what that’s a picture of.  Any guesses?

Hotel Dinner

I’m a huge fan of eating in hotels and I made sure we did that a couple times during our trip.  One of the most notable non-dining out meals was at our hotel in Naples.  Dare I say it, it might have been one of my favorite meals of the trip.  We had taralli, arugula salad, mozzarella di bufala, another cheese we cannot identify and some sundried tomatoes.  Simple and utterly delightful after stomping through Naples all day.  Some may call Naples the land of pizza, but I’m calling it the land of il tarallo.

Eating endless meal out after endless meal out may sound fun, but soon grows wearisome.  Though it’s sometimes nice to sit down and have it all taken care of for you, sometimes just relaxing and eating sitting cross-legged is more fun.  As cool as it is to try the meals out, I have a feeling that most Italians don’t eat the mammoth plates of pasta served in restaurants.  I know there are other kinds of breads than you find in the breadbasket and, let’s be honest, you can find better desserts in bakeries than you’ll find in most restaurant kitchens.

But if the question is what’s Italian food, after this year I can truly attest to the fact that the answer is pasta and pizza.  And cookies for breakfast.

(the pizza pictured is from Di Matteo in Naples.  the one Bill Clinton visited.)

Do you enjoy eating out?  What’s your favorite cuisine?

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6 thoughts on “Eats from Italy: The Good, The Bad and The Too Much Pasta

  1. gh

    Are you serious? After one year in Italy if you are asked what Italian food is, the answer is pasta and pizza? The variety and choice of food in Italy is actually mind blowing; it’s probably one of the most diverse cuisines in the world. You are saying the UK has more? I am not sure how you came to this conclusion.

    Reply
    1. Emilia Post author

      Thank you so much for your comment. I love hearing dissenting opinions, it’s always nice to have our beliefs challenged and reexamine our conclusions! 🙂

      Frankly, yes, I do think that Italian food can be summed up with pizza and pasta. After a year living in Italy, eating daily meals with my host family and eating meals out, what I saw occur most frequently was pasta (though, let’s be honest, not a day went by where I did not see someone eating pizza). For me, diversity in food isn’t just about the vegetables, grains and proteins used, but about the cooking technique, spices and flavors. While I love a good olive oil (and the number of varieties out there is truly staggering), I want to be able to use sesame oil, almond oil and hemp oil as well. That’s the diversity that lacks for me in the world of Italian eating. When I’m in the UK, I love the fact that you can pop on over to the local store and find spices from all over the world (okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration). Diversity is being able to eat indian food or italian food or eating a fusion of the two (chana saag pasta? curry pizza?).

      Reply
      1. gh

        Hi Emilia
        First of all, I think diversity in a cuisine and being able to eat international food when you are in a country are 2 completely different things, and I thought in your original post you were talking about the former.
        If your point was that in Italy you are not able to sample the same variety of world cooking you would in the UK or the USA, then yes, sure, I am not going to disagree with that. You can find restaurants serving “international” (although admittedly, mostly Chinese and indian) food in most big Italian cities, but clearly nowhere near as many as you’d find in the other countries you mentioned.
        However, I thought that what you were saying originally is that Italian food doesn’t offer any variety, and mostly consists of pasta and pizza; a comment that as someone who has lived for 25 years in Italy (and now residing in the UK), I am afraid I have to disagree completely with.
        It may be true that Italian people’s attitude towards their food, like towards most other things, is very conservative, and they may be reluctant to experiment with fusion or new cooking methods etc. But the reason for that is that there is no need to meddle with the original formula! Italian food, on the whole, is a lot more about cooking with fresh ingredients, in the simplest possible way, than anything else. Above all, you are neglecting the fact that there is no such thing as ‘Italian’ cuisine, as each of the 20 regions that make up Italy offer a diversity of dishes that is truly incredible, and a lifetime would not be enough to try them all- nevermind International cuisine.
        People in restaurants may be eating pasta and pizza, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is, and I think it’s a pity that you came to that conclusion after living there for a year.

      2. Emilia Post author

        I love the point you make about how there really is no such thing as ‘Italian’ cuisine with all the regional differences. Concerning that, yes, I didn’t travel as much as I would have liked to outside of my Northern Italy and probably was missing out on many unique Southern Italian specialities.

        What it comes down to is that I grow tired of things like pasta, pizza, rice, gnocchi, cheese very quickly. I don’t eat much meat. Those factors greatly limit what I’m personally able to get from Italian cuisine, both literally and figuratively. Growing up in New York has made me think nearly every city I visit is tiny and my perceptions of food are similarly conditioned by my upbringing. What I expect from food, from cuisine is something different than good ingredients cooked simply in a way that doesn’t beg for experimentation. I want to steam beets in beet juice and try putting cauliflower in brownies.

        As for pasta and pizza, I just feel like that’s what I saw people eating most of all. Maybe that’s just what my host family ate most of all, maybe that’s what I selectively saw people eating, but that’s what I’ve come away with. A pity or not, it’s just what I noticed.

        Once again, thanks for your comment! You’ve certainly given me some food for thought 😉

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