Some great examples of misconceptions we believe to be Italian which really are more American:
1. Fettuccine Alfredo
When I first arrived in Italy, I looked long and hard for my beloved fettuccine Alfredo only to realize that no Italian has ever heard of this dish. The closest dish to it would be spaghetti ai quattro formaggi (spaghetti with 4 cheeses) which is very delightful but is not what we think of when we ask for fettuccine Alfredo. There is however a restaurant in Rome, Alfredo’s, that the recipe is believed to originate from but it is more of a cheese and butter sauce and not the creamy, highly caloric one we know of here in the U.S.
2. Pasta with chicken! NO NO NO NO NO. Please NO!!! You cannot and will not find a recipe for Italian pasta dishes in Italy that have chicken. It is not something they combine together. A chicken parmigiana YES, but sauces where you can add different proteins like Chicken, Shrimp, or whatever seems like Asian/Italian. Don’t get me wrong, the dishes can be very good but they are adaptations to Italian dishes to accommodate American palates.
3. Spaghetti with Meatballs
Spaghetti SI, Meatballs SI…Spaghetti with Meatballs? Only if you’re watching Lady & the Tramp. There are some dishes that incorporate small meatballs into the recipe: lasagna, timballo etc. but they never strategically place the meatballs on top of the pasta sauce. I don’t know exactly why, but it is definitely something you will not find in Italy.
4. Cappuccino Time All the Time? No! Normally a cappuccino can be ordered anytime before noon or maybe as your first coffee of the day. Italian’s generally do not order cappuccino’s throughout the day and especially not during or after a meal. The most typical drink is an espresso or an espresso macchiato (touch of milk) and the serving sizes are a tenth of what you can find at Starbucks. Milk after 12noon is a nono.
5. Cheese with Fish Dishes – Combining cheese with your dish is a very interesting and unique experience in Italy. Certain plates call for certain cheeses but all fish pasta dishes shun any type of cheese. NO NO NO! You just don’t do that. You could offend your host or have a waitress giggle at you and even question your tastes. I am just saying… leave the cheese for the other pasta sauces, the fish dish can go without.
6. Oil & Balsamic or vinaigrette with bread before a meal
Italians generally do not give bread to the table until you have your meal and they will only bring the bread if they feel it goes with your dish: normally plates like salads and meats. In most Italian restaurants in California you will be served a selection of breads with some type of oil vinaigrette or balsamic to accompany it. This unfortunately, or fortunately just doesn’t happen in Italy so please don’t expect it when you go there. If you ask for bread and butter, beware the butter might be a hard, un-spreadable butter that isn’t tasty at all. Believe you me, I have experienced it.
7. Pasta or Risotto as a side?
You must see the film BIG NIGHT which we will review in one of our future posts which elaborates on why you cannot eat a starch with a starch. The film is great and the part where the two Italian chefs discuss this when a customer orders a side of potatoes to accompany her pasta is hilarious. A reminder: starches together don’t go down well with Italians.
8. Pepperoni Pizza
They don’t have pepperoni pizza in Italy. They have salami that is spicy that you can order but our idea of a pepperoni pizza is quite different. It is also typical that your bites might not include all of the toppings that you ordered. One might have nothing on one bite and another might have a couple different toppings. They do not do pizzas that have the perfect bite of every topping in each bite. Try pizzas in any region, they are delicious and each have a uniqueness about them. OH, and you get the entire round of pizza to eat. not just a slice to be aware of that, unless you order a pizza by the slice (pizza al taglio) GNAM!
These are just a few of the misconceptions and any others or comments would be greatly appreciated. A good laugh now and again is good for the soul.