Italian Food Myths – A Prelude

Before I launch into this little series  (actually thinking about our propensity for bastardizing Italian food it could be a big series), a thank you to Jane @kouzinacooking for allowing me to pinch her idea from Greek Food Myths.

I want to nail my colours to the mast before we start. I’m not a food snob, I’m a Virgo and, as Lemmy will tell you, a stickler for things being right. It’s in the stars, I can’t help it. I’m as happy tucking into a well cooked kebab on a street corner as I am sitting down to a nine course tasting menu in a Michelin restaurant. It’s the quality and, above all, the authenticity of the food that matters. Whether it’s a spaghetti with clams cooked in Naples or Sheffield doesn’t matter. Whether some silly bugger in same Sheffield asks if I want Parmesan on it most definitely does.

So why a series on Italian food myths? Well I was, to my eternal shame, browsing Trip Advisor the other night (OK I was bored wasn’t I? Having torn out my fingernails with hot pliers, dipped my goolies in a vat of hot marmalade and watched a whole box set of Masterchef 1997 with Loyd Grossman, I needed another way to feed my masochistic tendencies). I tend to gravitate to the Italian restaurant reviews and I never cease to be amazed that, while scanning reviews for places that I’ve eaten in and know are about as authentically Italian as spaghetti bolognese flavoured crisps, plaudits extolling their authenticity are constantly bandied about by people who, I can only assume, haven’t crossed the Italian border in their entire lives. Or, if they have, have been fed some weird memory loss drug which makes them forget what it’s really like to eat in Italia.

For Example:

“A little bit of Italy in Sheffield” – Which bit? The overcooked pasta and frozen seafood I was served when I ate there?

“A truly authentic Italian Restoranti” – What’s a Restoranti?

“Just like being in Italy” – When there’s a bottle of cheap balsamic and light olive oil on the table as condiments?

It’s not the restaurants fault entirely. I know how hard it is to make a living in the trade and, like the Indian restaurants of the 70s and 80s, sometimes you have to sell your soul to the devil and give the public what they think a cuisine is really about rather than cook the cuisine of your homeland.

Of course the big chains don’t help either. You go to Prezzo and are given oil and vinegar with your bread or order spaghetti polpetti  (I should try poetry) from the menu and you’re bound to think that’s authentic. After all these guys are Italian aren’t they ?

It’s the public. They gain this perception (sometimes from seeing “celebrity” chefs on TV who have redesigned dishes, see my post on Black Forest Gateaux ,so far away from the original that it bears no resemblance to it) about a cuisine then expound their new found “knowledge” on all and sundry but having never experienced it in the flesh.

So here we go. An attempt to set the record a bit straight, or at least give those trying to pretend they’ve been, to get the bragging rights right!

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