Italian Cuisine: a way of life beyond the plate


To be sure, there are more pros than cons to living in Italy. The first major “PRO” that comes to everyone’s mind is the wonderful food. That is a never ending source of exploration and enjoyment in all of Italy. Every region has its own specialty and delicacies and traditions based on what is locally available. Slow food is a way of life here rather than a fad.

The focus on food is so severe that at times you might find yourself wondering if this is healthy or “normal”!  Of course every family is different, but in Italy, you will be hard pressed to find a family that does NOT dedicate hours daily to talking about it, shopping it (yes… daily), debating over it, comparing it, and oh yes, last but not least, critiquing it…

Coming from North America where we are accustomed to a simple “bon appetit, enjoy your meal”, at the start, and perhaps an occasional compliment to the chef. We end by simply saying “Thank you. that was delicious”. From start to finish, we talk about everything other than food. Whereas here in Italy, it is as though it is not enough just to taste the food. You have to think about it, describe it, and shockingly, even endure guests’ comments as they criticize it. 

I remember the first time I had Sunday lunch at my husbands’ family home. We had spent the night. My father in law spent the entire morning chasing after the last fresh ingredients. By 7 am, he had already brought down what he had grown from the “campo”. Then he would get sent out several times as the cooking went on, winding up finally by collecting the fresh bread from the bakery. The process of preparing the 3 course Sunday meal for 6 people, would take up the entire morning. At 7:30 am, I woke up to the wafts of onions and garlic simmering in olive oil, coming up from the kitchen and under the bedroom door. By 9:00 am, all of my clothes and my hair smelt like lunch. 

When we finally sat down, after having been served crostini with chicken livers (fegatini), and prosecco, I was intimidated at the prospect of having to continue to eat 3 more courses. What I didn’t realize is that not only were we going to eat steadily for the next couple of hours, but we were also going to talk about food for most of that time. 

Crostini with chicken livers

Not just at my in laws, but it is standard practice at every table to talk about the way something had been prepared. Guests chime in about how they make the same dish, and how they make it differently.  Here is where the gentle critique starts to creep in. Everyone has to put in their two cents and tweak the recipe, rather than just saying: “this is delicious” and “thank you”! 

Food is all. It’s a way of sharing, remembering, and spending time together. I have to admit that my husband and I have not escaped the food obsessive tendencies that he was raised with. We spend hours talking about what to make, when to make it and how. By 10:00 am, we have always had a full food conference and conversation about what will be for dinner. 

After a 3 course meal, the next step is “the passeggiata”. The Sunday stroll is customary and compulsory!

But while I will delve into another quintessential Italian experience, the “passeggiata” or leisurely stroll, in an upcoming post, you might already be dreaming of experiencing these traditions firsthand.

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