After being a month in Italy, I’ve tried a lot of different Italian food but definitely not everything, especially the squid ink pasta. I’ve come to the conclusion that Italians are really good at making a specific selection of food. Italians are amazing at making pasta, pizza, and dessert, but the rest of the selections are decent. I feel like that nearly all the restaurants I’ve been to in Italy, whether it was in Rome or Arezzo, all serve roughly the same selection of pasta and meats with a slight variation between restaurants. Most restaurants serve the same types of pasta such as tagliatelle, ravioli, gnocchi, and tortellini with mix and match of various sauces. I’ve also noticed that their diet mainly consists of carbohydrates through pasta and pizza. I wonder how Italians stay in such good shape with all the carbs in their diet. It might be due to the fact that Italians walk nearly everywhere while in America we drive our cars to a place that is 3 blocks away. They also keep their vegetables very plain with simple ingredients. At many places, the only vegetable options are either a mixed salad or grilled vegetables. In America, especially in Couch Cafe on campus, the vegetables are often drenched in a thick creamy sauce to make them taste better but takes away the vegetables’ nutritional values. We definitely can learn from the Italians on how to make more nutritional vegetables.
I’ve had some very good culinary experience such as trying gnocchi and carbonara for the first time. Before coming to Italy, I’ve never even heard of gnocchi or knew that pasta can be made from foods besides wheat flour. The first time I had gnocchi was at a restaurant in Pisa. The taste and texture was very different than regular pasta; it was softer and more chewy with a stronger starch taste. It definitely took several bites to adjust, but afterwards it has become one of my favorite pasta. The first time I tried carbonara, it was a restaurant called Tortello and it sadly didn’t go well. Not only did the restaurant run out of all types of pasta expect for penne, but also they really under-cooked the pasta to the point where the inside of the pasta still had a ring of white. Despite the pasta disappointment, the carbonara sauce was amazing. I could definitely taste the eggs in the sauce, and I was surprised that I actually liked it since I normally detest any egg-tasting foods. When I had the next opportunity to replace my first bad experience with carbonara, I immediately took it. That dish was one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had. I know for a fact that I will never be able to emulate the same quality of carbonara I had in Italy back in the United States.
The only major culinary disappointment that I have had was when I was in Naples. Being located so close to the coast, I had high expectations for their seafood dish. On the second night, I ordered a seafood risotto which had calamari, mussels, clams, and shrimp. The risotto wasn’t fully cooked so that every time I took a bite of the pasta, it was really chewy and slightly hard in the middle. I expected the risotto to be a lot more softer and didn’t require so much effort to swallow it. Due to my bad luck, a lot of the seafood such as the mussels and the clams still had sand in it. There would be times where all I would taste would be gritty sand which I had to spit out in my napkin. I spent the rest of dinner trying to pick out pieces of risotto to eat while trying to avoid getting mouthfuls of sand. The seafood quality was just decent; they weren’t particularly fresh.
Overall, Italian cuisine is very complex with its many courses, but each dish is very simple. For the first course, it is the pasta with some type of sauce with an occasional meat in the sauce. The second dish is usually just the meat. If one wants a side, they must order it separately. In the United States, the side dishes normally come on the same plate as the main course. I think by keeping the food on separate dishes, it prevents people from overeating since all the food isn’t on one dish. One major difference that I noticed is the pizza. I’m so used to having take away pizza that is pre-sliced into eighths that I can eat with my hands. In Italy, I have not seen a single restaurant or cafe that serve sliced pizza. You have to buy the whole pizza and the pizza isn’t cut. I’ve noticed a lot of Italians who would eat the entire pizza using a fork and knife. The pizza, especially the bottom crust is very hard to cut through so sometimes I would cut half way through and then use my hands. I guess the Italians don’t see pizza as finger food. With Italian’s slower pace of life, I’ve noticed that dinner normally takes about nearly two hours long and the waiters are in no hurry of making customers who have finished their food to leave. Back at home, I’m so accustom to eating dinner at home in 30 minutes, so the pace of dinner was definitely a change that I had to get accustomed to.
When I return back to the States, I don’t know if I could go back eating store-bought pasta and frozen pizzas. There is no Italian restaurant in America that can compare to the quality of food in Italy. However, I’m definitely looking forward to my mom’s home-made Asian food and the large variety of food that America offers. Though I’m might wait several months before trying to open a box of hard, processed pasta or ordering Papa John’s pizza. Italy might have ruined Italian food for me…in a very good way.