Cuisine and Culture Shocks

It is well known that Italian’s take pride in their food,and with good reason. They are famous for their dishes, even stereotyped for them: who doesn’t think of pasta and pizza when thinking of Italy? Although perhaps a stereotype, after a month here I’ve discovered most Italians revel in their popularity for food, so much so that I am surprised I’ve only put on a few pounds; my host family have been determined to make me try every Italian dish. But while I am thoroughly enjoying their cuisine, there are some things that hit me as a culture shock, and which you may not come across in the stereotypes:

1. It is the done deal to have the whole pizza when eating out. I highly recommend getting pizza if you attend a pizzeria, simply for terms of value: it is one of the most economical ways to eat out, and from my experience holds the social element we associate with a pub meal in England. Although I’ve enjoyed eating whole pizzas in my time, in Italy it seems there is no stigma attached, so you need feel no self-consciousness about wolfing down a pepperoni. In fact, if you are in the company of Italians, as I have been, you will probably struggle to keep the eating pace. A tip for these times, which I have picked up in observation: cut the pizza into slices, but as you eat each slice fold the end inward. It may only save two bites a slice, but this way you won’t find your plate half full while the rest of the party awaits the bill.
2. Horse and donkey meat is culturally accepted. (Generally, that is – I am sure there are those who object, just as in England some object to consuming certain meat). Remember the outrage caused at Britain’s discovery that our processed meats contained traces of horse? That would likely be laughed at in Italy. Although it doesn’t dominate the menu, horse and donkey meat is a certain existence, and I believe most popular for barbeques.
3. Foreign takeaways or restaurants are rare. Italians, as stated, take pride in their food – so much so that they see little need for places dedicated to any other food. I am used to ordering Chinese takeaway at 1am with my friends, or celebrating an event with a family meal at the local Indian. It was a shock, therefore, to discover this was a near impossibility in Italy. Though you can find them in cities and some popular tourist towns, they are few and far between.
4. There are no salad dressings of sauces, but LOTS of oil and salt. Because of course, you can only be so healthy with a salad. You will find tables laid with salt, oil and vinegar, in the place of England’s ketchup, brown sauce, salt and pepper. Salads and vegetables are rarely eaten without their fair share of these Italian style dressings, and they certainly give salads a particular taste unlike our own, one which has rapidly won me over…though thankfully, it hasn’t been noticed that I leave out the vinegar.
5. Toasters are not a norm in the kitchen. You may have heard that Italians love bread? Whilst this is certainly true, its offspring of toast strangely hasn’t entered into their breakfast or general snacking regime. You won’t see a toaster in their kitchens, and from my experience their oven grills seem unprepared for the task. Their equivalent food is toast-like crackers, but though they are delicious, they lack the taste and butter-melting quality of actual toast. Combined with the lack of cheddar cheese, I have a complete sparsity of resources if I ever crave cheese on toast…I suppose I will have to grow accustomed to crackers and mozzarella.

Of course, I am in the country with world-renowned cuisine, so I have little complaints food wise. But I certainly will be eating my fill of Chinese, Indian, salad creams and toast (or more likely a full English breakfast) on my return to England for the Christmas holidays. Until then, I am happy with my full pizzas, pasta dishes and soft cheeses.

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