The title of a story in the FT weekend edition tells it all -
Everything I, an Italian, thought I knew about Italian food is wrong
The gift link is here but I think there is a limit on how many times it can be used
If you don’t have a subscription the short version of the story is that many of the so called classic Italian dishes are recent creations. Alberto Grandi is an academic who has an Italian podcast and book where he debunks and deconstructs much of the Italian food mythology. He has made a lot of enemies it seems.
The most interesting quote for me -
In the story of modern Italian food, many roads lead to America. Mass migration from Italy to the US produced such deeply intertwined gastronomic cultures that trying to discern one from the other is impossible. “Italian cuisine really is more American than it is Italian,” Grandi says squarely.
For example Carbonara has its roots after WWII with American soldiers.
Then there is this -
But in 1943, when Italian-American soldiers were sent to Sicily and travelled up the Italian peninsula, they wrote home in disbelief: there were no pizzerias.
Tim Hayward also writes an interesting story of Italian British food like spag bol. Amazing how food just fuses all sorts of things together and so that looking for authentic really seems pointless. Authentic seems to be more a concept to divide. What I eat or make is authentic. Your’s isn’t.
About tiramisu… back about a dozen years ago I heard that the inventor of tiramisu was an Italian baker who lived in Baltimore. He invented it in Treviso around 1969. His claim has credibility. For the record, I appreciated his tiramisu but didn’t love it. It was very heavy and a bit too sweet for my taste.
Here is the Washington Post article about his bakery and the claim:
Because food, like language, evolves - whether it’s ingredients, techniques, twists, innovations, riffs, etc… what is the point of trying to reengineer a food in its most authentic rendition (and according to whom? according to which sources?)
Is the noodle soup I enjoy every summer at the Thai park in Berlin “authentic” bc it transports me to Bangkok? Even though some of its ingredients were sourced in Germany?
Are the Oaxacan-style tacos I have in my little town in PA authentic? Actually, I can answer that: they are definitely not bc I have a personal preference for flour tortillas vs. corn, and reallllllly don’t care. It’s how I like them.
Are the tacos I have at least once a week prepared by a PA caterer authentic? The Cajun shrimp tacos? The 5 spice Asian ground beef tacos? Not one bit. Are they delicious AF? You betcha.
And so, to me the concept of authenticity is meaningless.
“Today, Italian food is as much a leitmotif for rightwing politicians as beautiful young women and football were in the Berlusconi era. As part of her election campaign in 2022, prime minister Giorgia Meloni posted a TikTok video in which an old lady taught her how to seal tortellini parcels by hand. This month, Meloni’s minister of agriculture, Francesco Lollobrigida, suggested establishing a task force to monitor quality standards in Italian restaurants around the world. He fears that chefs may get recipes wrong, or use ingredients that aren’t Italian. (Officially listed “traditional food products” now number a staggering 4,820.)
A Google search for “Salvini mangia” (Salvini eats) draws a farcical carousel of scenes: wide-mouthed Salvini devouring spaghetti, grinning Salvini tucking into a giant pizza, aproned Salvini checking rows of whole prosciutto legs, Salvini giving a thumbs-up next to a Sicilian cannoli, bare-chested Salvini grilling meat, tanned Salvini sticking a gelato cone in his mouth, sleepy Salvini biting into a Nutella toast.
These politicians understand the power of what Grandi terms “gastronationalism”. Who cares if the traditional food culture they promote is partly based on lies, recipes dreamt up by conglomerates or food imported from America? Few things are more reassuring and agreeable than an old lady making tortellini.
It wasn’t always like this. “The grandparents knew it was a lie,” Grandi tells me, finishing the last of his prosecco. “The philologic concern with ingredient provenance is a very recent phenomenon.” Indeed it’s hard to imagine that people who survived the second world war eating chestnuts, as my grandfather did, would be concerned about using pork jowl instead of pork belly in a pasta recipe. Or as Grandi puts it, “Their ‘tradition’ was trying not to starve.”
When asked if the obsession with a national cuisine started with the baby boomers like him, a generation that never experienced Italian cooking before the postwar period of expansion, he smiles: “Indeed, like many other things, this too is all our fault.”
Yet it can be comforting to believe in long-held traditions, both your own country’s and others’. Global consumers applaud the celebrity experts of Italian food who churn out books, podcasts and TV shows in an often obsessive pursuit of “authenticity”. When the Italian chef Gino D’Acampo told off the British TV presenter Holly Willoughby in 2010 for suggesting that carbonara could be made with ham, saying “if my grandmother had wheels she would have been a bike”, the clip went viral. We both love and hate the caricature of the obsessively purist Italian chef.”
I don’t see it as ‘running away’
if one has spent more than weeks in Italy, one already knows “authentic” is different by a few km in that same country.
a fact not really open to discussion or disagreement.
it is what it is - and fake American ideas do not change that.