Italian Food

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous Food Discussions' started by Ken Natton, Mar 8, 2017.

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  1. Ken Natton

    Ken Natton Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Bolton, UK
    So, a thread on Italian food. It had occurred to me that, for Mypinchofitaly, it isn’t Italian food, it is just – food. So the reality I suppose is that what I have in mind is a discussion about the British perspective, or perhaps at least the international perspective on Italian food. Of course, the opening up of the British view on the food of other cultures is something that has been much talked about, so I don’t wish to be harping back to a past that is perhaps no longer relevant. But I just wanted to cite a conversation I recall having with a cousin of mine when, in response to something he had said I pointed out that there was a great deal more to Italian restaurants than just pizza and pasta. But he looked at me as though I had said something hopelessly naïve and stupid. Of course, if there was a time when some Italian restaurants in the UK were focussed on those foods, that in itself would only actually reflect on the market they were catering to rather than on Italian cuisine itself. But the truth is, while pizza and pasta probably does feature on the menus of the majority of Italian restaurants here in the UK, there have always been plenty of such restaurants that offered a lot more besides. Before I lived in Bolton, I used to live in Rossendale where there is an Italian restaurant, called Nino’s of some considerable repute and renown. You can tell how good it is by the fact that it is busy on any night, but at the height of a Friday or Saturday evening, it would sometimes seem that half the population of Rossendale is in there. Anyway, they used to do a starter in there (it’s a while since I ate there) that they called Insalata de Mare. It was, of course, a cold starter, with, as you might guess, lots of interesting different seafoods – including octopus – and the character of it was very sharply acidic. I loved it. It is one of my all-time favourite starters.

    Of course, I get the argument that restaurants, however good, are not the best way to sample the food of a particular culture. Unfortunately, my experience of eating food in Italy is very limited. I do have one such experience, but my memory of it focusses not so much on the dishes we eat that night as on the bread. Again, it is a memory from many years ago – the mid 1980s. I was on an Inter-rail tour with a friend, who knew a couple who lived near Porto Ceresio, on the South end of Lake Lugano. We stayed with them for one night, and after a couple of weeks of the normal limitations of food on youthful travels, we did have a wonderful meal that night. But, as I say, my strongest memory is of the bread. I have subsequently come to understand this point that for Italians, it is just not the done thing to cut bread with a knife, bread should be torn. So the lady of the house put this loaf in the middle of the table that was almost spherical – it was perhaps a slightly flattened sphere. The idea was that you tore off pieces of this bread. The texture was of a very large honeycomb – lots of air, and the bread was very moist – you did not need butter or oil. The taste was gorgeous and whole experience of eating it very special. I’m not sure I have ever eaten a bread quite like it since and I have eaten some lovely breads.

    So, I do not suppose to prohibit mention of pizza or pasta dishes, but I would be most interested to hear about Italian dishes other than pizza or pasta that people have experienced and particularly enjoyed. Of course, for this particular forum, it would be most appropriate to discuss Italian dishes that people have cooked. In the UK, do we ever cook what we would consider to be Italian food that does not involve pasta in some form? And I suppose the question underlying is what exactly it is about Italian food that makes it so good. These days, in the UK, we do have restaurants themed on a variety of different cultures, but Italian restaurants do seem to be the most widespread – there are half-a-dozen at least within a reasonable distance of my home. Personally, I do enjoy eating at a variety of different restaurants, but it does seem that most of my most memorable experiences in restaurants are usually Italian ones.
     
    MypinchofItaly likes this.
  2. Shermie

    Shermie Über Member

    Location:
    Brighton, MA.
    My favorite Italian dish is veal parm. :wink:
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2017
  3. Elawin

    Elawin Über Member

    There are four Italian restaurants near me - two belong to large chains and one of those, strictly speaking, is American Italian; neither seems to do anything I would call Italian other than pizza or pasta dishes. In fact I've been to one of them and the food was pretty abysmal. Another restaurant is in a local hotel and is now open to the public as well as guests. Again, if you don't want pizza or pasta, the menu is limited to steak, chicken, and a selection of burgers all with chips. Not my idea of fun. The fourth one, however, is something else. It is Sicilian-owned and Sicilian- or Italian-staffed with a huge selection of meals, and good ratings on all fronts. I haven't been there yet, but it is definitely on my to-do list.
     
    MypinchofItaly likes this.
  4. Ken Natton

    Ken Natton Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Bolton, UK
    I am surprised by what you tell me. Firstly, if you mean Frankie and Bennie’s then you are right, it is not even just American but very specifically New York. And chains like Bella Italia, there are some of those near me but I wasn’t including them in my count of Italian restaurants near to me. There are even a couple close to me that are not cafes, as such – if MacDonalds is a restaurant then these are definitely restaurants – but they are aimed at more casual dining, shall we say, suitable for families, and even they offer more than just pizza and pasta, though maybe what they offer would not be particularly recognisable to Mypinchofitaly as Italian food. There is even one that, believe it or not, is part of a furniture shop. I’m not sure that I have ever seen anyone in the furniture shop but the attached eatery is usually bustling. They do a meatballs starter – no pasta, just meatballs in a tomato sauce – that is the kind of blow-your-socks-off spicy that is too much for me. Again, I am not sure that kind of chilli heat is particularly Italian. It is just a case of starting with something distinctively Italian – spicy meatballs – and turning up the spice to cater to the tastes of the local clientele.


    Look, maybe I am guilty of observing what I see around me and assuming that it prevails around the country when in fact it does not. Although, I do recall sometime within the last eighteen months being part of a large group eating at a very classy Italian in Leeds. But I would be very surprised if the prevailing view in the UK was still that Italian food amounts to pizza and pasta. It would be a very incorrect view, and it should be clear that the defence I am mounting here is not of Italian food, it is of the British food-loving public.
     
  5. Kake Lover

    Kake Lover Senior Member Staff Member

    Location:
    Manchester
    We have a lovely Italian restaurant located locally, which is a bit of a treat to go to, called Vesuvius. There's a picture of the mountain on the wall, made entirely from wine bottle corks, different shades. They do a range of meat dishes as well as pasta and pizzas.
     
  6. Elawin

    Elawin Über Member

    Yes, one of them was Frankie and Bennie's. I've never been to it, but my daughter used to go quite often to their local one as my teenage granddaughters love it. The abysmal one was actually Zizzi's, and the one I went to has now been closed down permanently. Just as well, the food wasn't all that and the service was awful to the point that you were lucky if you even got what you'd ordered. The one in the hotel is a one-off, originally opened for guests only, but their menu isn't exciting. The Sicilian one is slap bang in the middle of the pedestrian area in the high street - not the best of locations round our way - and has no connection to any other restaurants with the same name. It is family-run and family friendly. I'll probably get there one lunchtime, but the couple of times I have tried it has been packed out. There are a couple of other Italian places not to far away but I wouldn't travel to them at night (except by taxi), which is probably a shame. I seem to live in an area of Asian restaurants of various types, a couple of Turkish restaurants, and one Brazilian restaurant - otherwise it's McDonalds, Burger King, KFC etc. I have, however, been to one excellent proper Italian restaurant a short walk from my daughter's house but alas she cannot go there any more because of her allergies and intolerances. I'm OK so long as I steer clear of their fish dishes :laugh: Having said that, my granddaughters usually order one pizza between them - one has allergies different to those of me or her mother, and pizza seems to be the safest bet where she is concerned. Eating out when three of you all have different allergies and intolerances is not easy :unsure:
     
  7. buckytom

    buckytom Über Member

    I guess the focus is on Britain here, but if you take an American perspective, Italian food takes on a whole new life. This is mostly due to the large amount of Italian immigration over the years to the states.
    As an aside, has there ever been a period of large scale immigration of any ethnicity to England? I'm curious.

    To us, there is Italian food, and then there's authentic Italian food and their way of serving it. One must always wonder if it's really a dish that can be found in Italy, or is it a dish that is based on Italian traditions but has been modified to fit an American way of eating.
    For instance, pasta here is a side dish, not a course.
    And most people think if you put it in tomato sauce and melt mozzarella or provolone on it, it's Italian,
     
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  8. Elawin

    Elawin Über Member

    I answer to your "aside", where would you like to start? England (and Scotland, Ireland, and Wales) has been home to invaders, immigrants and refugees for hundreds, nay thousands of years. There is a very good article on modern (i.e. post-world war II) immigration here, but there are many other sites out there which can give you far more accurate information than I ever could.

    When I was in Italy in the mid-1960s meals consisted of several courses, one of which was pasta. It came as quite a shock to someone who was used to having pasta (almost always spaghetti then) as part of a meal. Side dishes didn't seem to be quite the thing over here in those days.
     
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  9. buckytom

    buckytom Über Member

    Thanks, Elawin.
    Although, I meant a large scale immigration of a single culture within the past several hundred years that would affect the understanding of said culture to the arguable point of creating a new one.

    When I was a kid, I was intrigued when eating at my Italian-American friends' houses that pasta was a course, after a few other small courses, and separate from the meat.
    I had similar cultural experiences when eating at friends' houses of Asian and Jewish descent.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2017
  10. Duck59

    Duck59 Über Member Staff Member

    Location:
    Fife, Scotland
    Scotland has a large number of people of Italian descent and if you visit Edinburgh, you'll find any number of Italian restaurants, cafes, bakeries and delicatessens.

    Italian cuisine gets around - when I lived in Eritrea, I almost certainly learned more Italian words there than in the various times I've been to Italy. A lot of fruit and vegetables are known by the Italian names, as are quite a few kitchen and household items. A visit to the capital, Asmara, feels a bit like you've suddenly found yourself in a little part of Italy. There is a very Italianate cathedral, lots of pizza restaurants and masses of shoe shops!
     
  11. Elawin

    Elawin Über Member

    For some strange reason, the link about modern immigration to the UK seems not to have posted - probably due to it being silly o'clock in the UK and a stubborn elderly cat trying to use the laptop at the same time as me!. It's here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_immigration_to_the_United_Kingdom. I would have thought the culture having the most influence on UK food would be Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi/Bengali, followed closely by Chinese.
     
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  12. buckytom

    buckytom Über Member

    Very interesting, thanks.
     
    Elawin likes this.
  13. Cinisajoy

    Cinisajoy Senior Member

    Location:
    Texas
    I live in a totally different culture from buckytom. Here, we have one Italian restaurant and one chain restaurant. Except for fettuccine Alfredo, pretty much all their dishes are drowned in tomato sauce.
    Mostly pastas. Oh and so-called pizza places are prevalent. Most here are a thick dough with a touch of sauce, skimpy toppings and something posing as cheese.
     
  14. buckytom

    buckytom Über Member

    I guess that's only fair, Cinisajoy, since Mexican food where I live is a joke. First of all, it's really Tex-Mex, not truely Mexican, and it's all pretty much the same crappy stuff. Good BBQ is also hard to find.

    As far as Italian goes, however, I spent the last 20 years living in Soprano country (from the TV show). Their strip club was an old hang out of mine, and I've been to many of the shops and restaurants that were featured on the show. The locations of the show were well placed since my old town really had mafia living there. You know who they are when there's a $700k boat parked in the driveway all winter of a home that only costs $300k.

    Getting back to the original discussion, I often am reminded that most of whatwe eat is Italian American, not European Italian.
     
    Elawin likes this.
  15. Cinisajoy

    Cinisajoy Senior Member

    Location:
    Texas
    I heard about your "Mexican" food on another site. And I don't think it is even Tex-mex.

    And agreeing with you on the Italian food.
     

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