Saturday, June 6, 2009

Italians in America (and their peculiar eating habits)

There are some very interesting cultural differences between Italians in Italy and "Italians" in America. Americans of Italian descent will still call themselves Italian, regardless of whether they have ever been to Italy, can speak a word of Italian, or can even pinpoint it on a map.

I have always found the culinary differences between growing up in an Italian family vs. an Italian-American family quite peculiar. First let me give you a bit of background. Dad is a FOB (fresh off boat) Italian living in America. Mom is a third generation Italian, born and bred in the states but still "proud to be Italian".

Now for a closer glimpse at what Sunday dinners were like with the two families, using sample menus to show just how much things change as Italians "Americanize".

Dinner with Paternal Grandparents (Nonni)

Primo: fresh handmade pasta with tomato sauce (never store bought, made with fresh tomatoes when in season. When not in season, made from the jars of tomatoes that were harvested last season and stored for the winter)
Secondo: cotolette di pollo (not to be confused with "chicken parm")
Contorno: steamed artichokes stuffed with bread crumbs, parmigiano reggiano, parsley, and a hint of garlic
Contorno 2: Green salad with sliced fennel, tomatoes, salt, olive oil, and balsamic or white wine vinegar.
Dessert: fresh fruit
finale: espresso

Dinner with Maternal Grandparents (Grandparents):
Appetizer: nothing
Primo/secondo/contorno (that's right, all one one plate at the same time): Spaghetti (cooked about 8 minutes too long) with meatballs, Kraft Parmesan cheese in a green can shaken over said spaghetti, the ribs that were cooked in the "gravy" (aka red lead or tomato sauce), a few slices of scali bread with butter, and a garden salad with creamy Italian dressing.
Dessert: Boston cream pie

What's the bottom line? After first coming to live in Italy, I will admit there was a period where I turned my nose up at Italian food in America (and annoyed the hell out of my family). Then I decided to apply the ever valid saying, "When in Rome...".

Moral of the story? Chicken broccoli ziti may not be Italian whatsoever, but if you manage to not overcook it until it's mush, it's not actually that bad.


donatoroma said...

While I agree in general, as often Your Mileage May Vary. I was born and raised in the States to "just off the boat" Italian parents and our dinners were always like the ones you describe with your Paternal Grandparents.
My mom made (still makes) her own bread, and my dad made (still makes) his own wine -- all in the States.

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Rowena... said...

Fortunately I cannot claim italian genes in my family, so there aren't any "sides" to choose. The one thing I did notice about moving here though is that the italian food served in US restaurants (like Olive Garden and Pizza Hut *gag*) is nothing like the dishes served here. It was a wonderful and delicious discovery, and there is no way I could go back to eating at italian restaurants in the US again. Not ever!

a.d.f. said...

Hi there!

I grew up with Italian nonni too and my dinners were always like the ones with your nonni- even at home with my parents!

Ugh, just thinking about Kraft parmesean cheese gives me a headache. :P

regina di roma said...

a.d.f. I hear Belgium last night we were faced with a dinner of Dominoes pizza-uggghhhh Thanks for your comment!

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