Italian food culture, and why we love it

Here in the states when we think of Italian food we tend to think nationally and almost immediately pizza and pasta come to mind. Sure, to us Parmesan is quintessentially Italian—but polenta and walnuts, not so much. If you find yourself traveling through Italy you'll immediately sense the vastness of variety and distinct regionalism of Italian food and culture. Over the centuries, the land that now makes up Italy was under the rule of many different people including the Arabs, Spanish, Greeks, Hungarians, Normans, and even Phoenicians.The culmination of this diverse history gives us an Italy today that is not unlike visiting small countries within a country where German, Slovene, Arbëreshë Albanian may be the first language for locals.

These regional differences, culture and foods are distinctive in "the boot" and celebrated with great pride and fervor. Italians are nothing if not proud to claim their region. Sicilian, Roman, Tuscan, Calabrian, Sardinian, Piemontese and so on are more widely used as identifiers than merely Italian. 

Sicilian cuisine shows off its notably Arab influences in aracini and caponata and cous-cous. The Romans are known for porchetta, abbaccio. Tuscany boasts both black and white truffles yet its culinary roots are in “cucina povera”, peasant cooking. Bread soups are common throughout the region are dishes made with chickpeas, lentils, beans, and spelt. If you find yourself in Sardinia, look to the sea for your feast. In Piedmont, Bagna caôda dating back thousands of years, is a warm dip consisting of slow cooked garlic with butter, oil, anchovies and walnuts all muddled together then served with fresh vegetables elevating the common to uncommon.

What is shared throughout Italy, no matter the region, is a passion for quality food, simply prepared and enthusiastically shared. Food is to be enjoyed and the different flavors are meant to be savored. Meals are served in courses, three to six depending on the occasion. The social aspect of breaking bread is valued in Italy and a great deal of time is spent around the table. Sundays meals at Nonna’s with extended family and friends is a feast that can take hours. What’s not to love?