Friday, 10 July 2009

Alfredo who?

As it happens to many ethnic cuisines, “la cucina italiana” has met considerable amount of “interpretations” and modifications once arriving in other parts of the world, taking its own form and becoming quite different from what the Italians actually cook in this country. Today I would like to talk about some of the popular dishes widely known as “Italian” in many other countries, and the truth about it, perhaps some of you are in for a surprise!!

Spaghetti with meatballs: as I mentioned in the previous entry, Italians are not big on “one pot dishes”. Thus they don’t take to the idea of throwing in meatballs (which are considered as a part of “Secondi”, or second course) onto their plate of pasta, which is a part of primi, or first course. They would much rather have a simple pasta with tomato sauce (or other type of lighter condiment) then afterwards take a plate of meatballs separately.

Manicotti: Okay, large tube shaped pasta stuffed with ricotta and spinach is a popular dish also in Italy, but they are called cannelloni, considered as a variation of the meat stuffed versions. The word “manicotti” is not an appetizing one for Italian diners, as it only means “sewer pipes”.

Fettuccini Alfredo: This vastly popular dish is practically unknown in Italy. According to its legend, it is not entirely a foreign invention, as it is said to have been created at a Roman restaurant called “Alfredo’s” who was catering for some foreign VIPs, but the idea never really took off locally while it had been embraced with enthusiasm abroad. You are most likely to draw a bemused blank look if you try to order this dish in Italy.

Chicken Parmigiano/Chicken Parmesan: this is a pure foreign invention, I have seen some specialty recipes in which parmigiano was used in a chicken dish in different ways, but this “standard” version, a breaded chicken cutlet doused in tomato sauce and grated parmigiano thrown on top of a bed of pasta doesn’t exist, for the same reason as spaghetti with meatballs, the idea simply doesn’t sit well with the Italian diners.

Caesar’s salad
: again a pure foreign invention!! Some of the touristy restaurants may have heard of it and try to serve them, but chances are you will be getting their own version, something quite different… Italians prefer to enjoy their salad in a simple fashion, just with a good quality olive oil and salt, pepper and perhaps a dash of balsamic vinegar. Also noted that they do not have such thing as “Italian dressing” either!!

Panini: the terminology Panini, or Panino as a singular form, means ANY kind of sandwiches, not the specialty flattened grilled oblong sandwiches which are considered as “Panini” elsewhere. Sandwiches can be grilled but frankly I have never seen this particular form of so called “Panini” sold in any takeaway places. Also the simple sandwiches made with a white square bread cut in a triangle form are called “tramezzini”.

Marinara sauce: “Salsa marinara” exist but it is interpreted quite loosely. As the word “marinara” suggest something related to the sea, many recipes include some seafood like anchovy, sardine, tuna, clams etc. Some are type of sauce which can be conserved well to be served to the sailors upon the sea. Simple tomato sauce is commonly called “sugo al pomodoro”.

Garlic bread: Everyone’s favourite companion to pizzas and pasta, or is it really? You may find yourself in need of a good explanation when you want a slice in an restaurant in Italy. Bruschetta and Crostini, both grilled or toasted pieces of bread with various toppings are very popular, but a toasted bread simply smeared with butter and garlic isn’t quite the tradition of the Italian dining.

These are just a few example of the truth and myth about Italian foods. Of course some of the foreign inventions are delicious in their own rights, but it is very important to know the difference, especially when you decide to visit this country. You will be in for a whole new experience!!


  1. So very interesting..Thanks alot for the above explanation Licia.. I love pasta! Luckily I don't like alfredo type :) And yeah, I've always suspected chicken parmesan is not authentically italian, that's just so wrong :/ *gasp* no such thing as italian dressing??!! tsk..tsk..i've been duped!! ;0
    ~ Liz Zainon ~

  2. Thanks for visiting Liz, yes, it is always a big surprise when you try a foreign cuisine in their own country, I have tried some really yummy dishes from south-eastern asian cuisine but it always makes me wonder how close or far off these foods are from what you guys are eating in your own countries, same thing with the Indian, the Mexican, the Greek and everything else!! And I am still discovering many types of regional cooking of Italy which are all so diverse all the time!!