Let’s talk about food. Have I got your attention? I thought so.
I have had many discussions throughout my journey through Italy regarding its food, the making of, and the comparison to what I have known. Coming from New York city, I have had the opportunity to taste amazing cuisine from around the world. In fact, I would speak in great detail about how no other place compared to the selection of incredible food I was privy to in the great city of NYC. Yet, now I have spent one month in Italy. I think of it as the land flowing with milk and honey. Only the milk is good wine and the honey is perfectly cooked food.
You see there are some major differences between the food found in Italy and the food found in the US. First of all, Italy has extremely strict food standards. If a restaurant is found serving any item that is beyond its expiration date even once, it can be shut down permanently. This goes for supermarkets as well. As one Italian put it, in Italy you go to the supermarket and choose between good and better. In America you go to the supermarket and choose between bad and worse.
I have been told that parmiggano cheese in the US does not exist. They call it parmiggano, but it is not true parmiggano. Because this cheese can only be found in Italy in certain regions and its standards are too high to ship. In Italy they cannot serve fake cheese and still call it cheese. They must call it by a different name. In Napoli there are black buffalo that only exist in that region. From that black buffalo they produce the best mozzarella cheese in the world. Italians eat this cheese for two days only then they must throw it away. Because it is fresh and has no preservatives. It is the best mozzarella I have had in my life. The taste explodes as you bite it. I will never think of this cheese the same again. And this is the just the cheese.
In Napoli, I have had the best pizza of my life. In fact I am not sure that it should be called pizza, simply because it is in a realm that feels too high to be called the same name as the rest.
Tonight I went to a cooking class at the Baptist church of Napoli. I was taught by an Italian woman that said her recipe was not ancient, it was only passed down for the last 100 years. And she was serious. She taught me that a wise woman never puts tomato sauce into hot oil. One must wait for the garlic and oil to cool a bit before adding the sauce. And cherry tomatoes are better than the large tomatoes. Never add basil to a sauce that has garlic. If you want, add parsley, but only at the end. Basil or garlic, never both. Lastly if your oil rises to the top after you stir, you know that the sauce is ready. Tonight I ate the best sauce I have ever had in my life. Thank you Napoli for teaching me what real food is.
In NYC I went to a non-GMO rally last year. Trying to raise awareness towards the lack of food standards in the US. Italians feel concern as the American food industry tries to push GMO into Italy. They are aware of the implications and I am impressed by their knowledge and disgust on the subject.
McDonald’s. It exists in Italy. But I would say barely. They had to adjust their menu to include olive oil, orzo, and mozzarella. Italians are true food snobs in the best possible way. There is no such thing as “super size”. There are some healthier adjustments to the menu as a whole and their cappuccino and expresso bar is frequented more than anything. Occasionally I see an Italian eating a french fry and I want to cry out “No! You don’t know where this road leads!” For the most part, Italians laugh about McDonald’s and call it the “fake food” place. Tourists walk in for the Big Mac’s ordered in English and the clerks ask them if they want a coke with that.
I have been told that the south, especially the island of Sicily has the best food of Italy. I am not sure how that is possible, but I am happy to find out. A few extra minutes and fresh ingredients make all the difference in the world.