Education is the key to teaching people about authentic Italian food

You know there are Italian-American anti-defamation leagues that are constantly on the prowl to right a wrong when Italians or Italian-Americans are portrayed in a negative light.  Well, what about an Italian Food Anti-defamation League!!  I’m serious about this.  People around the world, not just the States, need to know what Italian food is and what it isn’t! 

First off, Italian food is regional.  Saying Italian food is way too broad a topic.  What they make in the North isn’t always what they’re making in the South.  And what they make in the East isn’t what’s being served in the West.  Food in Italy for the most part is regional and local.  Italians, and for that matter many European countries, were eating local before it was trending at Whole Foods.  Don’t get me wrong, Italy & the world are changing and not always for the better.  Italy is losing its Italianità to globalization.  So the mom & pop salumeria is closing because DiMeglio Supermercato is knocking out the competition, much like what happened here in the States. 

One of the important things to remember is that all cuisines are great and we should respect them.  They don’t deserve to be knocked or discredited.  On the other hand, however, when we are looking solely at food from Italy, we must not think that what our parents, grandparents, etc. have made here in the USA is Italian food.  Again, I’m not saying chicken parm or spaghetti and meatballs or Caesar salad is bad, in fact I love those dishes.  What I’m saying is that they are not authentic or traditional to the country of our ancestry.  Now that’s not to say that these dishes weren’t based on recipes that were brought over during the great migration at the beginning of the last century.  But we mustn’t call it what it isn’t.  By falsely labeling all of these dishes “Italian” food, people who have never travelled to Italy, don’t know “real” Italians or weren’t raised in an Italian family, think that what they are eating is authentic.  Again, I reiterate that Italian-American food is not bad or wrong, but it needs to be called what it is, Italian-American food, and not authentic or traditional Italian food. 

Another pet peeve of mine is the pronunciation of many products and dishes, that’s for another post.  I’m also not going to sit here and bash those corporate wannabe Italian restaurants, although I would love to.  In fact, I will give them credit for pulling the wool over the eyes of many Americani.  The most important thing we can do as food professionals is to educate the eating public on what is and isn’t authentic Italian food.  If we could just let them know that “Sicilian Chicken Primavera Rollantini Scaloppini” is some made up dish by a corporate chef who has never been to Italy, and not a real Sicilian specialty, we would be ahead of the game.  For those of us that know the real and simple pleasures of regional Italian food must make it our priority to spread the word to our family and friends. 

People might think this is a silly topic to educate people on, but to me it’s my mission in life.  I don’t claim to know everything.  I don’t and I never will.  But I make the effort.  I read, I watch, I visit, I talk, I educate on this topic that is so near and dear to my heart.  Thank you for reading.

Living to eat,
 Tony Mangia

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