Moving to Rome can be shocking and confusing, to say the least. From the traffic patterns (there aren’t any), to the bureaucracy (good luck with that), to the fashion trends (don’t ask me) it all looks like chaos to the foreign eye. My solution has always been to remain as blissfully ignorant as possible. You’d be surprise how often you can get away with that in Italy.
However, it certainly doesn’t take long to embrace the food culture. Starting with your morning espresso and finishing with your after dinner amaro, suddenly your daily routine is framed by gastronomic magic that casts a pleasant mood over your entire day.
Eventually you notice, to your surprise, that there are “rules” which govern this philosophy. For an American, this can be particularly perplexing because there seems to be no other aspect of Italian society that follows rules. What’s more, in the U.S., the reverse is true: eating habits is one of the few areas of our society that doesn’t have any rules. (If you don’t believe this, I can promise you that I’ve seen fish tacos at a German restaurant in Florida.)
A few years ago I began researching this phenomenon, and like many other bloggers in Italy, I decided to write a few posts on how to “Eat Like an Italian.” The cornerstone of this debate for me was my own little collection of the aforementioned rules. I had discovered a good number of them through my own experiences, but I was still “hungry” for more (please excuse the pun).
Then while browsing food blogs one day, I struck gold! I found a site that was perfect in both its knowledge and perspective. I came across an Italian expat living in Canada who was writing (in English) about his native country’s food traditions—from the vantage point of someone who could now appreciate it more objectively from a distance. Reading his posts, I was thrilled to have found somebody who was able to translate all the mysteries of the Italian kitchen for me, while still leaving the “magic” intact.
Born and raised in Italy, Paolo Rigiroli has a degree in electronic engineering, specializing in biomedical technology. He works as a software engineer in Vancouver, Canada, where he has been living since 2001. In 2010, frustrated by how Italian food is misrepresented in North America, Paolo started writing a blog – Quatro Fromaggio and Other Disgraces on the Menu – on the differences between what is thought of as Italian food and the food of continental Italy. More recently, Paolo has also been producing a podcast – Thoughts on the Table – in which he talks with various food personalities about Italian food around the world.
Disgraces on the Menu
Lest you think that his content is all about rules and tradition, check out the hilarious page dedicated to his collection of the Top Italian Aberrations that he’s encountered. I think we can all agree that there’s a special place in Hell for the producers of “Spaghetti in a Can.”
There’s another page of the most commonly misspelled Italian words found on English-speaking websites. Care to guess the most common one, that is found on over 1.6 million webpages? Hint: It’s a food item named after the Queen of Italy.
This trend of mispelled words is so common (and frustrating) that it also became the inspiration for the name of his blog. It’s actually a compilation from some of the worst misspellings that he’s seen on “Italian” menus in North America. Just brilliant! (see his logo below)
I would like to give a big “GRAZIE” once again to my friend Paolo for taking the time to discuss this topic further with me. I can honestly say that meeting Paolo was a real giant leap forward for my knowledge on the subject of Italian food. And I’m not just talking about specific regional recipes or cooking techniques (although Paolo knows a lot about those subjects). What interests me is the way that regional recipes and food traditions contribute to the larger culture.
Not only is the food itself delicious and healthy, but it provides a lifestyle, a daily rhythm. As Paolo told me, “These rules come from an evolution of habits and best practices passed down from generation to generation. It’s all about balance, restraint, and tradition – with the ultimate goals of good flavors and wellbeing.”
You can find Paolo on his blog and podcast list above. He’s also on social media, so be sure to connect with him there to get your serving of Italian food knowledge.
Facebook: Disgraces on the Menu
Click the link to check out other episodes and see my list of the best podcasts about Italy.