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.
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i think Paolo got it right in the podcast when he said they aren’t so much food ‘rules’ as food traditions. i am personally offended when people go around breaking my traditions–like putting ketchup on salsiccia-aaaahhhhh. it’s not a hot dog! oh well, better go pack as i leave for Roma tomorrow. Maybe i’ll see you in the Catacombs, as it sounds like that will be the only place in town to get away from the heat! Arrivederci, Cristina
Ketchup on salsiccia? Che schifo! Senape, yes, but ketchup, no!! 😉
I often scratch my head…like our well known coffee shop selling panino! I want to run into the stores and write in the “i”…they are probably disgusting to boot! Pizza is always something that folks here seem to want to ruin, especially the large pizza chains…what they hell are they thinking…that and a super gulp seems to be where it’s at. Did I mention how much we enjoy eating in Italy…and we love the rules…Paolo is right…there’s a very good reason for the way it’s done…we eat the same way at home too! Love the comment about the rules or lack of except when it comes to food!
Hi Phyllis, thanks for your input! Yes, the pizza gets particularly abused in N. A. such as the “stuffed crust” and “everything INCLUDING the kitchen sink” versions of the simple Neapolitan classic. Food rules are necessary, perhaps even more in the US than Italy.
Thanks Rick for having me as a guest – I had a lot of fun! – and for the kind words on my work! We must definitely continue the conversation! And of course thanks everyone for listening and for checking out my blog and podcast, much appreciated. Feedback is always welcome!
Paolo, I’m so happy that we were able to share our “Thoughts on the Table” with my blog readers and podcast listeners. I learn a few new things every time that I talk with you. Thanks again for coming on my show!
Yeah Vancouver! Enjoyable podcast. I get so annoyed when I hear ‘brooshedda’, ‘expresso’, ganochee’ ‘paninis, etc that I wrote a post on ‘Italiano per ristoranti-how to pronounce your menu’. Doing my bit to rid the world of bad Italian pronunciation-one reader at a time. Ciao, Cristina
Yes! Thanks Cristina 🙂 I’ll check out your post “Italiano per Ristoranti”, sounds like a very useful one!
You will have to let me know if I made any oopsies! Ciao, Cristina
I hear “Brushetta” in every Italian restaurant – both by wait staff & of course the patrons. I have to bite my tongue to not correct and come off sounding like a snob. Thanks so much for letting us know about Paolo’s blog & website. Loved hearing the correct pronunciations! I really needed to hear “mascarpone” correctly. Please keep educating us – even those of us who already know a little bit.
Oh, yes, I’ve heard that one A LOT, Janet! But as you say, we’re all somewhere on the learning spectrum, and I never stop trying to improve my knowledge.
One more most-common mispronunciation I’d add: “expresso”
Thanks Janet! And thanks on behalf of all the Italians 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed my pronunciations. Please let me know if you have any “requests” and I’ll add them to the list!
What grinds my gears is when people try to correct “brushetta” to “bruschetta” it’s (often) met with a “what a snob, who cares, we’re in America” or “If the wait staff says it that was it is ok” Yes, I’ve been on the receiving end of being the correcter…haha, but I’ve also heard these convos ‘in giro’ in the Sates and wonder why people get riled…..it’s only learning. Oh well! Brushetta and expresso for everyone!
P.S One interesting thing I have found especially with British friends or acquaintances is their complete elimination of native pronunciations. For example, when I was observing during my teacher training course, the one teacher from England informed her students (on a menu lesson) that “In English we say “paELLa” not “pa-eya”. To which I said “In America I’ve really only heard pa-eya, so maybe it’s just a Brit vs US thing” ….she informed me “In England and in correct English it’s said this way…” And I have actually heard that time and again, even on tv cooking shows! Be it “quesadiLLas” or “brushetta” (“I’m English, why should I sound like a tosser saying “pa-eya?”and countless words.
Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s so grating to hear those mispronunciations, yet I also feel a bit timid about correcting people who have no interest in learning the correct pronunciation. But the crusade lives on!
We spotted a few belters yesterday including Cicken slad which made me chuckle for some reason!! So whats the deal – should we be correcting the menus and quietly giving them to a waiter with a note or should we just leave them for others to enjoy?!
Oh, well, that’s a whole different discussion. We talked about misspelling ITALIAN words in North American restaurants…which might even be more abundant.
Either way, it can be quite amusing eh?! Maybe I’ll just let them go for now unless I see a particularly heinous one!!
Its a quandary either way isn’t it – to tell them or not! Happy Monday!