Food and Italian Culture: A Perfect Combination

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It feels ridiculous to write about living in Rome and not talk about the food, so here goes. I could easily go on and on about how fresh everything is and how many different pizza toppings there are and how you can find the strangest gelato flavors here, but I’d like to look at it from a slightly different perspective.

italian food

Real Italian pizza- eaten with a knife and fork!

In America, restaurants push big portions. It’s not common for a group to stay too long at their table or booth after the meal is over. Takeout and delivery are standard forms for modern dining. And America loves to talk about dieting. Between South Beach and Atkins diets, low-carb and low-fat labels, calorie-counting apps, hundreds of weight loss advertisements that one sees per day, and billions of dollars spent per year on weight loss pursuits, diet culture is rampant in the states. So, in other words, America has quite a complicated relationship with food.

Living in a country where food is handled in an entirely different manner has produced a pretty interesting and amazing form of culture shock. When I come back to Philadelphia in July, not only will I know how to make a really good tiramisu, but I’ll have developed an entirely different take on how to enjoy it. Here’s a few reasons that the Italian diet is a unique and healthy one:

1) Italians take their time eating. During the first week in Rome, a group of us went out to a restaurant and ordered some of the most delicious pizza I’d ever tried. Before eating, though, my roommate pointed out that in Italy, you’re supposed to eat pizza with a fork and knife, not with your hands. Although “takeout” is becoming more popular in Italy, you usually have to tell your barista “da portar via,” or they won’t assume that you’re getting your espresso to go. And if you’re at meal with multiple courses, there’s a pretty big time break between each course. The effect of all this? It takes longer to finish your food. Instead of quickly wolfing something down, you have to make a little bit of time for the meal—and that’s how you can truly enjoy it.

2) Portions are smaller—but definitely filling. Italian restaurants back in the states often produce a misleading image of what a true meal is like in Italy. The whopping servings of spaghetti and meatballs and giant plates of chicken parm are not something you’d find in a restaurant in Rome. Generally, the food here is given in lower quantities, and it’s not as slathered in sauce, cheese, and condiments as it would be in the states. True Italian food comes in sizes that are filling, but won’t leave you feeling like you just ate a Thanksgiving Day meal.

3) It’s about energy, not calories. Maybe it’s because I’ve only had three and a half weeks of Italian class and I can’t quite read that much Italian yet, but I haven’t noticed a single weight loss ad since I’ve been here. While restaurants and grocery stores often accommodate those with food allergies (for example, senza glutine for gluten-free eaters), you usually don’t see “fat free” and “low carb” labels slapped onto containers of food. You can’t even find the word “caloria”—instead, the nutritional facts usually use the word “energia” instead.

The result is pretty great- the Italian culture really celebrates the nourishment that comes from good, fresh food.

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