MYTHS about Italian CUISINE: Italian Eating Habits

It is known that the Italian cuisine is one of the most famous and appreciated in the world. Given its long and well-known tradition, Italians take great pride in wanting to protect it, defend it and maintain its integrity. Hence the reason for all the arguments and the affliction of Italians when they hear or see things as pineapple on pizza, heavy cream in Carbonara or chicken in Arrabbiata sauce or in eggplant parmigiana. And these things are actually sacrosanct in Italy. However, there are many myths that foreigners often have on Italians and their cuisine which are not entirely true. Therefore, let’s dispel them together!


Do Italians put cheese on fish?

It is well known, among foreigners, that Italians never put parmesan on seafood. But what is the origin of such a a strong and strict prohibition? Is it just to avoid the combination of the generally delicate taste of seafood and the strong one of cheese?

It is worth pointing out that this is just an Italian tradition and it does not concern any other country: just think about French people, who accompany, without any problems, mussels by melted cheese.

Julia della Croce ,one of the most influential American experts on Italian cuisine, argued that the first reason why in Italy seafood and cheese are not successfully blended together is of geographical nature and dates back to the post-World War II period, when

“Le persone sono diventate molto protettive riguardo le tradizioni locali, che si stavano sgretolando” (Julia della Croce).

(People became overprotective about local traditions, which were crumbling).

Therefore, there was a return to traditional, local and regional flavors and, as a consequence, to a split between these two foods: seafood was usually consumed in coastal areas, whereas cheese was eaten in the inland. This habit has strengthen over time and would be the origin of what today seems a real taboo.

However, it is worth knowing that this is a prejudice, to which more and more Italian chefs want to resist. It is the case of Luca Marchini, chef of the starred restaurant called L’Erba del Re in Modena and president of JRE Italia (Jeunes Restaurateurs), who claims that:

“Se ci pensiamo bene, alcuni piatti tra i più classici della cucina italiana sposano pesce e formaggio. Per dire, i calamari ripieni possono avere una farcitura realizzata con prezzemolo, aglio, ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano e, appunto, calamaro tritato” (Luca Marchini).

(If we think about it, many courses, among the most classic ones of the Italian cuisine, pair seafood and parmesan. As an example, stuffed squid can consist of a stuffing made of parsley, garlic, ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, and of course, chopped squid).

Therefore, I would like to say to foreigners that no, it is not true that all Italians NEVER accompany cheese by seafood. And I would also like to say to my compatriots to not be too strict with foreigners on this rule, because we do not respect it completely as well!

Do Italians eat fast food? Or do they always eat healthy?

Another interesting doubt concerns Italians’ eating habits. Considered the tradition of the typical Italian dishes, made with high-quality ingredients, foreigners often ask themselves: do Italians eat fast food or do they always eat healthy?

From the survey conducted by Nielsen on Global Health and Ingredient Sentiment, it shows that Italians like to eat healthy, avoiding preservatives, dyes and genetically modified organisms. 67% of the population – two Italians out of three – worries about the additives in the food, 55% would like to find on the market completely natural products, 37% of Italians is willing to give up to taste in order to protect their health.

In short, food is considered as a tool to be healthy. This phenomenon is easily linked to “all’aumento del numero di consumatori informati, ma anche al progressivo invecchiamento della popolazione” (the increase of the number of informed consumers, but also to the progressive aging of the population) – Giovanni Fantasia, delegate of Nielsen Italia – a population more careful and sensitive towards lifestyle-related diseases.

But let’s get to the point: do Italians eat solely and exclusively healthy food?

Well, if on the one hand, many more people are careful to their nutrition and want to eat more home-cooked foods, because considered healthier and more genuine, on the other hand there are still many Italians (1,9 millions according to a research by Censis) that define themselves as junk food lovers, in other words lovers of unhealthy food. In fact, their passion is especially for foods like chips, sandwiches, fried food in general and soda.

Therefore, it comes to light an interesting but at the same time contradictory framework since, despite being careful to nutrition and preferring healthy and organic food, four Italians out of ten give in to the temptation of fast food.

Do Italians only drink wine at the table?

Wine is, for sure, the favorite alcoholic beverage of Italians: 54,1% of Italians (over 29 millions of people) drink it at least once a year.

The Italian passion for wine has deep cultural roots that date back to ancient Romans, so it is not surprising. However, it is clearly not true that Italians always drink wine at table. As a matter of fact, the favorite beverage of Italians when eating keeps being water: 85% of Italians accompanies it every day to pasta, meat, fish and so on.

Moreover, it is interesting to notice how the habit of drinking wine decreases with the decrement of age: the youngest tend to prefer cocktails to wine.

Do Italians eat pasta everyday?

Doxa, an Italian company that deals with market surveys, conducted a survey on Italians and pasta. Since foreigners are certain that Italians eat pasta everyday.

From the survey clearly emerges an important general data, which probably won’t surprise you: 99% of Italians love and consume pasta. A true plebiscite! Pasta still represents an important occasion for sociability and conviviality: it is consumed not only at home but also outside: 46% of interviewees eat it only at home, but over 50% of them eat both at home and away.

However, having said that, one still wonders: how often do they consume it?

Well, the data is clear. The majority of Italians (69%) fall into the category of the so-called “heavy users”, which refers to those people who eat it more than four times a week. 29% eat it between once and three times a week and only 1% of the population eat it less than once a week. Then, among the 69% who eat it often, 44% (so, almost half of the Italian population) eat it, indeed, EVERYDAY!

Now let’s get further information about these “heavy users” of pasta. It seems that there is no gender difference: among these “heavy users”, there is an equal number of men and women (51% and 49%). In addition, these “heavy users” are mainly gathered in the Centre/South and are of medium economic range. In terms of age, there are no significant differences: almost everyone from 20 to 80 years old eat it. 

It is also interesting to notice that the most eaten type of pasta is the “normal” one, of durum wheat semolina, but it has been increasing the percentage of Italians that consume organic, bio or gluten-free pasta.

Obviously it is more consumed at lunch. Nevertheless, let’s remember that it is not true that carbohydrates make you gain weight in the evening!

According to you, why do so many Italians eat pasta everyday?

I have my own theory. In my opinion, the reason lies in the extreme versatility of pasta, that is the fact that you can eat it in numerous ways: with meat, with fish, with vegetables, plain or in white as we call it, with tomato sauce and other sauces and even with a drizzle of oil and a bit of parmesan, when you are sick.

What do you say? What is the reason according to you? Let me know in the comments! Moreover, if you are interested in Italian cuisine and you would like to learn some of the verbs found in recipes, I recommend you to take a look at the video dedicated to Italian cooking verbs!

And don’t forget to read our fantastic book Parolacce… e come evitarle! (it contains information you won’t find anywhere else!).

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