Italy vs. UK: Cibo

Testimony: it is possible to eat pasta everyday of your life.

Coming to Sicily, I of course knew that pasta, pasta, pasta would probably be top of the list for my meals, however I never actually fully processed the possibility of eating it every single day. Unlike my lifestyle back home, pasta is very much a ‘three times a week’ (max) dish a. because it’s part of my upbringing (from about the age of 5 I would go to Nonna’s house every weekend for a bowl of pasta) and b. because as a student, it’s cheap and accessible. BUT there is no joking around with pasta here– pasta is no substitute for a more extravagant or labouring dish; if anything it is one of the most diverse and multifaceted sample foods ever. I’ve been introduced to many ways of eating pasta, not to mentioned many different subtle shapes and sizes.  

Spot the difference?
Two aisles worth of pasta in my local supermercato

Browsing through the Greek-Sicilian, Archestratus’ notes on Italian cuisine (from his work Hedypatheia:”pleasant living” or “Life of luxury”), it seems to be a reoccurring theme that Italian dishes favour the more simple, and refined flavours. Spending a day picking olives with my host family, I realised first hand not only how much work it takes to get a drop of olive oil (the father of my host family turned to me whilst we were picking the olives and said: ‘ricordi Sophia, quando mettiamo l’olio di oliva sull’insalata, quanto lavoro ci vuole per una giocca’), but also how freshing and vibrant simple flavours are here. A simple dish of spaghetti all’olio con funghi, requires only 4 ingredients (spaghetti, olive oil, mushrooms and parsley) but will make your tastebuds scream. This homely and rustic attitude was definitely a very welcome change to the British lifestyle and emphasis on quick ‘ready made’ sauces. Here, Italian food is simple but leisurely, and to rush the art of cooking would be blasphemous.  As a result, it’s not only the case the British  and Italian cuisine are culturally worlds apart, but in fact food customs surrounding meal times and the procession of food courses are also approached in very different ways. 

To describe a typical day in ‘the life of my meals’, we should start with colazione– breakfast. Whilst the majority of Italians stray afar in believing that British people (whom, might I add, seem to be acknowledged collectively as ‘gli inglesi’) eat a hearty English breakfast every morning, if you thought for one second that Italians eat biscuits and drink caffè for breakfast, well, you’re not that far off. Italian breakfast is very light and sweet, with a quick espresso shot and a biscuit or brioche on the go. Most of my students in class say that they have a cup of milk for breakfast and the most I’ve personally seen a child eat is two slices of bread– and the slices here are half the size of our ‘normal’ slices (so let’s just say one slice, shall we).

Typical breakfast selection
Am I the only one who thinks these slices of bread are half a UK slice?

Whilst in the UK, we place a lot of emphasis on breakfast as being the most important meal of the day, the focus in Italian culture is definitely shifted to lunch time meals. In Southern Italy, pranzo seems to be the most important meal of the day, with some families eating an antipasto, a primo and secondo piatto, and even topping it off with a dessert,  for which of course the whole family and your dog will be present.

Screen Shot 2016-11-04 at 14.57.41.png
Homemade Risotto for il primo piatto


Fico d’India con miele e pistacchio-Barbary fig with honey and pistachio for dessert.

Cena in my family tends to be a lighter dish, and thank goodness for that given that we usually eat between 8:30-9:00PM. I have definitely had to forsake my ‘traditional’ British 6PM dinner and early bedtime. If you’re going out for a meal don’t expect most places to open until 8PM (at the earliest 7PM), and if you’re dining with a big party, then you can wave goodbye to punctuality (we’ll get onto that in another post); you most probably won’t be eating until 10PM, oops!

Now, when it comes to sourcing ingredients in smaller towns, the convenience of which I personally take for advantage in the UK, it has proven to be rather tough if you’re attempting to cook a non-italian cuisine. A couple of weeks ago, I cooked  curry and onion bhajis for my host family who had never tried Indian cuisine. Asking the sales assistant at my local supermarket for ‘cipollotti‘- scallions, according to Word Reference,  I was presented with a shallot. My doubts were already set on whether I could find mango chutney, and were confirmed when I was given a jar of olive pâté. The list goes on. 

Image sourced from: Pinterest



I’ve also discovered that language and food can get a bit knotty. Trying to do a literal translation of ‘sweet potatoes’ into ‘patata dolce’ doesn’t always work as smoothly as you think it might. In reality, Italian patata dolce is nothing like the deep orange coloured potatoes I’m used to finding at my local Aldi. 

Italian patata dolce left vs. South American sweet potatoes
In foto: (left) Riccardo e Andrea Bortolato dell’Azienda agricola Be-Orto, socia OPO Veneto.(right)

That said though, mistranslations seems to happen both way. For some reason trifle is called ‘la zuppa inglese’ (English soup) in Italian  and swiss roll, ‘salame farcito’ (stuffed sausage.

A colleague at work, who is visiting London this Christmas holiday, asked for my recommendation of ‘British restaurants’ which have an ‘Italian flavour’. I looked at her a little bemused by what she meant, and as she tried to explain the flavours she was looking for, she kept on repeating that it had to be ‘fresh, sweet,  and not too spicy’. I couldn’t think of any better way to describe the Italian cuisine.   

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