I’d be hard pressed to find many people who don’t agree with that statement.
Spaghetti, pizza, lasagna, cannoli, balsamic vinegar, eggplant parmigiana, prosciutto, mozzarella, and delicious green olive focaccia bread are foods that are known and appreciated the world over. C’mon, I mean who doesn’t love Italian food? The ingredients are genuine and the taste is always something spectacular. It’s no wonder why Italians are proud of their national cuisine.
Now, we have established that Italian food is exceptionally good, however, there are many other good things out there to eat: fresh Japanese sushi, a spicy Mexican enchilada, or flavorful Turkish kisir, for example.
Italians, in general, don’t seem to know or believe in this. In fact, getting Italians to eat non-Italian food can sometimes be an ardent chore.
In a big city like Milan or Florence, you can find a good amount of non-Italian restaurants (though the Italian ones far outweigh the ethnic ones), but you can sometimes see a really good Ethiopian restaurant that is basically empty while the mediocre (and probably more expensive) Italian one right next door is packed to the rafters. Italians often like to “play is safe” and a plate of pasta or grilled fish with zucchini is preferable to some weird unpronounceable ethnic stuff.
It’s not always a matter of taste or ingredient preferences either. Sometimes Italians even tend to be skeptical about the cleanliness of ethnic restaurants or where exactly their ingredients come from. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had Italian friends give me a hard time about eating at a Chinese restaurant. “How do you know that the ingredients don’t have some strange chemicals in them?”, they ask me. Sometimes even a foreign-run Italian restaurant, for example a pizzeria run by Egyptians, can lead to skepticism from Italians. Trying to explain to them that the Margherita pizza from the Egyptian-run place has the same ingredients that one from a completely Italian pizzeria does seems to do no good either. Even if I tell them that I stand as living proof that one can eat at an ethnic or foreign-run restaurant and not die, they respond “You’re American. You guys eat all sorts of crap. That doesn’t count.”
Now don’t get me wrong. Italians can eat whatever they want, it’s no big deal. I mean, most of them would probably have a problem with how much fried food I eat (and justifiably so). I’m not trying to tell my amici italiani what to eat, however this biased tendency towards all Italian food all the time, has a negative effect when it comes to foreign travelling, in my humble opinion.
I myself am a very adventurous eater, especially when it comes to traveling. I’ve eaten pickled herring in the Netherlands, chicken Kiev in Ukraine, black pudding in Ireland, crème brûlée in France, and vegetable tajine in Morocco. Even if I don’t think that I’ll like the dish (see black pudding), if I’m traveling and it’s a local dish, I’ll try it anyways because I think that eating local food is a large part of the adventure. Even if it’s something that I’ve had before, it’s somehow “cooler” in my opinion when you have it in the local land. And I will always get a goofy picture of myself eating the local food while doing a “thumbs up” gesture!
Italians, however, keeping with their love of national dishes, generally tend to eat one thing and one thing only, even when they travel: Italian food. I think this is limiting and can keep somebody from really getting the most out of foreign travel.
An Italian from Turin will go crazy for the carbonara in Rome or the cassata in Sicily, because though these dishes are not typical to their region, they still fall under the tried and true category of “Italian”. However, the local fare is often overlooked or even (for shame!) avoided in foreign countries. Not only that, but they are never happy with the Italian food that they eat outside of Italy because it’s not “real” Italian food, and it’s not what they expected. Just like I will find something very “Americany” every once in a while in Italy, like red velvet cake or spicy chicken wings. I get all excited, but then I’m always a little let down. Even if it’s good, it’s still not the real thing. It’s the Italian version of American food. That’s no fun! Where’s the butter? Where are my dipping sauces?
Again, Italians can eat whatever they want, even when they travel. I’m not trying to impose food rules. However, if you go to America and end up at Olive Garden, don’t come back to Italy and tell me that the breadsticks were too buttery, the spaghetti wasn’t al dente enough for you, and that the wine sucked because I’ll just tell you that you should have gone to Applebee’s and gotten a hamburger with loads of toppings and an ice cold Coca Cola!