Panini Do Nothing For Me

Italian panini suck! There, I said it! They are boring, and simple, and uncreative, and lack anything fried inside of them! As I’ve said many times before (to avoid a revolt … and because it’s true) Italian cuisine is great. However, when it comes to stuffing bread full of every meat, topping, and condiment possible, America has totally got Italy beat at the sandwich game!

Italian Panino

American Sandwich

Not only are Italian panini too simple and boring (imagine a single millimeter-thin layer of prosciutto, a solitary slice of cheese, and some dry lettuce without any condiment on it), but they also lack creativity. Anywhere you go in Italy, with a few overpriced exceptions, you find the exact same panini with the same dull options. Bleagh!

What’s worse, making any alterations to a “pre-set” panino is a no-no! After nearly 7 years in Italia, I must say that the habit that Italians have of making it difficult to make any changes to a sandwich drives me bonkers! I think I’m adult enough to know what I like and don’t like, thank you very much.

For example, this one time I was getting a sandwich at a café – one of the many where they don’t even permit you to chose your own fillings, but rather have sandwiches that are already planned out for you, even if they need to be made at the moment. The sandwich came with arugula, which I hate, so I asked for it without. When I went to pay they hit me with a surcharge of €1 because I asked for the sandwich without the arugula. And remember, the sandwich was not already made. It’s not like they had to take the arugula off and throw it away. They simply had to not add the damn thing, actually saving them both time and money. Well, I got in one of my infamous arguments with the lady at the cash register and stormed out without paying anything. So I guess I won that time, though I’ll have to add that café to the long list of places that I can never return back to because I made a scene.

This lengthy list also includes the sandwich shop where they tried to charge me fifty cents more because I asked for a condiment on the side, as apposed to actually on the panino. I guess the sandwich maker having to move his hand 2 inches to the right before squeezing the mayonnaise bottle is worthy of an extra charge in Italy…. Plus there is the place where I asked for a sandwich in Italian and the lady answered me in horrible English. I told her that her English was an atrocity and huffed out of there too, with no panino at all and still hungry. Well, this last one actually has more to do with me being too touchy about my Italian than it actually does with the panino itself, but it’s still on my black list.

In America, the local deli might have some pre-organized sandwiches, but you are more than free to simply create your own, choosing from the slew of options. The world is your oyster .. or, rather, topping. Your mile-high American sandwich will be stuffed to the brims and served with your choice of potatoe salad, macaroni salad, chips, or french fries. In Italy you practically have to open the two slices of bread to make sure that there is anything inside and the panino is served with your choice of … napkin.

I always feel bad for my American visitors who come to see me in Italy. They  have these great expectations for mouth watering Italian panini. I hate seeing the look of disappointment in their eyes when they discover that there is no such thing as a chicken pesto panino with roasted bell peppers and grilled marinated portobello mushrooms, smothered in tons of gooey melted mozzarella. That’s just the American take on an Italian panino.

I would say that the food I crave the most when I’m in Italy would be American sandwiches.  Man, I’d kill for a bologna sub from A&A with american cheese, mayo, pickles, grilled onions, jalapenos, and black olives! The best sub in my hometown! My mother would say that the best one is a steak bomb with mushrooms, peppers, and onions from Boyles, and those are pretty darn good too!

*** Grammar Point *** All this talk of food, and I almost forgot the grammar point I wanted to make. So “panino” is singular while “panini” is plural, so saying “I am having a panini” is technically incorrect. Although, who cares about grammar when you’ve got a foot-long sub to chow down on!


38 thoughts on “Panini Do Nothing For Me

  1. I totally agree with you on the panini situation and i’ve been bored with them for fifty years…imagine that! I dream of a pastrami or a true american chili dog or what we call in Connecticut a real Italian grinder (submarine in Boston and Subway anywhere else…) but there’s nothing here that even comes close. I can’t remember how many times I’ve almost died because a dry and tasteless Italian sandwich has been caught in my throat impeeding my breathing…..wouldn’t go up or down, quite dangerous….But let’s give credit where it belongs…if Italian sandwiches lack, one has to admit that Italian bread is the best in the world for variations and taste and although American sandwiches are great they are terribly difficult to eat.

    • Hi Leo! Thanks a lot for your comment!

      Pastrami is among my favorite sandwiches too. Yummy!

      I agree that Italian bread can be good (especially with sesame seeds!), although some types of Italian bread are nothing special. For example, I remember this type of bread in Bologna that didn’t even have salt. It tasted like flour. Dry, dry flour. I, personally, think that the French have the best bread in the world.

      Italians have the best of many other things though: pasta, sauces, pizzas, herbs, tomatoes, wine, cheeses, etc.

      • The traditional bread in Tuscany and Umbria is made without salt and I find it awful for sure. The best bread in the world, in my humble opinion, is what you’ll find in the south of Germany and Switzerland. It’s unbelievably flavorful and has great crumb and texture!

  2. You are so right! And what goes for panini goes for salads, I\’ve found. American salads in good restaurants (repeat: good restaurants) are so fabulous and versatile. And although I\’ve had good salads in Italy, most often they\’re not very exciting.

    What I’ve heard and read is that when it comes to food, the Italians and the French too, consider their ways of preparing it as set in stone. This is how it\’s done, now and until eternity. Creativity is not part of the deal here. Truth is, of course, that much of the food is wonderful. Still, why not experiment a little? Try something new? Not a mindset that\’s part of the national character?

    Loved your rant 😉

    • Always appreciate you comments! They really add something to my posts, so thank you!

      I agree that salads are also fairly boring in Italy (though certainly fresh and decidedly healthier than salads in America).

      Like you said, the food in Italy is amazing, but it does lack that “creative pizzaz” that we are known for in the USA. Don’t get me wrong, a simple salad or no frills panino can still be good and made with high quality local products. It just doesn’t satisfy me in the same way that a huge unhealthy American sandwich does!

  3. Hi Garrett! In Rome you can find a great place near Teatro Parioli: its name is “Baguetteria”.
    In Milan too you can have more than typical Italian sandwiches, as I find the address I send to you : ) .
    Have a nice day!

  4. I would have never guessed the sandwich situation is so dire in Italy. Thanks for the warning… I love American panini and would be expecting something similar, if not better, abroad! I had an amazing “Italian” sub the other day… piled high with meats, provolone, lettuce, tomato, pickles, banana peppers, oil, vinegar, salt & pepper. I’ll appreciate it even more the next time I splurge. Sorry G! :-/

  5. Lack of creativity is a serious problem in many areas of Italian food. I’m Italian– I should know XD I live in a small city, so there is even less choice. The most exciting novelty I can hope to find in a panino is… peas U__U
    Most Italians are so proud of their pizza & pasta, they don’t see the point in offering some variety… Even when it comes to cookies, snacks and chips!
    I’ve never been in the US, but I lived in Japan for a few months and was amazed at the assortment. Italian supermarkets are so dull in comparison, they make me sad :/

    • I think that pride definitely has something to do with it. Perhaps Italians see their cuisine as “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, which is a shame. Italian food is already good, but can you imagine how amazing it would be with innovation thrown into the mix?

      • I found that I can’t comment (meaning, I am not allowed) Italian food if it’s not to praise it. Italians are SO convinced they have the best food in the world, they cannot take criticism.

        One day, I was telling my Italian colleagues that if I had to choose to eat for the rest of my life what is available in California, in the Bay Area, or Italian food I would with no hesitation choose the Bay Area (for the variety, the freshness, the availability of non-carbs food). I thought they were choking on their pasta. Explaining that changing the shape and the sauce of pasta isn’t enough for me, I still feel like eating the same, also almost got me kicked out. And that no, potatoes don’t pass for a vegetable and I won’t eat potatoes after pasta, didn’t make it through either.

        It’s probably not as bad in the south, but around here, when what you have to offer is trippa, meat with breadcrumbs, and patatine-wurstel pizza, you have to give some credit to other cultures 😉

        Anyways, I think one of the reason is the fact that Italy is very non-multi-cultural. The region with the highest rate of foreigners is Lombardia, and it’s not even 10% and most of them are probably in Milan anyways. The low and quite recent immigration may explain the relative “closeness of mind” when it comes to food.

      • I agree that Italy’s close-minded approach to non-Italain foods probably has something to do with there being a lower presence of diverse cultures (in most places … Milan is pretty mult-ethnic, for Italian standards). I mean, I know tons of Italians who would never, ever, step foot in a Chinese restaurant, stating that the food is weird and “not Italian”. My reply of “Excuse me, isn’t riso cantonese sort of like a risotto without the parmasean cheese?” doesn’t help me convice them to come grab an ethnic dinner with me either! 🙂

  6. No, no, no, I can’t leave you so disappointed when in Sicily we have special little camion famous for excellent panini with anything you want! there are polpette, slice of meat, pork, cow (even horse, if you want to try) wurstel, then mushrooms, onions, special sauces, salads, whatever! And fried potatos on top, of course! It’s the heaven, I’m sure you would agree!! Come in Catania, I will be happy to bring you there! =)

    • Horse?!? No thanks! But the rest sounds good.

      There are some late-nite vans around here that have “junky” sandwiches too (salamella with onions and peppers is my favorite). They are definitely better than the sandwiches you can get in restaurants and bars.

      I’ve never been to Sicily though, so maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised! 🙂

  7. Garrett is sooooo right about the Panini. We have some of the greatest. My Boyles Steak bomb is to die for. In San Diego we’ve not been able to find what we consider to be a delicious steak bomb, pizza or Chinese food (with MSG). We’re still looking though.
    Garrett you are a funny bastard!


    • Ciao Carla! Thanks for stopping by and for your comment! It’s interesting to hear the opinion of someone going through the opposite experience.

      I suppose our sandwiches could be considered complicated! 😉

  8. Bwa, ha, ha! I read your post to my Italian husband who lived with me in Boston (Somerville) for 5 years and we laughed so hard we cried! When I think of the fabulous roast beef sandwiches in New England, or a fried oyster po-boy in New Orleans, I shed a tear. Although I try to steer clear of American fast food while I’m living in Italy, every now and then I find myself at a Burger King, and I love the look of surprise when I order FOUR ketchup packets (at 10 cents a packet) to go with my fries. Little do they know that this is monastic simplicity compared to how much ketchup I eat in the states! I have a feeling I’ll be sharing this post whenever I need to disillusion my American friends about Italian panini.
    Thanks, Julia

    • Grazie a te, Julia! I love your comments!

      Doesn’t having to pay for ketchup at Burger King or McDonald’s drive you mental!?! I haven’t written about that on my blog yet, but I think I’ll probably get to it sooner or later! It should be against the law! 😉

    • When I first started reading your comment, I was afraid that you were going to say that the bread in Italy is wonderful, and I was going to have to disagree with you. However, I see that we’re on the same page here.

      I mean, Italian bread is not horrible, and some bread is downright tasty, but I guess I expected “more” from Italian bread. It’s usually just sort of … “floury”.

      Now, the bread in France … those are some tasty carbs!

  9. Ohhh! Diciamo le cose come stanno!! (Let’s say the truth!)

    It’s true, our Panini are veeeeery veeeeeeeeeery simple, but every Italian on Earth knows he can’t just enter in a bar to buy a panino! It’s too much expensive!
    A panino in a bar usually costs a lot, 5 euros for two slices of bread (BAD bread) and some prosciutto “da far schifo” ( bad prosciutto) and MAYBE salad…
    Then we make our Panini at home, where we take all we had in the whole house and we just put it in an enormous “sfilatino” ( a type of bread that’s like a baguette).
    We love simple thing when we talk about panini and salad, that’s a creative way to say we are narrow minded and we don’t like changes! 😀
    Well, there’s some places called “paninerie” where you can eat a good panino but we all think that the best panino is a panino made at home by yourself. (It’s a motto!! :D)

    What about salad at the restaurant? Italian don’t go to dinner out of their houses to eat salad, if I want a salad I make it on my own, we go out to eat something special! That’s what we think about salad! (And soup too, it’s considered poor food.)

    If you want to eat good bread in Italy, you have to know the right places to buy it! Just a little secret to know if bread is good or not, if he doesn’t smell it isn’t good! 😉
    If you want to try the best bread in North Italy, you’re better going to Mantova! Il profumo di pane è caratteristico in quella città!

    Last year I went to London, and I found myself hungry around the city with no idea where to eat something good! Per sfortuna, I entered in a panineria with every single type of sandwiches on Earth, I can’t find something normal to me! I just wanted two slices of bread, some salame, tomatoes and maybe some salad! Instead I had a panino with everything inside, even pesto (that for italian people of my city, is used only for pasta and he can’t be putted in a panino, is simply “puah” or arrrrgh!)…. as resulted I have stomach ache for all day long)

    Finito!! Hope I didn’t bored you!
    And sorry another time for my bad English, I have to write I’m sorry for this.

    • Wow! Thanks for your great response! I agree with you that I can make a better panino at home in Italy than I can out at some cafe. But that’s because I can put all the “porcherie” that I want between the bread (like pesto, hahaha!). When you go to the nearest cafe or restaurant in Italy, the sandwich options are just so very boooooooring! Again, your English is fine (especially for a long response like this one!) Grazie ancora!

  10. Non capisco che problema ci sia con il pane… Insomma, alla fine dei conti è da usare solo per a) fare la scarpetta b) mangiare prosciutto O mortadella O nutella (questi “o” sono degli aut-aut, niente incertezze in proposito!) senza sporcarsi le mani. Se te lo vuoi mangiare così, allora prendi un pezzo di crescenta no? Volendo fare una piccola noticina sui panini: avessi il tempo e la fame per mangiarmi quell’affare mastodontico che hai messo in foto, cercherei piuttosto un bar/ tavola calda o una pizzeria tipo Altero…

    • Ma il discorso é che da noi il pane é più di un solo “contenitore” di prosciutto ecc. ma un pasto in sé. Io sono abituato più a quella roba “mastodontica” che ad una roba troppo “semplice”.

      Piesse: Mamma mia! Pizza Altero! Quanti ricordi! Io mi ricordo uno di quelli a Bologna! Buonoooo! 😀

  11. Ciao nice post and nice blog.
    Yes, I ‘m italian and I agree with your post. We love our food tradition, and we think that if in a panino you put a wonderful mortadella and a spectacular parmigiano AND fried onion rings, well…. it’s an unhealthy disaster. Maybe because we think that too many fried stuff in a sandwich leads to obesity. Or maybe we think that cool food is simple food.
    I think one of the reason is the fact that Italy is very non-multi-cultural, but on the other hand we are trying to improve food culture based on “slow food” and simple good quality local products.

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