Friday, May 13, 2011

Italy, part 1

I recently enjoyed a trip to Italy, and as you all can imagine, I enjoyed the food as well. I made some observations, some were new and some were reinforced. Please indulge me as I explore some of these observations and detail how they differ from the States.

1. Duration of meals
This is my favorite point and one that I'm sure I've beaten to death. Will that stop me from revisiting? Of course not. I love the fact that I can sit at a restaurant as long as I want without being pressured to leave. Sadly, this is point of contention for many Americans. I have never been to Europe without overhearing an American complaining about how long it takes to get the bill. Americans are notoriously the biggest complainers in Europe. We can't stand something that's different from what we are familiar with. Oddly, we get angry when we are left alone. All we need to understand is that you have to ask for your bill if you want to pay. Italy does not operate like the US where they leave the bill before you're done eating. The Italians don't want to interrupt your meal, but apparently Americans are more comfortable with being pushed out the door. I find it very peaceful to slowly eat a meal, enjoy conversation with the people at your table and not have frequent visits from the waiter checking to see if everything is okay. Isn't it better on your digestive system to not inhale your food or eat from a trough?

2. Cappuccino time
Speaking of your digestive system, I learned something new about the espresso habits of Italians. On our last trip to Italy, I did learn that is very rare for Italians to drink a cappuccino after 10 or 11 in the morning. For the most part, it's only foreigners who order it later in the day, even after their dinner. It's somewhat frowned upon and one restaurant would not serve it to us after dinner. However, with the large amount of tourists, they have become used to this unusual custom. What crazy reason would the Italians have for not partaking in their delicious beverage at any hour? Apparently, it's both crazy and genius. You know when you take a look at the Grand Canyon and you can see all of the layers of different rock? Well, the Italians take that same view on a micro level of the stomach. First off, cappuccinos are not light. Any time you involve milk, you're getting something kind of heavy. Also, as any one who is lactose intolerant will tell you, milk does not delicately move through the digestive system. You don't want something heavy spoiling your appetite for the rest of the day, especially when you have the chance to eat some amazing Italian food for dinner. You also don't want something so uneasy sitting on top of the other items you've consumed. It will not make for an easy digestion process.

3. Eating with the seasons
At some of the better restaurants in the US, you see menus that follow the seasons. Some restaurants change their menus every month. This is nothing new to Italians. Since they don't have tons of Super-markets or Costco's, they're used to buying whatever is available at their local outdoor market. Farmers are selling whatever is growing at the time and that's also what's on the menus. They don't expect to eat artichokes in January, whereas Americans want whatever they want whenever they want it. We are impatient with our food, whether it is related to ingredient availability or waiting on our meal to arrive. Embracing the concept of following the seasons allows you to find fresher products and makes the anticipation of each new season rather exciting.

5. Bread?
A lot of the restaurants we went to put bread on our table. You might initially think, "yeah, what's the big deal?" The deal is that they charged us for the bread. The bread was not optional even if we refused to consume one tiny morsel. We initially thought we shouldn't touch it until we found that they charged you no matter what. I blame America. We need bread before our meal. Why, I do not know? Apparently we need to stuff our faces with starch and butter all before the good stuff arrives. They've learned that they can throw bread on the table, no matter how awful, and we'll scarf it down.

Europe may appear to be behind us in fashion, at times, behind us in technology, yet they can smack us around the kitchen. We need to follow their lead when it comes to food. Stay tuned for the next post to see where we should start.