expats · food · multicultural families

Why Italian people freak out about food

This is not a parenting post, but I feel it’s something that will resonate with most of my readers, surely with those who know at least an Italian person. And by saying Italian I mean real Italian, every second-generation Italo-American is excluded – you allowed pizza with pineapple to spread in the world like a deadly virus, shame on you, filthy traitors of your mother country.

Well, where was I? Oh, right, why Italian people care about food so much. If you have an Italian friend, you must have noticed a couple of trends:

  • no matter the context or where the conversation starts from, you’ll end up talking about food,
  • he/she has a seizure when you say you like pineapple on pizza or that your kids like to top their pasta with ketchup.

Italian people love food. Our day rotates solely around meal times. Social and family life is linked to food. A meal is a ritual.
You see, making food for someone else is an expression of affection and care. Our mothers used to cook for us, every day, putting extra care in serving us healthy and tasty meals. My mother used to work full-time and didn’t even like cooking. Yet, she would read all labels to make sure our food was healthy. She would cook diverse and nutritional meals. Food equals our mom for us.

Meals are also family rituals. I’m sure many of you share traditional food with family during festivities. Most Italian people have such rituals every week. My husband recalls how he used to visit his nana every Sunday and eat fresh pasta at her place. I have few memories of shared moments with my grandmother and most involve food. I still remember her when I eat the meals we typically shared, no matter how simple. These memories make food sacred for us.

Comic from http://www.thingsinsquares.com

One way to sympathise with this approach, is to picture Italian food culture is like a religion to us. The general line of it is cultivated and passed on by all Italian people, most likely the only thing we truly share. We don’t share one language – sure, we all speak Italian, but we have 34 dialects which influence greatly our spoken Italian – , we don’t have the same political views, we suck at being a community in general. Also, we became a country only 150 years ago! Yet somehow we share the love of food. We can talk food for hours. When I tell a fellow Italian how you are supposed to cook an authentic bolognese sauce, I’m not giving them a recipe! I’m telling them how my mother or grandmother used to make it, I add in which occasion we used to eat it together. And they know I’m sharing this piece of family history and heritage, not how to make a damn bolognese. Food touches on our most intimate memories and deepest feelings.

Now that you get a picture of it, fast forward to when someone tells me they like ketchup on top of their spaghetti bolognese. My brain works associations in one instant: bolognese sauce -> my mom who spent a full day cooking bolognese for me like her mom and her grandmother did –> this guy has no respect for this, he doesn’t even know any of it, he opens a ready-made jar of self-proclaimed bolognese, throws it at room temperature on top of low-quality glue-like spaghetti, and tops it with a disgusting American sauce. Why does he hate my mother? Can he go destroy his childhood memories, PLEASE?

Fun fact, if the same conversations would go like this, we would be fine:
Dude: “Hey, I cooked spaghetti noodles with bolognese meat sauce. Put some ketchup on it”
Any Italian: “Sounds exotic.”

Dude: “I ordered pizza bread topped with tomato, cheese, and pineapple on it.”
Any Italian: “Let me try how it tastes.”

The horror! Comic from http://www.sandraandwoo.com

You probably still think we are overreacting. Or maybe this truly rendered the idea that it’s not really about food for us. Now I would like to hear from you and I’m sure you will have a story to tell: how did you make an Italian friend freak out about food? Drop me a line down in the comments and I will be glad to update the post to feature the best stories!


Did you like this post? You may want to check out some others about being an expat:
How being an expat made me a better adoptive parent
Building bridges between cultures: a positive story
I am a culture juggler

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13 thoughts on “Why Italian people freak out about food

  1. I loved this post – hilarious. And so true of any interaction I have had with an Italian, male or female, young or old.
    But here’s a question: what on earth goes on with pizza topped with CHIPS?
    It seems to be a big thing with Italian youths and doesn’t seem to be in keeping with the foodie nation that I know and love!


  2. Pasta, pesto and chicken. “It doesn’t exist!”, my neighbour said. Since then, I’ve considered Italians as ‘dogmatic’ when it comes to food, and I think it goes well with your branding example, on how any Italian would react to “noodles with meat sauce”. That’s just terminology.
    That said, I recognize myself when it comes to my mom caring about the food we eat, and about meals being the most important part of family gatherings.
    Most of my preconceptions come from my parents: ketchup is valid with French fries (but only in low quantities), but apart from that it’s quite a disgusting, unhealthy thing (sugar, really?) 😉


  3. making food for someone else is an expression of affection and care is true. Even in my country India we worship food. After reading your post I really feel that Italians a lot like Indians. I loved each and every sentence of your post. It was humorous and nostalgic.

    Liked by 1 person

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