Friday, March 8, 2013

How to not eat Italian food in Italy

I know the title and general content of this post maybe be highly offensive to some of you. I apologize. But if you know me well, it shouldn't actually surprise you.

A number of people who care about my general well being were concerned about what I would eat during my time in Italy because I don't like Italian food.

That's right. I said it.

I've recently come to realize that this stems from more than a "I don't like the way it tastes" reason. Although that is a big part of it.

I think (I haven't paid money to confirm this, but everything indicates that it is true) I am allergic to garlic. Not in a "I get hives way" but in a "my stomach is really really upset way." This is sad for me because I really like garlic in foods, but the way it smells when someone cooks with it instantly gives me a headache and makes me feel so sick. After eating it my stomach is really acidic. I've also noticed a similar, but less drastic, thing happens when I eat tomatoes. This doesn't mean I don't eat these two things; I just try not to eat them often.

Before I came, I marked on my application to live here that I was allergic to garlic, so I hoped my family would be slightly prepared. I was worried that I wouldn't like any of the food anyone cooked and would both really offend my family and be really hungry.

That, however, is not the case. When I was first talking to my family about what I eat, the dad told me he didn't like garlic, so they never cook with it. Hallelujah.

We also eat a very moderate amount of pasta. I have eaten noodle dishes only a few times so far. A few times with olive oil, salt and tuna. Easy and good. Once was with a buttery, cheesy sauce with ham. Once was pesto (didn't like it) and once was with just tomatoes and salt.

We don't eat much Americanized Italian food. We do eat actual Italian food.

So you see what a typical diet is like, I'll provide you an outline of a normal day. This could be very different from other Italian families, but this is what's normal with mine.

Breakfast (Colazione):

Tea and Breakfast Cookies and/or crackers with jam.

There is a little silver tin that has chocolate chip and shortbread breakfast cookies. I call them breakfast cookies to make myself feel better when I eat them. Like somehow the word "breakfast" adds nutritional value.

They also have cracker things with jam and Nutella. Yum!
It just sits there. Right at eye level. Taunting me. 

Mid cookie binge. Yuuummm
Italians manage to eat this way for breakfast every day and not get fat. It's impressive. But they really only have a few every day. This is probably healthier than my cookie benders. (I don't eat the cookies for several days because, sugar and carbs and what not. But then, I have a break down and eat more than several in a day. Don't judge me.)

Lunch (Pranzo):

For lunch I eat whatever meats and cheeses are around. Maybe throw in a salad, omelet, fruit or whatever I can find.

The two kids come home around two and eat lunch then (because in high school, YOU DON'T GET A LUNCH BREAK. I cannot imagine teaching students who hadn't eaten lunch nor teaching without eating lunch!!)

They usually make some simple pasta dish.


I drink tea with breakfast and then usually when the kids get home from school and then at night before bed with the family. Basically I am English.

The tea/mug cabinet. This isn't even all the tea they have!

Dinner (Cena):

Dinner, much to my stomach's chagrin, starts at the earliest 7:30 but usually around 8 or 8:30. And for someone who usually eats dinner at 5, it's a long stretch.

My Italian mom Vanda does almost all the cooking. She also works a full time job, so her life is full. She keeps cooking simple but very good. She can usually put together a great dinner in 30 minutes. It's pretty impressive.

Bread. Lots of bread. Regardless of what else is being served, slices of bread get thrown on the table along with rice crackers. I try not to eat the bread because I eat enough carbs during the rest of dinner. But it's hard when the bread just stares at you, with it's delicious looking..... bread eyes?? Okay that personification got weird. But the point is, it's difficult to resist.

Some sort of meat: This is pretty "normal" fish, chicken or beef. Cooked with a few basic seasonings or lightly fried or whatever.

Veggies: I have noticed a lot more artichokes used in Italy. I like them, but I only really ever ate them in spinach and artichoke dip, so it's a bit of a new flavor for me. Sometimes the veggies are green beans, olives, or zucchini, often there's a salad (always with balsamic vinegar and oil).

Leftovers: Leftovers from previous meals are almost always on the table and usually pawned onto Nico. 19 year old boys in every country seem to have bottomless stomachs.

They have fruit in a giant bowl in the kitchen that's up for grabs whenever.

Meats and Cheese: Usually at some point after the main meats and veggies have been eaten, meats and/or cheeses are brought out.
They always have a healthy stock of different types of ham and Italian sausage on hand. Not the spicy sausage you can get on pizza, but it's more akin to summer sausage. It's delicious, and it takes all my self control not to eat all of it in a day.

They also have quite a bit of different types of cheese. I've found I like nearly all the cheese they have, including blue cheese in limited quantities, but brie is my favorite. I also like goat cheese quite a bit.

The meats and cheeses are use to polish off what's left of the bread or crackers on the table.

This is an illustration of the top 3/4 of the fridge, so you can see what it looks like.

The asterisk marks the spot where the sausage would be if I didn't eat the rest of it yesterday...
At any given time I would guess we have at least 5 to 6 types of cheeses.

Beverages: The parents and I usually have a glass of wine with dinner and then move to water. They all drink "acqua frizzante" (sparkling water) while I drink tap water. They have a delivery service that brings them crates of sparkling water and "milk" (I use the quotes because this milk doesn't have to be refrigerated and I think has a lot of sugar added because it's very sweet. The lack of normal milk is my greatest lamentation.)

The thing on the right is full of wine. The orange-topped white bottles are "milk," and the boxes next to them are the boxed wine use for cooking.

They get this much water delivered every week. The two stacks on the far left are full and the two on the right are empty. 

Another typically main course is rice. Each region in Italy is apparently known for their specific rice dish. Though they usually appear varying shades of unappealing gray and brown, they are quite good.

What I've noticed most about eating is that it's very balanced. All the main food groups are presented in reasonable moderation. Maybe once or twice a week pudding or a pie appears. It seems to be very much about "a bit of everything in moderation."

Here is a sample dinner: Last night we had Polenta with some kind of beef. Polenta is basically what tortilla chips are before it's dried. If you've ever been to Jose Peppers, it's exactly what Masa is without the sugar.

Polenta was eaten a lot by poor people because it fills you up. We ate it the same way my family might eat mashed potatoes. There was stewed beef on top and broth.


I should have been an art major.

You have paint to thank for my masterpieces. 

So you can see that I do eat. I even eat Italian food. It's just not probably what you think of when you think of Italian food.

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