Living in America I often ran into some curious Italian facts sincerely presented and recognized as “made in Italy”.
They are practices, beliefs, occurrences which are accepted as valid and true. Yet, they are not.
Even when a challenge would be made in regard to the acknowledged facts (as I experienced), hardly anybody would pay attention or even care. To present or even propose another reality, for most it seems to be as converting to another religion.
How this came to be, it can be easy to tell in some cases. I explore it here.
I list some common “curious Italian facts” that may surprise you.
Curious Italian facts and related exposed
- Spoon to roll spaghetti – It seems to be a well-entrenched belief that the proper Italian way to tackle spaghetti is by rolling them with the fork against a spoon-twirling. In Italy only a fork is presented in the best restaurants and so at home. Using a spoon as well is considered vulgar. The use of the spoon may have been introduced by some early Italian immigrants from certain corners of Italy, where the practice may still be in use.
- Pasta e fasule – Pasta and beans In Neapolitan dialect. In Italian “pasta e fagioli”. For the sake of pronunciation close to Neapolitan you may find it written as “pasta e fazool”
- Presutto – Prosciutto in Neapolitan dialect. In England it’s known as raw ham. In fact that’s what it is. When I asked for raw ham in New York, the deli man puzzled inquired if I wanted “presutto”. In supermarkets in America is labeled in Italian: “prosciutto”. Unfortunately many times with the vowels inverted in “proscuitto”.
- Fettuccine and linguine – Not “fettuccini” and “linguini”. The confusion has to do with the English pronunciation of the vowel e. In the case of fettuccine and linguine, people may pronounce e sounding like i. From there it’s easy to imagine how it becomes i even in writing. On this and more go here.
- Cappuccino – Nobody knows for sure the origin of the name. One most often heard and accepted explanation it’s because of the color of the coffee and milk when mixed, that resembles the color of the habit of a Cappuccino – Capuchin friar.
- What’s Cappuccino? – It is simply an espresso with milk added. Milk is steamed hot before being poured over the espresso, and in the process, some froth occurs. It’s the foam you see on top. In Italy there is no addition of cinnamon, cocoa powder or other dusting. It’s not served in giant cups or, with too much milk, one wouldn’t taste the coffee. A cappuccino is roughly five ounces – 1 and 1/2 ounce of espresso and 2 and 1/2 ounces milk. With the steaming and frothing, some more volume is added.
- Cappuccino in the afternoon? – In Italy it’s in the morning only, paired with a danish, cookies or something sweet. That’s breakfast in Italy. The rest of the day it’s espresso only. By the way, did you know that American coffee or similar contains more caffeine than espresso? American coffee using more water extracts more caffeine. Espresso, with little water, can’t squeeze as much caffeine, but the flavor is more concentrated.
- Italian coffee – There are coffees, supposedly Italian, like Medaglie D’Oro and Progresso. I tried them and was disappointed. Definitely not the Italian I know.. The coffee that resembles most the Italian kind is French roast. In a good coffee, the beans should be brown, dark-brown; they should be shiny and a little oily to the touch when fresh roasted (good luck). If so called Italian coffee is black, it means the coffee beans were roasted too long and even burnt. That is why coffee has such a harsh and bitter taste. But many people enjoy that flavor. Taste is taste. It’s as in choosing a toast: brown, dark-brown or black.
- Espresso with lemon peel – I can’t leave without telling this other coffee not so fun experience. I brought this customer the espresso he requested. While I was about to leave the table, I noticed a strange staring look at the cup in front of him. I stood waiting for a comment and it came. He turned looking at me asking: “where’s the lemon peel?” “What lemon peel?” I replied. “For the espresso”, he continued a little irritated. And then gathering I didn’t see any wrong: “you are not Italian?’ So I learned that espresso in America, at least for some people, comes with lemon peels that are twisted and dropped inside the espresso. I never followed up to find out how and where this disgusting idea came about.
- Latte – In Italian it means “milk”. But elsewhere is short for “caffè latte” – coffee with milk. It’s an espresso with hot milk, without foam and more milk than in a cappuccino. The difference is not always understood. If you want to drive someone crazy or just have fun, order a cappuccino and a latte. Who knows, you may get them right.
- Antipasto – At times spelled incorrectly “antipasta”. Pasta has no room here. Antipasto literally means “before the meal”. The name consists of 2 words,”anti” derived from Latin “ante” which means before and “pasto” – meal. It’s a starter to stimulate the appetite before the meal consisting of assorted delicate foods, especially prosciutto, salame, cheeses, olives, anchovies, marinated artichokes, peppers, eggplants.
- Entrée – From the French, it means “entry”. In culinary term, it is the first course, the starting point of a meal. It can be a soup, a quiche, a plate of pasta. In America somehow has come to mean the main course of the meal.
- To go – Or take away are words foreign to Italy. Portions are manageable, so you may not come to that request, unusual in Italy. If you do, you’ll create a crisis as Italian restaurants are not organized with containers to go. But nobody will deny your right to take your left over food with you, so you can help yourself.
- Italian salad dressing – Salad comes always dressed in Italy. Dressing may not be the one you think of: with spices, garlic, onions, some thickener… Italian dressing is very simple: oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. The better the oil, the better is the dressing. And as we are in the subject, French dressing in France is the same as the Italian with the addition of mustard. The restaurant chain in America that has the best salad with the real Italian dressing is the Olive Garden. They have the freshest cleanest salad. I know because I worked with them for a while. If you go there, I’ll let you on a secret. Don’t put them on the spot by asking for pasta “al dente”. It’s impossible. For speed of service pasta is pre-cooked.
- Latino – Term used in United States referring to people of Central and South America of Hispanic origin and culture, Brazil included. The etymology of “Latino” comes from “Latium”, a region in central Italy. Inhabitants were Latin (Latino), Romans included. Rome came to be the most important and powerful city. Some say that the term “Latino” is because of the language spoken derived from Latin. But so it is for Italians, French, Romanians and others.
- Orzo – It’s barley in Italian. In the States it’s a type of very small pasta suitable for soups. Probably the name derives from the fact that pasta shape resembles the cereal. In Italian it’s known as puntine d’ago – needle’s tips.
- Spaghetti with meatballs – I learned of this combination in America where it’s considered a typical very Italian dish. In fact it is even immortalized in a scene of the beautiful animated movie “Lady and the Tramp”.It probably was an idea originated by some Italian immigrants as a way to add inexpensive nourishment to a plate of spaghetti. The dish is non existent in Italy.
For more understanding on the curious Italian facts syndrome, check here: