What are the things that come to your mind when you think of Italian food? Perhaps pizza, pasta and gelato? These are definitely some of the most famous Italian dishes, but traditional cuisine is much more than that. Italian food is multifaceted and local. It is related to the Mediterranean Diet but you will soon discover that it varies tremendously from northern to southern regions.
Those who live outside of Italy can only have a partial idea of what Italian food really is. It is not just about carbs, cheese and desserts but also about being healthy and genuine. It can also help you live longer – like Sardinian food, for example.
In this article we’re going to tell you everything you need to know to become a real expert in Italian food. Read on to learn more and show off your knowledge to impress your friends!
The 8 basic rules of Italian food
People outside of Italy might not have the feeling of what Italian food really is about. It is about fresh, genuine food. It is about simplicity and taste. It is about family and tradition.
So if you want to become an expert on the matter, itis not enough to learn some basic recipes. You should deeply understand the philosophy behind the dishes, because that is the key to truly understanding Italian cuisine.
Here are 8 basic rules that you need to know if you really want to understand Italian food.
- Eat local
As we said, Italian dishes are deeply-rooted in their geographical area.
Although you can find many of them all over the country, it’s definitely better to taste them where they were actually born. Pizza is the best example of this: you can eat it anywhere, but nothing beats the one you will find in Naples!
Actually, the same dish can be prepared following different recipes in different towns… or even families! What could be more locally-based than this?
- Eat seasonal
Italy has an ancient rural tradition, made of very simple dishes that could be prepared based solely on what the farmland had to offer. Traditional Italian food is therefore genuine and seasonal. This implies following the cycle of nature and respecting it: the rewards are juicy and tasty fruit and vegetables.
Have you ever tasted the difference between ripe tomatoes picked during summer compared to the ones you can find all year round at the grocery store? Well, if you did, you can understand why Italians go seasonal!
- Indulge in more than one course
Most restaurants in the world offer main courses, sometimes preceded by entrées and followed by desserts. Italian cuisine is composed by many different courses. There are:
– antipasto, which is the entrée;
– primo, a pasta-based dish;
– secondo, whose main components are proteins;
– contorno, mainly vegetables accompanying ‘secondo’;
– dessert or fruit.
And yes, you are allowed to indulge in all of them.
Actually, on special occasions, all of these courses can be doubled or tripled… this makes you understand how important food is for Italians!
- Respect your pasta
You will never see an Italian eating pasta on the side of another dish or cutting his spaghetti. Pasta is the benchmark of Italian food and it demands respect and appreciation.
This is why you should cook it properly (in abundant, boiling, salty water) and eat it al dente. It is also important to pair the right shape of pasta with the right sauce, although this can be a hard choice to make – even for some Italians – and it depends on personal taste as well.
- Cheese doesn’t fit everywhere
Italians love cheese, that is undeniably true. Pecorino cheese is one of the milestones of Sardinian food, for example. Parmesan cheese is known all over the world. But this doesn’t mean that all Italian dishes involve this ingredient!
If you want to look like an expert, you shouldn’t sprinkle grated cheese over all kinds of fish-based dishes: this is definitely a beginner’s mistake.
- Stay simple
Italian food is based on simplicity. Almost every dish is made using only 5 or 6 ingredients. When the ingredients are good, they simply stand out. There is no need for cream, mayonnaise or rich dressings. The best example is salad: it’s only dressed with extra virgin olive oil, salt and sometimes vinegar. That’s it, and that’s both genuine and delicious.
- Coffee and cappuccino are not the same thing
This is a very simple rule. You drink cappuccino only in the morning, for breakfast. You can drink coffee in the morning, after lunch or dinner. Of course, in Italy coffee equals espresso. And no, you’re not allowed to have cappuccino after lunch.
- Don’t rush
Italians like to enjoy their food. They like to cook it and to enjoy it with no rush. Both at the restaurant and at home, they can literally spend hours sitting at the table for lunch or dinner.
In Italy, not only is food something you need to get your nutrients, but it’s an excellent excuse to spend some quality time with your loved ones. Where there’s a gathering around a table to share a meal, there’s family.
How to tell authentic Italian food from fake
If you grew up outside of Italy, you might probably have some misconceptions about Italian food. It’s not your fault, of course, but we will help you get rid of them. This way, you will be able to distinguish real Italian dishes from fake ones like a pro.
Here’s what you should pay attention to:
- the name: if a dish is labeled as “Italian”, it’s probably not so authentic;
- the number of ingredients: the fewer the ingredients, the higher the chance of the dish being genuine;
- the kind of ingredients: dried herbs, garlic or onion powder, ketchup… they all should make you doubt about the Italian origin of the dish;
- any dish that violates the basic rules we just listed probably contains no genuine Italian food.
Last but not least, here is a small with a list of so-called Italian dishes that are famous all over the world but that can definitely be considered fakes!
– Pizza with ham and pineapple on top: believe us, no one in Italy would ever eat it;
– Spaghetti with meatballs: Italians do eat meatballs, but not with their spaghetti;
– Fettuccine Alfredo: where does this sauce even come from? Not from Italy, this is for sure!
– Chicken parmesan: the actual Italian dish is called eggplant parmesan… Sounds a bit different, isn’t it?
– Garlic bread: Italians spread garlic only on toasted bread to make ‘bruschette’, but they do not eat it as it is.
Sardinian food: an example of authentic Italian tradition
Jokes aside, let’s go back to authentic Italian traditions and talk about a really delicious one coming from an island surrounded by turquoise sea: Sardinia.
As we said, Italian food has deep geographical roots. Every Italian region has its own typical dishes – and you can even find differences among different towns of the same region.
The basic rules listed above are principles shared by Italian dishes and they can be summed up in the following statement: Italian food is tasty, genuine and healthy. Sardinian food is a perfect example of this.
So, why is Sardinian food considered so healthy?
The answer is easy: local food is one of the reasons why Sardinians live a long and healthy life.
Have you ever heard about the Blue Zones? They are 5 geographical areas where people live longer and healthier than average. Sardinia is one of them – actually it is the first one to be ever discovered. Researchers studied different aspects of local people’s lifestyle, and they identified the key factors of their longevity diet.
They all relate to the utmost quality of Sardinian food, which is not only healthy per se but it is also undoubtedly tasty – just like most of Italian food!
So, are you ready to find out more about the most typical, tastiest and healthiest Sardinian food?
– Pane Carasau and Pane Guttiau: crispy, thin bread made of durum wheat, with or without olive oil on top. They are tasty appetizers, rich in fibers, proteins, vitamins and mineral salts.
– Malloreddus, Fregola and Culurgiones: three very typical Sardinian kinds of pasta. The first one is perfect with meat-based sauces, the second one with fish and the third one is just perfect as is, with its generous cheese or potatoes filling.
– Pecorino Sardo or Fiore Sardo: this kind of cheese is obtained from grass fed sheep. It’s both tasty – thanks to its pleasant, prickly flavor – and a healthy source of proteins.
– Dried mullet roe and wild caught fish: is there anything better than this to fill up your body with Omega-3 fatty acids and to satisfy your taste buds?
As you can see, Sardinian food perfectly mirrors the main cornerstones of Italian cuisine, with its simple dishes and genuine ingredients.
Now you know everything you need in order to really understand the essence of Italian food. You won’t be fooled by fake Italian dishes again and you can now start enjoying nice, long meals with your friends and family the Italian way.
Why not start with a dinner based on tasty Sardinian food and wine? You will make your taste buds happier and your life longer!