How an Italian Food Store Can Keep Alive Italian Food Culture
It is my belief that no matter how much you profess your undying love and expertise of Italian food, there are still things that you will never find out unless you get the chance to mingle with the locals in their natural habitat. Here are a few helpful pointers about Italian food culture:
Italians are very strict when it comes to the quality of the ingredients they use – it has to be fresh all the time. They also seem to have a certain aversion to overly-embellished and overly-seasoned food; they prefer simple, uncomplicated dishes that put the spotlight on its flavors and freshness.
They truly know how to savor their meals. Lunches and dinners are full of lively conversations, banter and laughter. Each course is eaten at a leisurely pace. Sunday family luncheons can last for hours. Meals will only commence once everyone invited has arrived and all the food has been prepared.
The only acceptable drinks when having lunch or dinner are water and wine. You can have sodas and beer if you’re having pizza.
Italians don’t drink cappuccino unless it’s for breakfast or afternoon break.
To get a real glimpse of the Italian food culture, simply follow how and where the locals eat.
They only ever cook with either olive oil or butter depending on the region.
When You Want The Real Deal
When in Italy and confronted with the need to save or cook your own food, you can simply head out to an Italian food store to buy picnic fare like bread, cheese, wine, and cured meats or fresh produce. While it can’t be argued that shopping anywhere in the world adheres to the basic principle of procuring things/food in exchange of money, it would still be helpful to take note of a few local Italian quirks related to food shopping.
Touching vegetables or fruits is a no-no. You either let the shopkeeper select the produce for you or, if in a supermarket, you can slip on the plastic gloves they have and fill up your plastic bag with your purchase. While you’re at it, don’t forget to weigh the items on the machine, select the item name from the screen. A tape will be printed with the item’s name, weight and amount which you have to stick to the plastic bag.
As weird as it sounds, you will never find in Italy a food establishment with the word “deli” on the signage when looking into buying picnic fare. They don’t call it “deli”. Instead, they either call it Salumeria, Norcineria, or Gastronomia.
When in big groceries, you will need a one Euro coin to free a cart its rail. You will get the coin back once you return the cart to the right rail.
Find Traditional Panettone Recipes at Italian Food Blogs!
Nowadays, virtually all information can be obtained from, or at least fact checked on, from the internet. Gone are the days of slaving away in a dusty library to go through various reading materials just so you can do your research. Of course, you may still subject yourself to good ‘ol fashioned way of researching. In fact, it’s rather nice to remember the way old books smell and feel on my fingertips but I have decided to go with the times and do quickie research off the internet. I am no stranger to the blogosphere. I don’t blog but I avidly follow far too many blogs. I’m a sucker for reading blogs because I like its democratic nature and I like how bloggers seem to be able to churn out news and photos about events and what-have-you way ahead of time; what used to be only seen or read through publications can sometimes be seen first on blogs.
Gourmets read Italian food blogs
I have go-to blogs that take care of my various interests like fashion, interior design, cooking, and traveling. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been saved from boredom and kitchen and fashion boo boos by my beloved blogs. As of late, I find myself leaning towards food blogs – Italian food blogs in particular – as I’ve recently started living on my own. I know my way in the kitchen and have been told by some that I have a knack for cooking but I’m far from being an expert and Italian food has always been a favorite of mine. I’ve been to Italy just once in my life but I will never forget the to-die-for gastronomic experience I had in that country. It was definitely an eye-opening foodie trip. Ever since then, I have always made it a point to try out new Italian restaurants that I come across in a subconscious effort to replicate the delightful gustatory experience I had in Italy. Alas, I have come to admit defeat. Unless I shell out obscene amounts of money on fine dining Italian restaurants, I will have to content myself in making my own Italian dishes to satisfy my cravings.
Italian food blogs are unanimous in saying that Italians have a predilection for simple, healthy dishes that make use of in season ingredients. They put a premium on freshness and quality. They also value their familial relationships and friendships so much that lunches and dinners become instant reunions where everyone relaxes and catches up with one another. Rarely will you find locals that eat or use out of season ingredients. It’s just not their style. Instead, they gather up ingredients found in the area to concoct their dishes. I find their insistence on using foods on hand very smart and practical – they get the most out of the produces’ or meat’s flavor and they get to cut down on food costs since food sourced nearby are far cheaper than food flown in from elsewhere. So it’s really a no-brainer for me to regard Italian cuisine as the best in the world.
Going back to my first and only (so far!) trip to Italy, I can say it is close to impossible not to eat well when you’re there. Too bad, I didn’t know much about Italy then as I was just an awkward teenager but I sure did find their food and leather goods extra special. We stayed in Milan and wasn’t able to tour much. It was more of a reunion of sorts for my parents and their long-time friends who were stationed in Milan at the time. I remember feeling as if the food feasts will never end. Had there been Italian food blogs back then, I surely would have had more clue on the kinds of food I was stuffing myself with. Their breads, cheeses, and cured meats were so good that I know wished I had more knowledge of Italian cuisine then. It was there that I saw how different their pastas are from what I have been accustomed to. Theirs were not the creamy and cheesy kind. Their pasta dishes were rather simple-looking but tasted heavenly. Their pizzas, another worldwide famous Italian dish, were surprisingly not sold everywhere. There were certain places that serve pizza only and their pizzas come in single size only (mostly 10 inches in diameter) and is good enough for one person only. (Here’s a confession: I only found out about the pizza fact when I started checking out Italian food blogs maybe because I was too young before to take note of such things). I assure you, you won’t have trouble wiping out all by yourself a pizza that big because, again, it was extremely delicious. It was also in there that I got to eat the freshest, crispiest greens I have ever tasted in my life seasoned with authentic olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Their salads are served with fish, seafood chicken or meat dishes and believe me when I say that both the meat and veggies were stars on their own right and that’s a big deal coming from a carnivore like me.
Remembering Summers in Milan
Another precious food memory I had of Milan is the super yummy panettone made more special because it was baked especially for us using traditional panettone recipe. It is some sort of cake-like bread that is said to be originally from Milan. It was nearing the holiday season and I vividly recall my parents buying a few boxes to be brought home. As for me, I was told by my mom’s friend that I was very lucky to have eaten one made from traditional panettone recipe. We were visiting an elderly couple living on the outskirts of Milan who were friends with one of my parents’ friends (hope that did not confuse you!) and they were kind enough to bake their Christmas bread for us tourists who wouldn’t be in Italy for Christmas. The charming lady of the house took pride in the fact that the traditional panettone recipe she used has been in their family for centuries. Being young, I was enamored with that fact and couldn’t wait to take a bite of the bread so steeped in history and tradition. When I did get to taste it, it was an explosion of flavors in my mouth. It definitely did not disappoint. It had a fluffy texture with the added texture and zing coming from the candied fruits, raisins, and lemon rind. The one I got to taste using traditional panettone recipe is far more superior from the store-bought ones we got to take home. Aside from it being freshly baked, you can tell the lady did not scrimp on the ingredients and that there really was something special with the way her bread was made. When we got to their place, the panettone was nearly baked. She said their family recipe required her to work on the dough alone for days. To this day, whenever I think back on that day, two things come to mind: the insanely delicious taste of the bread and the image of the sweet lady tirelessly kneading the dough for days on end. She also regaled us with stories of how all their family and friends think theirs is the best panettone they’ve tasted. She said countless friends have approached them offering to invest money so they can take the commercial route and produce the bread in massive quantities but they never felt the need to sell out. Lucky for us, the elderly couple spoke English quite well otherwise, we would have missed out on hearing stories about their family’s heirloom panettone recipe.
Learning to Cook on My Own
Now that I’m living on my own and have executive control over the contents of my fridge and pantry, I vow to cook and eat as much Italian food as I can. Also, since I just finished re-decorating my apartment, I really don’t have much to spend on wining and dining. Thanks to my favorite Italian food blogs, recreating my favorite dishes should be a cinch and shouldn’t cost me so much. I am especially bent on making my own panettone even if it’s far from Christmas using traditional panettone recipe just so I can recreate the magical feeling of eating something so decadent and storied. I know it is next to impossible for me to get my hands on that lady’s heirloom panettone recipe but I can always research on other types of traditional panettone recipes from my trusty Italian food blogs. In fact, I already found several recipes and it appears to be quite challenging to make. But I am unfazed. In the end, I settled on a recipe I got online.
I hope I can travel back again to Milan and explore other cities and regions in Italy. This time I know I can properly bask in the unique Italian culture and soak up on the many wonderful flavors the country and its food have to offer. What a joy would it be to see Milan again now that I’m equipped with better understanding of the country and the pleasures it can offer. Who knows, I might get lucky and find my way back to the elderly couple’s house and be given a copy of their cherished heirloom recipes.