As not only an Italian, but a Tuscan Italian, I am very proud of Italian food, ingredients, tastes, agriculture – really, anything that relates to eating and eating habits. Italians have a deep cultural attachment to nourishing, delicious food, and not very much interest in junk food. Or at least that is what I always thought.
I just came back from 10 days in Tuscany where I spent time with my mamma, Rosa, aunt Anna, my cousins Paolo, Cristiana, Ilaria and Nicola, and lots of extended family. Then, we went to a trattoria outside of Lucca, where I am from, and I saw this:
Can you believe it!
We were out at a local pizzeria called Mangiafoco (fire eater), a place I love to go, and my 9 year old nephew, Nicola ordered a pizza that came with FRENCH FRIES and HOT DOG SLICES on top. I almost fell off my chair. What Italian chef would ever create such a thing and put it on the menu? And who would order it?
Nicola. That’s who. And all the other 9-year-old children across Italy. All it needed was a spoon of Nutella in the middle and the destruction of authentic Italian cuisine would be complete. If you can believe it, Nicola didn’t leave anything leftover on his plate. He ate ALL of it with the help of my 11-year-old daughter. Every hot dog and every french fry. This is genius of the Italian pizzaiolo, I thought. Keep the kids happy.
But the story didn’t end there. A few days later I was driving from Lucca to Viareggio, the seaside town and home of Romano, one of my favorite restaurants in the world. We pulled into an Autogrill, the restaurant along the highway where you can stop to put gasoline in your car and get a snack, sandwich, coffee, pastries and more. I walked up to the counter and noticed these three sandwiches…if you can really call these sandwiches.
One was called “Wurster in Camicia” (hot dog in a shirt); the other Crostone (big crust) and the pizza sandwich had no name. Immediately my wife started laughing. I didn’t know what to think. How could Italians do this? It’s for tourists, right? But how would that explain the pizza with french fries at Mangiafoco, the most out of the way and non-touristy trattoria you could imagine.
Maybe I am missing the point? The food of my native land is of course still spectacular (my meal at Romano or Lorenzo is proof of that) and superior. But I guess I have to remind myself that it takes a lot of tastes to make up a menu.