Think you’re a fan of Italian food? If you haven’t eaten it in Italy (or at least prepared by an authentic Italian cook), then I have some bad news for you. What Americans think of as Italian food is nothing like the real thing.
First off, let me be clear: American-Italian food can be delicious in its own right. It’s just not authentic. Here are just a few of the differences between real Italian food and American-Italian cuisine.
Difference #1: Sauce
One of the biggest differences between American and Italian pasta dishes is the sauce. Italians use a lot less sauce. Think 2-3 tablespoons of the red stuff for a huge plate of pasta. In part, it’s because Italian pasta is usually more flavorful because it’s made fresh.
And if you love fettuccine alfredo, prepare to be disappointed if you go looking for it in Italy. The closest thing they serve is called fettucini al burro (literally “fettucini with butter”), and it’s way better than anything out of a jar.
Difference #2: Meat
Craving some spaghetti and meatballs? Italians would be horrified. In Italy, pasta and meat are separate dishes. They rarely eat beef, anyway. If meat is part of the meal, it’s usually veal or some kind of seafood.
Langoustines, which are a little bit like crawfish or tiny lobsters, are common in Mediterranean cooking but almost unheard of in America. Italians do enjoy cured meat, but you’re more likely to find prosciutto or salami than pepperoni there.
Difference #3: Pizza
America pizza is so different from Italian pizza that they barely deserve to be called by the same name. Italian pizza is smaller, for one thing, and almost always includes a hand-stretched crust that’s somewhere between crispy and chewy.
While tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese are involved, Italian pizza uses both sparingly. A traditional Margherita pizza is topped with chopped tomatoes, cooked in a very hot oven, and then topped with fresh basil.
Difference #4: Dessert and Coffee
Most Italians consider it downright crazy to drink cappuccino after 11 am. It’s strictly a breakfast drink–and don’t think about ordering food with it. You might get away with nibbling on a croissant while you sip your coffee, but you’ll get a few weird looks.
Italian desserts include small, crunchy cookies such as pignoli, amaretti, and biscotti. You’ll also find plenty of delicious gelato, especially in Rome. However, most pastries are considered a midday snack rather than a dessert.
Difference #5: Priorities
Italians prize fresh, high-quality ingredients. They eat what’s in season, usually without too many bells and whistles. They also eat smaller portions than we expect from dining at places like Olive Garden.
Dishes are often surprisingly simple from an American perspective. Most Italians would prefer to eat a meal of fresh pasta with seasonal vegetables and a pinch of grated parmesan instead of an elaborate, heavy meal with lots of fancy ingredients.
And they definitely don’t want preservatives or artificial flavors in their food.