FOOD CULTURE

Published February 11, 2012 by Tony

Pasta with beans or Hot dog?
Italian & American eating habits

It’s told, “when in Rome do as the Romans do”, meaning that any country gets its own customs.
About this, one of the differences between Italians and Americans is the approach of eating. I am not referring mainly to menu, but the way we deal with the three daily meals, that we usually differentiate into breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Starting with breakfast, for Italians it is not considered a true meal, in the sense that most of us undervalue it. For us, early in the morning, the breakfast is something to do quickly before going out, often reducing itself to a simple coffee or in the best cases to a cappuccino with biscuits. Others prefer to have it even when already in the street or at work, going to a bar and eating a croissant with a cappuccino or coffee, while some prefer tea. I believe no Italian in the early morning would like to eat ham and eggs, omelets or bacon and potatoes, then watered down with fruit or tomato juice or cold milk from the fridge. Thus, the first difference lies in this: you Americans are accustomed to spend some time in the morning for a breakfast rich in calories, while we Italians often run away at work while sipping a coffee. The opposite, however, happens at lunchtime. For most Italians lunch and dinner are considered “sacred” and, work permitting, anyone likes to have it at home together family, dedicating it the right time. For us a traditional meal consists of a first course with pasta, then meat or fish with a side dish, wine or water. Those who do not have the opportunity to eat at home, whereas possible, sit in a hash-house or pizzeria and eat with calm a first course or a pizza. Instead, I know that most of you Americans have not such a lunch and often a quickly one in a cafeteria, because you just give not the same value to the lunch as we do.
Finally we arrive at dinnertime.
This is the time when any Italian family joins together, especially when parents have not met at lunchtime. It’s time to chat and watch TV together. In general, the traditional Italian dinner is composed of a main course with vegetables or meat, or something lighter than traditional lunch. On holidays and Sundays it’s different, anyway.
Overall, we do not have the culture of fast-food, as hot dogs, hamburgers or sandwiches which only in recent times spread to Italy by the opening of McDonald’s points in any city. Our food culture, which is mostly derived from ancient rural traditions, is based on meals made with vegetables and local products if not homemade even, whereas the family gathered around the table to eat and be together, while only on Sundays or holidays people ate more with some dish more elaborated. Our traditional lunch made with a simple panino (bread roll) or bread’s slices stuffed with something inside, comes with the need for some workers, such as hard-hats, who could not return home or not having enough time, with parents or wives that in the morning prepared them a panino filled with some left-overs to take away. Even though it has then become commonplace among other workers or students, who have replaced the filling with tasty variations, as it’s a panino with ham and mozarella or with tuna-in-olive-oil and cherry-tomatoes.

panino with tuna

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