EATING IN ITALY: WHERE TO GO, AND WHY

Friday, 05 June 2020 07:07 Written by
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“Why is Italian food so good?” “Because these flavours are distilled by centuries of history.”

In addition to being a people of poets, saints and navigators, Italians are mainly gourmets in food and wine. We know how to recognize what is good from what is not and distinguish the raw material with which each product is made. After all, we are the heirs of a centuries-old peasant tradition and our territory, so different from North to South, is the base for a culture simple but rich in flavours and traditions. The sun, the sea, the mountains and the plains that characterize our beautiful country, with its Mediterranean climate, make Italy the ideal place where you can find the best in food and wine. If you add the tradition and the art passed on to us by our ancestors, then the combination is perfect.

Eating in Italy is a cultural operation. The history of Italian cuisine has been influenced by all the peoples which, over the centuries, have left their mark, not only artistic and cultural but also gastronomic. Romans, Greeks, Arabs are just some of the peoples who have helped to create a culinary tradition that has lasted for centuries. The dishes that made the history of Italian cuisine are poor and simple, prepared with very few ingredients. On the other hand, there are so many traditional Italian recipes, and their regional reinterpretations too. That’s the peculiarity of the Italian cuisine: the same ingredients assembled in infinite combinations. So, in one of the next videos I will tell you what we choose when we eat at home, but in the meantime, if we want to go out, where do we go to eat?

Possiamo andare al ristorante, we can go to the restaurant. Nowadays we talk more and more about starred restaurants. In Italy, many have been awarded by the Michelin Guide and are certainly worth visiting. Osteria Francescana can be considered the king of Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy: chef Massimo Bottura is in fact one of the gurus of Italian gastronomy. Osteria is located in Modena and was voted the best restaurant in the world in 2016. Chef Bottura reinterprets the great classic of the Italian cuisine, such as Lasagna or Salsa Verde, through his personal style, well-known flavours are elevated almost to perfection.

And now chefs are also tv stars. Antonio Cannavacciuolo is the most famous among them. Many chefs open restaurants in their hometowns – it lets them cook with the ingredients that sparked their passion in the first place. Antonino is from Naples, and you can hear it distinctively when he talks. But instead of staying put, he took his love for southern Neapolitan cuisine to Northern Italy and found a way to combine the two traditions to create something new and exciting. He is the chef of the two Michelin-starred restaurant inside 5* Hotel Villa Crespi in Orta San Giulio on Lake Orta, in Northern Piedmont. But beside it, he is the leading character of the TV program Masterchef Italy, and we all love him for his strong Neapolitan accent and for the bond he creates with participants.

Starred cuisine may seem distant and unreachable, but it is not so: there are many "cheap" Michelin-starred restaurants, which allow you to have a real gastronomic experience at a nice price. The most famous is probably Davide Oldani. Chef Oldani created the so-called POP Kitchen, a way of cooking based mainly on simplicity and primary ingredients. Among the first when it was not fashionable, he rediscovered the products of the Po plain, supported farmers and breeders, elevated the onion to the rank of a queen, thought of cooking as a total project. Not only made of food but people, relationships, design, raw materials.

However, the true essence of Italian cuisine can be found in Trattorie and Osterie. Originally “il Trattore” was the manager of any eating place, while “l’Oste” was the manager of a public drinking place. The Trattoria and Osteria signs exert an irresistible appeal because in our imagination it means eating well at a fair price. The premises that call themselves Trattoria and Osteria have no precise rules governing their activity. Their success is determined by the seriousness and professionalism of those who feel Trattore or Oste “inside”. They offer a cuisine linked to tradition, in some cases adapted, and simple dishes, made with products of the territory. In most of these premises, there is a search for suppliers with which to create a bond: a way to always guarantee fresh and guaranteed raw materials. The management is almost always familiar, with the master cook in the kitchen. Here the typical local dishes are passed on from generation to generation, from grandmother to grandmother, and that still today are a source of inspiration for professional chefs and home cooks.

Pizzerias, the best are the ones with the wood-fired oven. And today we like to try pizzas with new flours, flours of the past, whole grains, more rustic, and with typical ingredients, because we like to innovate but also stay in the groove of tradition. So no to pizza with pineapple or fries, yes to pizza with the tomato “verace” from Pachino (in Sicily), with chickpea flour, with buffalo mozzarella from Campania, with anchovies of the Aeolian Islands (off Sicily).

Finally, in recent years the choice has widened, with more and more space for those cooks who want to present reasoned and creative dishes but with low prices. The bistros, with their informal atmospheres, but also “author's trattorias” and more fluid formats, such as bakeries serving pasta or butchers with a restaurant.

And if you are missing home, don’t worry: for North Americans we still have McDonald's, for Asians I dined with travellers from the Far East in many Asian restaurants and they were suprised at how close the cuisine was to the food they eat every day at home.

There would be no Italian cuisine without Italian ingredients of the highest level, arising from a quality agriculture that has a thousand-year history of marriage with a generous and varied nature. Italian chefs are the best ambassadors of Italian agriculture. They know the territories, the producers and with their daily work they create good but also genuine, natural, clean food. And not only that: fair and respectful to those who produced it, cultivated it, bred it.

So, why is Italian food so good? Because the flavours of the great ingredients, cultivated on a generous land, are distilled by centuries of history, by the knowledge of our grandfathers…. but most of all our grandmothers.

Read 498 times Last modified on Friday, 05 June 2020 08:05
Marcello Cordovani

Marcello Cordovani is the founder and co-owner of VITORITALY. He is also the Tour Manager of the private tour of Italy

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