Are we obsessed with Italian food?

The Brits love their Italian food. Italian restaurant chains are booming in the north and appear to be recession proof with more opening up each day. As Berlusconi keeps telling us, the restaurants are always full. So much so that Manchester has given the acronym YAFI (Yet Another Fucking Italian) to the phenomenon.

But is it real? Is it authentic? I hear you cry. Perhaps you don’t care as long as it tastes nice. Nice? What do you know thicky northern-European pleb? Call that Italian food? Pasta laden with more sauce than pasta? Pizza heavy with seven unrelated toppings? Supposedly simple dishes recreated beyond recognition with a ‘bit of everything does you good’ approach to ingredients.  To be fair we were raised on tinned spaghetti (delicious with toast and grated cheddar cheese) so we’ve come a long way. 

I’m conscious that my dad hates foodie nonsense and thinks that it’s all a load of rubbish, but I admit it. I LOVE books/blogs/recipe books/food critics anything that gives me rules, even diktats about what real Italian food is and how I wouldn’t recognise it without their superior advice and approval. Is it our insecurity about our own food culture that causes us to cling desperately to one that seems to offer such certainly, such colour, such sophistication?  Its success in restaurants stems from the fact that it is “cheap, cheerful and difficult to get wrong.” But judging by the criticisms, the opposite seems to be true. The love-affair that started with Elizabeth David and was followed by the River Cafe, Jamie, Nigella and the rest has ingrained in us a love of Italian food, if not the ability to uphold its rules and traditions. 

Today’s very authentic lunch in Rome (although Sicilian) Pasta con Sarde. 

 Italians visiting the UK complain that food in Italian restaurants doesn’t taste of home. But of course it doesn’t. Doesn’t every country adapt and improvise? I did a very scientific survey and asked my friends about their favourite Italian meals: donner meat and meatball pizzas were the best offerings so far. (So hope that’s true) Anything better would be wasted on us in the north as this video shows.

As for the red-checked table clothed sign of authenticity, in Rome it’s not a myth. They do exist. However, I’ve yet to see a huge pepper grinder …

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