You're Doing It Wrong: "Italian" Restaurants
When I moved to Italy for the first time ten years ago, I learned so much about food. It was like a whole new world revealing itself to me. All of a sudden, I realised that I liked pasta - only because the only way I had ever eaten pasta before was in a mess of overcooked, stuck-together tasteless clumps, as pasta is usually served in Swedish school cafeterias. Turns out you don't pour the sauce from the jar - you make it yourself, garlic and everything. And coffee! The idea of having a cappuccino with lunch now nauseates me a bit - obviously you have coffee after the meal, not with it. Plus, cappuccinos are for breakfast, while espresso is for, well, anytime.
After years of feasting on delicacy after delicacy in the country with the world's best food (sorry France!), I briefly moved back to Sweden and crashed into the reality of what I now call Fake Italian: restaurants that claim to be Italian but have no clue about what Italians actually eat and how they cook it. Now that I am in London, I sometimes order Italian just to laugh (not if I'm really hungry, though).
A few horror stories:
The London restaurant that had "spagetti" on their menu. Which was hand-written on their wall. My die-hard Italian foodie best friend commented that "a true Italian would rather tear down the wall and put it back up again with the correct spelling, spaghetti, than leave it like that".
Linguine allo scoglio in Stockholm (this was before I was vegan) with curry in it.
The central Stockholm café that served lasagne with a side salad...on the same plate.
The horrifying "pizza" at Bella Italia in London (avoid these places like the plague if you want authentic Italian food), which was basically just flat bread with salad on top.
Yesterday's central London restaurant where the waiter was kind enough to inform me that the veggie burger had cheese in it, so I went for the penne arrabbiata. Which, aside from being hideously overcooked, had jalapenos in them. And olives. In the restaurant's defence, they don't claim to be 100% Italian.
Let's clear up a few basics:
Arrabbiata is a traditional Italian sauce cooked with red hot pepper. That's right, in the sauce. Cooked in. What it is not is regular tomato sauce with jalapenos - jala-freaking-penos! - thrown on. It also does not come with olives. And it's spelled with two R:s and two B:s.
Pizza does not have cheese. Pizza has mozzarella. Yes, I'm vegan, but Italian food is Italian food. No cheese (like I always have) is preferable to some random cheddar. In Swedish supermarkets, bags of grated mixed cheese are sold with name "pizza cheese". David almost had a heart attack when he saw that.
NEVER, not even in the most extreme of circumstances, cook pasta for as long as it says on the box. No Italian would go near overcooked pasta. It is pure evil and the pinnacle of all things disgusting.
Please oh please for the love of God do not ever sell, eat or go near pasta in a can (UK supermarkets, I'm looking at you!).
Pepperoni means peppers in Italian. That's right, those big green, red or yellow veggie things. It does not mean spicy salami (which, by the way, is "salame" in singular).
No one in Italy knows what fettuccine Alfredo is, aside from maybe Alfredo himself. And no one ever has pasta with chicken in it. Or pasta with meatballs, even if I have forced David to cook that for me (with great balls of soy mince), only because I find it so darn delicious.
Tomato sauce and ketchup are not the same thing.
And lastly, what on earth is "chicken parmesan"? Boy am I glad to be vegan when this is mentioned.
And a few tips for anyone dining in Italy:
Bruschetta is pronounced "brus-ketta". Not "bru-shetta".
Never order coffee with your food. You drink water or wine with your meal and have an espresso afterwards.
Please don't put brown sauce or mayonnaise on...well, anything.
Don't be surprised when you order Caesar salad and get a question mark face from the waiter. This dish does not exist in Italy. Kind of like ordering spring rolls in actual China.
Panini is plural, as in multiple sandwiches. Panino is singular.
And while we're on it - it's zucchine and linguine. Not zucchini and linguini. As I write this, Google Chrome is correcting "zucchine" to "zucchini". Not cool, Google Chrome. Not cool.
If you order a "latte" in Italy and get served a glass of milk, don't be upset - that is, in fact, what you ordered. Caffé latte is the correct term that will bring you the foamy, frothy caffeine hit you crave.
One word of warning though, because sometimes even Italians mess it up - don't take for granted that your pizza comes with tomato sauce. Always check. There is this EVIL concoction called pizza bianca, "white pizza" that's basically bread, cheese and whatever topping. Obviously this is not pizza and should be avoided at all costs. Make sure there is pomodoro.
The above photo is David's tomato and olive spaghetti - homemade and authentic Italian.