Riccardo is from Verona, a lovely city in the North-East of Italy. He has lived in the Netherlands for a few years now, but is still really devoted to his country of birth. When we ask him what he loves most about Italy, he answers poetically: “Italy is definitely one of those countries with the most different landscapes. From seaside to mountains, you can find whatever you prefer. Italy is a puzzle with a lot of different pieces!” We asked him about the Italian eating and cooking habits, and how these differ from those in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, no cooking tips this time. Riccardo destroyed our illusion that all Italians can cook. He is the living example that we should not expect to get the cool stereotypical Italian dinner from everyone. However, he could tell us everything about the Italian eating culture and explains how the complicated Italian menu works.
The Italian food culture is rooted in a long-lasting tradition that is passed along from generation to generation. Usually, every typical dish has a story that tells how the dish has been created out of some circumstances, Riccardo explains. He thinks that this is because of the foundation of the concept ‘food’."In Italy, food is not just about the food itself, but about the entire experience." However, the eating culture differs between different regions in Italy. Riccardo told us that “every region and even every city is different and so are the typical dishes. I am sure It would take ages to try out all the typical dishes that we have in the whole country. It is amazing to see how tastes and ingredients change depending on the region, type of climate, culture and habits.”
"In Italy, food is not just about the food itself, but about the entire experience."
We asked Riccardo about the differences between the eating habits in the Netherlands compared to Italy. He mentioned the three differences that are most striking to him. First, there is the timing. Similar to other southern European countries, the overall schedule of the two main meals is shifted later in the day, having lunch at 13:00 and dinner at 20:00. However, this varies between North and South Italy, as Southern Italian people usually eat at even later times. Furthermore, obviously, the type of food is completely different. When we asked Riccardo if there is something of the Dutch cuisine Italians can learn from, he replies, laughing: “Here we are touching my sense of Italian pride! Let’s say that there is always something to learn from everyone, so I would say yes. At the same time, I haven’t tried that much of the Dutch cuisine, so who knows!” The last difference he noticed while living in the Netherlands is the fact that Dutch people often eat salty food for breakfast, whereas this habit is almost nonexistent in Italy. Sweet breakfast is definitely the status quo.
We have both been to Italy several times. During these holidays we really enjoy the delicious food (and wine!) there. But one thing we are always confused about is the Italian menu. The Italian menus always consist of many different categories: primi, secondi, antipasti, etc. But how does this work? Do you eat all courses during one dinner? Do you eat them at the same time? Is it supposed to be shared? We are completely lost, so asked Riccardo to explain it (thank us later!). He explains that the different categories allow you to better adapt your meal depending on how hungry you are and what type of dishes you want to try.
Antipasti: the so-called “starters”. These are relatively small portions that should “prepare” you to complete the meal with an additional course (either a “Primo” or “Secondo”)
Primi: these are usually carbohydrates-based dishes (pasta, pasticcio, lasagna, tortellini. etc.). So, you will never see a fish or a steak as “Primi”.
Secondi: these are usually protein-based dishes: meat, seafood and others cooked in every possible form.
Contorni: these are “veggies” that can be cooked or not. Usually, this refers to all types of veggies that are served with the “Secondi”. In an Italian restaurant you will see that they will propose you “Contorni” alongside “Secondi”.
Riccardo tells us that Italians do not always eat all the courses. Mostly, you find combinations (Antipasto and Primo, Antipasto and Secondo or Primo and Secondo). When you go to the restaurants you might eat the three of them, if you are hungry, but at home the combination would be Primo and Secondo.
Finally, Riccardo gave a tip for a typical recipe from his hometown. It is called “ Peara’, a sauce made of bread, pepper, soup, oil and salt. It is very traditional, and is consumed only in Verona. Usually, it is eaten together with steamed meat and “cotechino”, a sort of cooked salami. “Beside the taste, I love this meal because it is very typical of my city and it is conceived as one of the most traditional and characteristic dishes in Verona!”