This post is my general treatise on Italian food. I had been meaning to do it for a while, but an episode last night finally got me going. This is what I had for dinner last night:
In case you do not believe your eyes, that is a pizza with tomato sauce and french fries. This is what happens when you combine language difficulties and pizza.
I went to the pizzeria near my apartment. Most of the time I get the marinara pizza, which has tomato sauce, garlic and oregano and no cheese, because a) I am lactose intolerant b) I love garlic and c) I am cheap, and this is the cheapest pizza. But you can only have so many hundreds of marinara pizzas before you start craving a change. I had seen several times and eaten once a pizza that consisted of the crust, some sliced potatoes and sage or some spice like that, and found it dry but tasty. I walked into Pizzeria San Jacopino. Pretend the following dialogue is in Italian (which it was)
Me: Is there a pizza with potatoes and without cheese?
Girl: Yes, with french fries and tomatoes.
Me: (Thinks to self: french fries!? on a pizza!?! oh crap now i am taking too long and staring blankly, i don't want to look stupid) Sure, I'll take it.
This pizza was not on the menu. There is a chance that she and I invented it spontaneously. I stood by waiting for it to be cooked and as the guy was sprinkling the french fries on the pizza some Italians came in and were like
"What the heck is that?"
Girl: French fries and tomatoes.
Customer A: Wow, crazy! Hey, (friend), check out this crazy pizza with tomatoes and french fries.
Friend: Um. Nice. I'll take the (normal pizza).
By the time I got the pizza I was pretty much cracking up. I took it home and managed to eat about half of it for dinner. And you know what? It wasn't terrible. It pretty much tasted like french fries and ketchup. but I had to eat the other half for lunch, and that pretty much sucked. I mean, everybody loves leftover pizza, but everybody hates leftover fries. The fries were definitely the dominant aspect here.
Now, for food in general. I had terrible nightmares before I came of two months of constant gas and stomach cramps because of the aforementioned lactose intolerance. But, surprise! American Italian food and Italian Italian food are completely different! Most of the pasta doesn't have cheese (especially the cheaper flavors like I tend to get). They provide parmesan but if you put too much on and make yourself sick it is your own damn fault (guilty).
Italian Italian food is much, much lighter than American Italian food. My favorite type of pasta here is known as Carretiera or Arrabiata, spicy tomato sauce. The second word means angry. There's also the Spaghettata, or spaghetti with garlic and olive oil. My teacher Claudia says that's what Italians eat when the cupboard is bare. I love the idea because it's something I can cook for one. Italian pizza comes in one size, which would feed a teenage boy and he'd have room left over for gelato. For me it usually works well as lunch and dinner, except that I have to carry the pizza around for half a day and feel like a big dork. In this part of the country it is very thin and hardly greasy at all, even with pork or cheese. In some restaurants they pour olive oil on the Marinara (cheeseless) pizza, which tastes divine but is a little messier to eat.
The Italians suck at bread. The bread has a really hard crust, like in France and Germany, but is much denser inside and somewhat bitter. Bread experts say it doesn't have enough salt. But the bakery next to this pizzeria has baguettes which are great, not as good as the ones i got in Germany but a good sight better than most of the bread you get here. In the restaurants they will bring you bread but only if you ask for it, and you have to ask again if you want olive oil and vinegar. These are given to you without a plate, so I usually wind up spilling olive oil all over the placemat. The stuff is delicious, even if it is quite messy. The olive oil definitely improves the taste of the bitter bread, and if you are fortunate enough to have commandeered a container of parmesan cheese you can make a great concoction of not-so-awesome bread and delicious cheese and oil.
Sandwiches, though economical, are among the least delicious things to eat in Italy. Most of these are kept in cases all day long and microwaved when you order them. The gross bread doesn't help, of course, but the sandwiches are generally dry with a thin leaf of very sad lettuce, some meat that may be turkey but you can't exactly remember the word, and some cheese. They aren't as bad as I'm making them sound right now, but really, would you eat a plain, sad sandwich when you could have fresh oven-fired pizza made right there? I wouldn't.
The Italians are good at dessert. Tiramisu, if you have room for it, is delicious. I mean, really incredible. And the gelato, of course. If you come to Italy and want to eat gelato, look carefully at the way the gelato is piled in the cases. If it was put in there neatly, it is bad gelato that was made in a factory. If it is piled in rather haphazardly it was made in the back and is delicious. If you are lactose intolerant, do not fret! The fruit gelato has no milk and is perfect for a hot summer day. I wonder if I have time for some before class.
There's always time for gelato.