Once you’ve tried some of our food products, which all originate from Calabria in Southern Italy, you’ll undoubtedly know the answer to this question. There is something about the taste of Italian food that speaks to the soul. But where did this concept originate, and is there a reason Italy has been renowned for their delicious dishes for so long?
Obviously our love for Italian food wouldn’t have endured if the flavours hadn’t been masterfully paired, and if each bite didn’t fill more than just our stomachs. But Italian cuisine is also popular around the world due to the simplicity of the ingredients, as well as their affordability. There is furthermore a rich history behind our dedication to Italian cuisine, which started many centuries ago.
Spreading Good Food
Italians have been travelling the globe since ancient times, seeking other lands, conquering nations, and creating new trade routes. The most famous Italian explorer is almost certainly Christopher Columbus, who completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean. This marked the start of widespread European exploration and colonisation of North and South America. But hundreds of years prior to this, the Roman Empire was conquering lands all across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
Essentially, Italians have travelled to many parts of the world throughout their history, and brought with them their knowledge, culture, and food. Every new land these conquerors set foot on, Italian food accompanied them, and they introduced a variety of recipes and culinary ideas to numerous countries.
It’s also important to note that after the fall of the Roman Empire, the country was split into several autonomous regions – Italy was not fully unified until 1871. Each of these areas had their own specialities, regional recipes and cultural traditions, and the competition between regions could be fierce. This led to the development of more recipes, and the refinement of others, resulting in the huge range of Italian dishes we know and love today. Examples of traditional Italian food include:
The humble pizza began as a simple flat bread, served with oil and spices, before tomato sauce was eventually added in Naples. Pizza is easy to make, cheap, as well as filling, and it epitomises Italian cuisine. The classic Margherita even displays the colours of the Italian flag.
There are many different varieties of pizza, and we’d be hard pressed to find a favourite. But there are two main rules to keep in mind when eating Italian pizza – fewer toppings is generally better, and eat what the locals are eating. In regards to the former, less toppings means each one has to be outstanding, and won’t be hiding inferior ingredients. And when it comes to eating like the locals, when in Rome, eat Roman style pizza, and when in Naples, follow the lead of the Neapolitans!
Lasagna was not traditionally made with tomatoes, unlike many of the modern recipes, which are practically swimming in tomato sauce. Generally, the classic recipe involves pasta, ragù, béchamel sauce, and of course cheese.
There are so many examples of great pasta dishes to be found across Italy, from carbonara to spaghetti puttanesca. It may surprise you to learn that polenta used to be the most common accompaniment to a lot of dishes, though pasta is now the staple food of Italy. Pasta itself comes in a huge variety of shapes and forms, not to mention flavors – have you tried saffron infused pasta , or perhaps a bergamot pasta
Focaccia is often associated with Ligurian cuisine, and is believed to be Italy’s most popular type of bread. The name comes from the Latin term ‘panis focacius’, which means a flatbread baked on the hearth. A classic focaccia is typically only topped with a high-quality extra virgin olive oil, but outside of Liguria, it’s often flavoured with things like herbs and garlic too.
As with pasta recipes, there are countless examples of Italian bread you can try, and are strongly encouraged to do so! Overall, the best Italian bread is probably one that has been made locally, and baked fresh that morning.
While most traditional Italian dishes are savoury, the exception is a creamy gelato to have for dessert, or at any other time of the day! Gelato technically translates to ‘ice cream’, but they are not quite the same. Gelato has less butterfat than most ice cream, as well as a higher density. It’s also served at a slightly warmer temperature, which intensifies the flavour, and allows the gelato to melt in the mouth faster.
Artisanal gelato, unlike ice cream, can’t be stored for too long, so the flavours will often depend on what fruit is in season. If you’re unsure where to get the best gelato, it’s a good idea to ask for recommendations from the locals, rather than relying on suggestions from a tourist website. Italians know good gelato when they encounter it!
Popularising Italian Cuisine
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a mass migration of Italians to the United States. They brought with them a number of simple foods, such as pizza and pasta, which became just as popular in America as they were in Italy. Over time, some of the recipes evolved, and Italian-American cuisine has not only become an integral part of America’s culture – pizza in particular – it’s also spread further afield.
Italian food has a long and complex history, and continues to adapt as some recipes are tweaked, while others are influenced by different cultures. What we can all agree on is that Italian cuisine remains some of the most delicious food in the world. Not to mention the fact that it’s simple and inexpensive to make.