Have you ever glimpsed a perplexed expression on your waiter’s face after you tried to order Fettuccine Alfredo in a restaurant in Italy? Or have you ever ordered pasta marinara, expecting a tomato sauce, and instead received a shellfish pasta? And how about trying to get an… Hawaiian Pizza??? The food served in many Italian restaurants in the United States is not quite as Italian as you think. This is where you can get lost in translation.
Since I moved to the U.S. 13 years ago, I have been baffled at what my American friends consider “Italian,” or what, especially among food items, carries an “Italian” label. So many in the U.S. are fond of Italy, and so many Italians have migrated here over the years to look for better fortunes, that parts of the Italian culture are embedded in America’s food culture. But I quickly realized that, for some reason, Italian-American and Italian-Italian foods have surprisingly little in common. Perhaps people who migrated here had to compromise and modify traditional recipes to use locally available ingredients, and perhaps, over time, their own tastes evolved. The result is a surprising new gastronomy that is Italian-inspired, but… does not exist in Italy! So here’s a survival guide, to help you do as the Romans would.