Are you looking to discover real Italian food? Some dishes, while considered Italian in North America, aren’t authentic Italian cuisine!. Not surprisingly, this can come as a shock for those visiting Italy for the first time.
To accommodate requests from travelers from overseas, some restaurants started serving these North American Specialties. Be aware! If you find a restaurant that serves these dishes, or even worse if they have photos on the menu, stay away, it’s likely a tourist trap!
Italian Immigrants invented North American Italian at the beginning of the 20th century. When the Italian Immigrants moved to the new continent, they tried to use the local ingredients to replicate the kind of food they were used to eat back home. Over time the original recipes were modified to the point that did not resemble the authentic dish.
Warning: The Following is Not Real Italian Food!
let’s start with the pasta noodles
In Italy, Pasta noodles are cooked “al dente” meaning “to the tooth” or slightly undercooked. This is the first main difference.
Secondly, Italians cook the noodles in heavily salted water, giving the pasta itself a nice seasoning. In North America, and in most cases in the rest of the world, noodles are cooked in very bland water resulting in flavorless pasta.
lastly, Italians toss their pasta in the sauce before serving it. They will never serve plain pasta with a big dollop of sauce on top.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
Spaghetti and Meatballs are probably the most chocking as they do not exist in Italy. Moreover, it was invented in the US by Italian immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century. Every area of Italy has a meatball dish, but no one serves the meatballs with pasta.
Sorry guys! Fettuccine Alfredo is not real Italian Food! You see, a Roman Chef, Alfredo, in New York City, invented this dish in the 1950s. While in Italy, the closest you will find is a Quattro formaggi (4 cheese) sauce. If you ask for Alfredo sauce, outside the tourist destinations, you will not be able to find it.
“Italian Dressing” is another thing that you won’t find anywhere in Italy. In Italy, the most common, and probably the only dressing for a salad, is olive oil, vinegar, and salt. That’s it. The vinegar might be Balsamic in the north and just plain wine vinegar everywhere else.
The Sicilian Eggplant Parmigiana dish is probably the closest cousin. The chicken version you won’t find it in Italy. You won’t find pretty much anything in Italy drowned in tomato sauce, especially pasta. When the sauce gets added, it is usually a tiny amount.
There are, however, versions of breaded meat served with cheese or ham and cheese on top. To be sure, it is called Valdostana and is usually found in the Alpine region of Valle D’Aosta.
The closest you can find is the Tuscan style bruschetta that is dry bread rubbed with raw garlic, salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. Moreover, in Italy, it’s not common to eat pasta with bread. Instead, bread might be used to soak up the remaining sauce. Also, Italians usually don’t have butter for bread on the table! And believe it or not, they don’t have oil and balsamic for dipping, either!
On the same topic, believe it or not, garlic is not such a predominant ingredient in Italy. As an ingredient, garlic is present in most Italian dishes but a minimal amount.
Pasta is not a side dish, EVER!
You’ll never see, in Italy, pasta as a side dish. Pasta is the first course of a meal (“Primo” in Italian), and you’ll never see it served with something else. Italians will never put anything else on the same plate with pasta. Above all, you will never have pasta, in Italy, served with salad on the same plate. This because the salad dressing would mix with the pasta sauce, making it a big NO-NO in Italy!
If you ask for a latte in Italy, you will get a glass of milk! Latte in Italian means milk. The drink you get in North America is a Latte Macchiato: a glass of steamed milk and a shot of espresso.
On the same topic, Italian cappuccino is a breakfast item. Indeed, no real Italian will ask for one after lunch or dinner! It simply doesn’t exist. You can get away with ordering one after lunch if you are a tourist, but expect to get some strange looks!
Speaking of breakfast, unless you’re staying in a hotel that caters to international travelers, you won’t find eggs in the morning. Typical Italian breakfast is simple, usually cappuccino, with a simple pastry or cookies. Or, in some cases, a little sandwich.
Spaghetti Bolognese sauce is not a tomato sauce with ground beef in it. Instead, Bolognese is a complex sauce, cooked over low heat for a long time, with almost no tomatoes. Bologna is the original birthplace of Bolognese sauce (Click here for the official recipe). Also, it never gets served with spaghetti! To be sure, Italians serve authentic bolognese with tagliatelle pasta.
Other dishes might exist in Italy, but they are usually much different from their American counterparts. For example, they are often much simpler without a ton of cheese or sauces.
What is Authentic Italian Cuisine, Anyway?
Authentic Italian cuisine is very regional and localized. For example, a dish you find in one city might not exist just 50km away. For example, the authentic Pasta Carbonara recipe is from Rome! And, Tiramisu is from Veneto. To be sure, the food is based on climate, location, history, etc. So, when you visit an area in Italy, be sure to ask about the local specialty. Indeed, once you discover the local Italian cuisine and try it, I think you’ll be blown away!
Real Italian food is also very seasonal. For example, authentic Italian cuisine is made from ingredients that get harvested at their peak, and during a particular time of the year. Finally, creamy, heavier food usually gets served in winter, while light and cold meals are served in the summer.
Above all, another fundamental characteristic of authentic Italian cuisine is its simplicity. To be sure, the lesser, the better. Italians let the star ingredient shine. It’s quite interesting to see how different North American Italian food is. For example, in its American counterpart, Italian cuisine has an incredible amount of ingredients.
I hope these few notes inspired you to discover authentic Italian food. Look for an authentic restaurant. Ask the locals where they eat and what’s best in a particular area you are visiting. Finally, I invite you to try authentic Italian cuisine, and I’m confident you’ll be hooked for life.
PS Pizza deserves a post on its own 😃 👍🏻
Images by Rita, Markéta Machová from Pixabay
Andrea was born and raised in Northern Italy. At the age of 30, he moved to Vancouver Canada. Over the years he traveled extensively in North America, Europe, Central America, and Asia. He is passionate about traveling, cruising, and travel photography. He likes to write about his traveling and shows his travel photos.