You are a real Italian if… (food version)

1. Hai vissuto una “pausa caffè” (You’ve experienced at least one Italian style coffee break)

You learn a lot growing up in Italy; one of them is the integral role of coffee in your life.

Coffee is not merely a tool to keep yourself awake, it’s a lifestyle.

Taking a coffee break is part of adulthood in Italy. You start in the morning, typically at home, with the first espresso, macchiato, cappuccino…and then you continue drinking it during the day. Coffee breaks are an integral part of the Italian social life. I would say the apex is at university. Taking a coffee break is an excuse to stretch your legs during classes, to turn your brain off between study sessions, or to catch up with your friends. At libraries, high schools or universities the coffee machine (distributore automatico) is the main meeting spot.

Even people that prefer to study at home will pass by the library to say “pausa caffè?”

In Italy, we don’t have coffee-to-go. Paper cups are not available. If you are in a coffee shop you sit and drink. As I said, having a coffee is a lifestyle, not a tool.

italian moka coffe

2. La mocca non si lava mai con il sapone (never, ever, use soap to wash your Moka pot)

You are going to find a Moka pot in every Italian house.

Every Italian owns a Moka pot to make coffee at home. It’s part of the definition of an Italian kitchen; the first thing that goes on the stove in the morning and, in a lot of Italian families, also the last!  A friend once said…

“coffee should be the first taste in the morning and the last in the night. That’s the definition of a complete day.”

If you are truly Italian you never, ever, wash the Moka pot with soap! You have to keep the pure flavour of coffee and to do so you shouldn’t wash it with anything but hot water! More “traditional’ Italians never wash the Moka pot. period.. It is believed that the pot is used so frequently and under heat so often, that the the germs are ‘taken care of’.

3. Parliamo di pizza (Let’s talk about pizza)

Talking about Italy, pizza comes in mind. But, if you talk with a real Italian they will tell you that the one you call “pizza” is not really the original one, more the American version of it. To have an original pizza you need the basic ingredients: tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and, of course, the dough. To this, you add just a few fresh ingredients and you have yourself a pizza. A non-Italian pizza would typically contain cheeses that are not mozzarella and are loaded with many different ingredients.

Another thing I learned when I moved from home is that pepperoni pizza means something else in the rest of the world. The Italian word “pepperoni” means bell peppers. When an Italian  orders a pepperoni pizza, he wants a vegetarian pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella and, of course, bell peppers…

4. “Metto su l’acqua” (I am heating up the water)

Italian cuisine is known around the world. It’s rich and it varies from city to city. Still, a good serving of pasta has a special spot in most Italian hearts, especially when it’s “pasta al pomodoro” (tomato sauce pasta). You are a real Italian when you are used to hearing your mum or family member say “ I am putting on the water”. That means today we’re having pasta! Also, you have 15 minutes to be  home, seated at the table, ready to eat. You may still be at your friend’s house, far away from home. How you’re making it home in time is your problem. Italian mums know that when it comes to pasta , anything is possible.

My mum saying “metto su l’acqua” is somehow one of the sweetest memories of my childhood and now I am saying it on the phone to my husband or  close friends, wherever in the world I live.

5. Pasta al pomodoro sarà sempre la pasta al pomodoro (Tomato sauce pasta will always be pasta al pomodoro)

On the same note, Italians may have a lot of different types of food and, of course, pasta sauces…but when an Italian says they are eating pasta without specifying which you can bet it’s going to be pasta with tomato sauce. There is a book called “Il giornalino di Gian Burrasca” written at the beginning of the 20th century, that shows the popular culture of the time. There is an entire chapter about food and how happy a tomato sauce pasta made everyone. Easy to say our taste didn’t change a lot in the last century!

6. Come mangiare gli spaghetti per principianti (how to eat spaghetti for beginners)

My husband and I have had long conversations about how to eat spaghetti…I have specific rules on them and I always thought they were the norm until I found that outside Italy the rules change. I was shocked the first time that he broke the spaghetti in half before cooking them. My exact words were “How am I supposed to eat them now?”. Even more surprising was seeing him using both fork and spoon to roll them.

To prove his point he once bought a pack of “half-length” spaghetti (we were already in Toronto by then, so personally it didn’t count).

 If you are eating Spaghetti, they have to be “full-length”. When eating them, you have to twirl them with a fork at the corner of your plate.-Italian style!

7. Nutella con il cucchiaio (You eat Nutella with a spoon)

The Italian slogan of Nutella is “Che mondo sarebbe senza Nutella?” (What would the world be without Nutella?). This cocoa-hazelnut spread (typically served on bread) is a go-to snack for a lot of elementary kids and Nutella tarts are characteristic of  almost every kid birthday.

Depending on why you are eating Nutella, the how changes.

Pane e Nutella (Nutella spread on bread) is a perfect snack in most places of the world. The difference  is when you need “emotional support”. In that case, you just grab the jar and a (preferably large) spoon, sit cozy on the couch (or even better on your bed) and go for it! I call it “Italian style”. Don’t waste your time with a teaspoon, if you are doing it you have to do it right!

8. La cioccolata calda si mangia con il cucchiaino (you drink your hot chocolate with a teaspoon)

I remember the first time I went to Germany and I ordered a hot chocolate…I don’t even know how to express my disappointment. The waiter served what I would define as “milk with cocoa”…like the one my mum used to make for my breakfast when I didn’t like the taste of milk. It was tasty, yes, but not what I ordered.

If you call it hot chocolate, it has to be hot chocolate.

In Italy, this beverage marks the beginning of the winter season. It means Christmas is around the corner. You go to a cozy coffee shop with friend, family or for a date and you get a “cioccolata calda”. The real “hot chocolate” is a melted chocolate that you savor with a teaspoon, you may even add small marshmallows or smarties that will float due to the drink’s density. One cup makes you feel full and happy about life. I’ve been to many places, and am yet to find a ‘real hot chocolate’ outside of Italy.

9. Pandoro/panettone a Natale e colomba/uovo di cioccolato a Pasqua. (Pandoro/panettone for Christmas, and Easter dove/chocolate egg for Easter )

There are some sweets that are classic to specific festivities. In Italy, you eat Pandoro and Panettone only between Christmas and New Year! Pandoro literally means “golden bread”, it’s a traditional sweet yeast bread originally from Verona. The ingredients are simply: flour, eggs, butter, sugar and yeast but the preparation takes a long time and it’s a difficult dessert bread to make. It is often served dusted with icing sugar that makes it resemble a snowy peak. Panettone is a Milanese, Christmas dessert. Rich with raisins and candied fruits, it may look like a smaller, richer version of the Pandoro, but the taste is completely different.

In the same way, Colomba and Uovo di Pasqua are typical of Easter season. They are displayed in stores a few weeks before, until the day after Easter. After that, they are sold cheaply (to get rid of them). Colomba is the eastern version of the Panettone. The main differences between the two  is that the Colomba usually contains candied peel instead of raisins, it is topped with pearl sugar and almonds before being baked, and, of course, the shape. Colomba means dove in Italian and it is usually shaped like one. Uovo di Pasqua ( Easter egg) is a BIG chocolate egg with a surprise inside! Kids around  Italy wait until Easter to open their eggs! For both the chocolate and the surprises! Yes, plural, because you normally receive an Easter egg from your parents, grandparents, family friends…depending on how lucky you are that year!

What do you think about these  9 points about being Italian? Would you agree? Let’s hear some other suggestions!

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