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A Brief History of Italian Food

A Brief History of Italian Food

Everyone loves Italian food. Pizza, pasta, ice cream, cheese and coffee have all made a huge impact on “worldwide” cooking, and if you’re not a fan of any of these delicious products, then your life might not be worth living. Get out there and try some new things! However, Italian food wasn’t always the recognisable selection we know and love today.


Although by the end of the Roman period Italian food had become complex and varied, food in Italy started off pretty simple. However, Italy was not the unified boot-shaped country we know today. It was a load of different regions, with different cultures and dishes. Sicilians, for instance, had a reputation for making the best cheese. Other parts of the Roman Empire such as Greece and Gaul (modern day France) also produced different products, which were imported into Rome itself.


Even after the Roman Empire fell, Sicilian food was still very strong. Invaders came to Italy at various points throughout its history, and that’s why today you have dishes like risotto, the rice for which would not have entered Italian cuisine without the Arabic invasion. At the opposite end of the country, cooking has been influenced by German and Austrian settlers.


Italian food is recognised for its heavy use of tomatoes, but did you know tomatoes didn’t come to Italy until the end of the 1700s? That’s crazy! Good job they were introduced, too – we wouldn’t have nearly so many great Italian food options!


There are lots of reasons why food in Italy differs so much, depending on where you go. Although you can find famous pizza and pasta dishes anywhere, if you go off the beaten track a little, you’ll find that food varies enormously. Parts of Italy didn’t actually used to be Italian at all, particularly in the Dolomites and South Tyrol regions. These people were actually Austrian up until the end of the First World War, so if you’re wondering why everybody seems to speak German up there, that’s why.


I’ll take this opportunity to mention that spaghetti Bolognese is not an Italian dish – you can have Bolognese sauce, but it’s not usually served with spaghetti-shaped pasta. It’s usually served with tagliatelle pasta, or in a lasagne. So if you’re wondering why you can’t find it on the menus, that’s why! Tagliatelle ragu is essentially the same thing though, so not to worry. The pasta is just a little thicker. Spaghetti bolognese wasn’t actually invented in Italy.


The reason Italian food has become so popular is partly due to the mass immigration of Italians into North America, the UK and other parts of Europe. Because there wasn’t much money in the South of Italy (even though the best food was there), many people moved abroad in hopes of a better life. They brought with them delicious food like pizza, pasta, and ice cream. Once they realised it was becoming popular, thousands of Italian restaurants sprung up around the world. Americans, Greeks, and even Brits have made their own take on classic Italian food, but you’ll really be missing out if you don’t eat traditional Italian food at least once in your life. Wow, all this talk of incredible food is making me hungry! Be right back, off to buy an Italian recipe book.


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