- -  Day # 191  + +

EU > Italy > Catania

More food talk

Catania, IT (View on map)

Italians can have vivid discussions on just about any subject, and one of the subjects that is most certainly included is food. Villages fight between each other on how to properly prepare this-and-that meal, which herbs to use and how the village next door is doing it all wrong. In a similar matter, even students who live together are likely to argue about the ingredients of the day`s dinner. I already wrote about coffee and pasta, but there is so much more to say about Italian cuisine.. Here`s some more food talk:

Antonio (23)
Elisabeta (24):

..think in terms of ingredients rather than finished meals
Art is big in Italy and it resides in small things. Preparing food and making love compete for the top of the list. Even people who consider themselves `not good at cooking` can list the exact ingredients of their favourite meal. Microwave dishes only rarely make it to an Italian dinner table. Consumption of ketchup is strictly limited to fast food applications and shouldn`t by any means be combined with anything that pretends to be a normal meal.

At markets, do not expect food to be presented or packed in vacuum plastic. If you are afraid to get sick because of what you eat, open air markets are a no-go area. Italy is not a place for banana-pedophiles who prefer to eat bananas before they even mature. The same goes for those obsessed with sterility. Sicilians know the products that come off their land, they trust them and they trust their senses to decide whether something is, already or still, suitable for consumption. Fresh fruit and vegetables don`t come with a `use before` and `sell before` imprint, nor do they have a list of ingredients.

Sicily has a subtropical climate, fertile soil, and scattered land ownership, which makes it the perfect place for people to grow their own crops. Grandfathers and grandmothers take care of their land as long as they can, while younger generations are expected to lend a hand once the harvesting season starts.

Fruit and vegetables that are suitable for selling may make it to one of the many street markets. Olives may be processed into olive oil and grapes into wine. Locally produced olive oil doesn`t often make it to the market, because reasonable market prices would be too low to compensate for the hours of work required for the production. Instead, families use it in their own kitchens, trade them with neighbours or give them away at special occasions.

Meat is also widely available and, as one may expect from an island, so is fish. Through Northern European eyes, a Sicilian fish market is like a zoological exhibition. The fish on display range from small calamari to sword-fish, shrimps, shellfish and a load of species which are hard to define.

Favourite dishes
There are very few exceptions to the rule that the oldest woman alive in the family is the best cook. That maybe explains why Italians keep living at home until they get married. Luciano (27) thinks he`s not a great cook. He relies on his mother or his friends if he wants to eat his favourite Pasta alla Palermitana, the sauce of which contains small fish, raisins, vegetables and bread crumbs. Ilenia (19)`s favourite is her grandmother`s Rabbit with olive sauce, with mixed vegetables as a side dish.

Antonio (23) and Elisabeta (24, both in photo) are a couple but they are not yet living together. They do cook every now and then. Elisabeta`s favourite dish is oven pasta (lasagna) with cheese, or mixed vegetables with pork sausage. Antonio likes to prepare salty quiche with spinach and ham.

Taking time
Italians don`t eat to survive, like the Dutch and the Scandinavians do. They don`t eat to kill themselves, like the English and the Americans do. Italians eat to enjoy themselves, preferably in a comforting social setting. Italians can spend hours shopping for ingredients, cooking their meal and, finally, eating it. Imposing a diet of ready-made individual portions on Italians would not only harm their health, it would also bring about an unwelcome change in their social patterns. Eating involves socialising and socialising involves eating.

Alessia (22) is a student, but that doesn`t keep her from reserving approximately one hour a day for cooking dinner, and another hour for eating it. Her favourite meal is Sicilian lasagna, which contains tomato ragout, ham, egg and mozzarella. Lisa (23) also reserves an hour for cooking. Her preferred dish is Canelonni al Forno, which consists of rolls of pasta filled with minced meat, tomato sauce, b?chamel sauce and egg. Apart from that, she likes about any kind of fish: `I am from the coastal city Pozzallo, so the daily market is full of fresh fish of all different species: lobster, shell fish. When it`s about fish: you name it, Pozzallo has it and we eat it.`

Foreign influences from all around the Mediterranean have made Sicilian cuisine into what it is today. Cynics now fear an inverse evolution, which has started in the North of Italy. European food habits are spreading down to the south, but Sicily is holding strong. Hopefully, their geographic isolation as an island will serve them to maintain special local dishes like meat with chocolate sauce and pasta with sepia ink. Hopefully, they can keep at least a bit of gratefulness to nature for supplying them with so many fresh ingredients, all grown out in the open instead of prepared in a factory.

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