Living in Italy makes you aware of how much food plays an integral part in Italians’ lives. Their understanding of food, nutrition, preparation of meals and correct flavours goes way beyond mine. It’s definitely a cultural thing. Many Italians are brought up with this knowledge, even though, in younger generations, it’s slightly disappearing unfortunately. Westernisation of food culture is catching up and this is really regrettable. However, most Italians still have a much more profound knowledge of food than people from other countries.

Below, you’ll find a list of rules that I’ve come across while staying in Italy. I’m well aware that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

1.No fruit on pizza. It’s not a lie. They really hate the idea of a pizza Hawaii and for good reason. It has to do with a combination of flavours that doesn’t work when you are creating a savoury pizza. A pizzaiolo could explain this to you perfectly, and it is avised to leave all kinds of pizza experimentation to the pizzaiolo. The bridge between salty and sweet when it comes to a pizza is ricotta, but certainly not combining ham and junks of pineapple, which is disgusting in the eyes of many an Italian. If you see it on a menu, it’s only there to please tourists and the actual recommendation is to avoid such a place, because the quality of the pizza is likely to be low.

2.The kind of pasta does matter. I still have no clue when to use which pasta. But apparently it is of great importance to understand when you use, for example, spaghetti or when you use penne. They do not necessarily work for every dish. So my tip is, if you are going to prepare a certain kind of pasta dish, check the original recipe online and make sure you use the appropriate pasta suggested in that recipe. Structure of pasta apparently has a great influence on how you experience and enjoy a meal.

3.Salt in sweet. If you are going to bake a cake, make sure you add a touch of salt. This brings out the sweetness, which means that you can use a smaller amount of sugar.

4.Fish and cheese together is a no go. There are exceptions to the rule. There are some traditional Italian recipes that have a combination of fish and dairy, but in general the two should not be combined. Not even served on the same plate.

5.No milk in your coffee after lunch. This has to do with the fact that coffee after lunch is often used to help digestion. Milk supposedly doesn’t improve this and therefore has no function and no place being in your coffee after lunch.

6.Everything on the same plate? – No! When I used to prepare dinner I would often put my protein, vegetables and starches on the same plate or in one bowl and this would be my entire meal. In Italy everything is eaten separately. This has to do with not mixing flavours that do not work well together. That’s why you often eat your vegetables before or after you eat some fish, or you at least eat it from a different plate.

7.Al dente is life. You cook pasta, but also rice, al dente. It means that you have to really take a good look at the cooking time that is indicated by the package. Soggy pasta is no good.

8.Let it cook. A lot of other types of food need to actually cook or stew for a long time in Italian cuisine. Two hours for a tomatosauce is not unreasonable. This makes sense when you predominantly use fresh ingredients. They just take longer to prepare, but they also taste much better.

9.Chop it up in tiny pieces. To help your dish become more homogeneous (which is a word that is not uncommon in the Italian vocabulary) it is important that you chop your vegetables, your potatoes, in tiny pieces, so that the flavours mix easily and you’re not chewing on big chunks of carrots (my flaw) that have not been properly mixed with the rest. It’s all about taste and structure.

10.Garlic and olive oil are more than life. Don’t be shy with garlic. In Italy everybody eats loads of garlic, so don’t worry about the smell. It’s very healthy and it’s very tasty. The same goes for olive oil. Use it in abundance. Also try both raw from time to time.

Obviously these are only a few rules that Italians use in their daily food life. They have many many more. Do take them to heart, even if you’re unsure if some rules really make such a big difference. Italians are perhaps the best cooks in the world. They really know what they’re talking about.
One final suggestion (not a rule) that stays true whatever you prepare and in whatever way you do it; food is best enjoyed in company.

From Italy with love,

Merel