There are few types of food as universally popular as Italian food.
Which other cuisine can boast pizza, pasta, ice cream, and many health benefits?
In fact, thanks to its simplicity, Mediterranean flavours, and popularity, Italian food firmly established itself as a global cuisine.
It’s estimated that 14 billion plates of pasta (including fusili, penne, spaghetti, and ravioli) are consumed every year around the world.
Pasta carbonara is thought to be the most commonly cooked dish on the planet. A lot of Italians are probably annoyed by the use of cream in the recipe, though. The original recipe just calls for pasta, bacon or pancetta, parmesan, and eggs.
While pasta can be found almost anywhere in the world, bruschetta, Italian cheeses (parmesan, pecorino, ricotta, etc.), and curied meats like Parma ham and pancetta, are also popular in many places.
Waves of Italian immigrants have also helped spread Italian culinary tradition all over the world.
Over the course of this article, Superprof will be taking your taste buds on a journey from Italy to all the places where Italian cooking ended up and how it ended up changing in its new homes.
Here, you'll see there's more to the cuisine than just pizza and pasta.
Italian Cuisine in North America
Both the United States and Canada are fine examples of Italian influence. Just take New York’s Little Italy, for example.
This lively neighbourhood is as unmissable in the Big Apple as the Statue of Liberty! “Little Italy” is the name of the neighbourhood where most Italian immigrants can be found following two major periods of immigration:
- Between 1860 and 1930 when many Italians left their country to head to America.
- European emigration starting in the 1950s.
For health, economic, and social reasons, Italians left Italy looking for a better life. Fortunately for many, they brought gnocchi, focaccia, Parma ham, and authentic Italian style cooking with them, giving rise to these famous neighbourhoods.
While the neighbourhood in Manhattan is no longer home to only Italians, but rather Italian Americans and other nationalities, you can still find plenty of Italian American restaurants and businesses offering fresh pasta and other dishes just like they would in Italy.
You can get pesto (a sauce made from pine nuts and basil), mascarpone, gorgonzola, and other ingredients to make Italian dishes at home from Italian delis.
The Feast of San Gennaro is still celebrated in the Italian neighbourhood. This street festival, which lasts 11 days, pays homage to Italian food and traditions. You can even take part in a pasta-eating contest!
Other Italian neighbourhoods of note in the US and Canada include:
- The Hill in Saint Louis, where you can find plenty of Italian restaurants and delis.
- Little Italy in Cleveland, which has Italian art galleries as well as traditional Italian trattorias.
- Federal Hill in Providence, home to many pizzerias and Italian ice cream parlours.
- Petite Italie in Montréal, with plenty of Italian cafés and trattorias.
- Little Italy in Toronto, a small neighbourhood that lives and breathes its Italian heritage.
The food and restaurants in North America have been greatly influenced by Italian food. There’s no lack of pizza, pasta, or risotto.
Italian Cuisine in South America
In Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, you can find the largest group of Italian descendants in the world.
In fact, Argentinian food was largely influenced by Italy: pizza and pasta can be found on the menu at most classic Argentine restaurants.
Veal Milanese, an Italian recipe where the veal is breaded with parmesan, flour, and breadcrumbs, has become a typical Argentine dish.
On the 29th of each month, Argentines eat gnocchi. This is because it's just before payday and many Argentine families would only have the ingredients for gnocchi in their cupboards. Polenta is also regularly cooked by families in Argentina. Unlike in North America, there’s no Little Italy in Buenos Aires but rather an Italian influence that can be found all over the town. In fact, during the largest waves of Italian immigration, nearly half the population (45%) of Buenos Aires was Italian and nearly two thirds (63%) of Argentines are descended from Italians.
The Italian influence isn’t as strong in other South American countries. That said, you can still find the veal Milanese on menus in Bolivia, Chile, and Peru.
While they might add a tomato sauce, the basic ingredients are all there.
Italian Cuisine in Europe
According to a Tripadvisor survey, Italian food is the most popular in Europe. Italian food is most common in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and Germany.
This can be explained by the presence of Italian immigrants in these countries during the 20th century. Whether you’re in London, Paris, Brussels, or Berlin, you can easily:
- Eat in an Italian restaurant or trattoria
- Buy Italian products in Italian delis
- Get Italian cooking classes from Italian chefs
Opening the borders across Europe has allowed for Italians to move about more easily, bringing their cooking traditions with them.
The number of restaurants offering the antipasti, primi piatti, secondi piatti formula is increasing.
In Italy, there are two main courses! Don’t forget there’s also limoncello for afterwards. An “aperitivo” isn’t all. The Venetian “Spritz” cocktail was everywhere during the summer of 2016.
When it comes to alcohol, the Italians have prosecco, the sparkling white wine similar to champagne.
Did you know that Italy is one of the world’s biggest wine producers?
While Italian restaurants around the world didn’t always follow their culinary tradition to the letter, in recent years, this has started becoming the case again.
More and more Italian chefs are promoting traditional Italian recipes straight from Italy. Spaghetti bolognese is no longer just pasta with tomato sauce, but rather with minced beef or meatballs as it should be. Delicious!
There are plenty of Italian chefs who’ve moved to the UK and are showing us Brits exactly how their food should be. Try a genuine Italian pizza and taste the difference!
Why Is Italian Food so Universal?
Italian food is often thought of as being the most popular in the world. You don’t need to look very hard to understand why. Just ask your taste buds.
Simple and natural ingredients are used and there's a culture of eating homemade food. Olive oil, cheese, and charcuterie (cured meats like Parma ham and prosciutto) is used for both starters and mains and are both delicious and easy to cook.
Basil, garlic, cherry tomatoes, capers, and mushrooms are also used in Italian recipes from traditional pasta dishes to the Neapolitan pizza. Italian food is also famous for how healthy it is.
There are plenty of products with protected designations of origin in Italy: Balsamic vinegar from Modena, Sicilian blood orange, cheeses like Gorgonzola, Gran Padano, and, Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, and meats like Mortadella and Pancetta. This means that if these products aren't from Italy, they're not the real deal!
There’s a stark difference between a generic mozzarella and Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, isn’t there?
More proof that Italian food is popular around the world is the Italian cuisine week that took place across 105 different countries during its first year in 2016. There were gatherings in the UK, US, France, and many other countries celebrating Italian food.
Its goals were to:
- Spread the traditions of Italian cuisine
- Promote Italian cooking methods
- Promote collaboration between Italy and other countries
Ambassadors, Italian chefs abroad, and even school pupils worked towards spreading Italian culture to everyone.
Given that an Italian-food-themed park opened in 2017, it doesn’t look like Italian food’s popularity is going to dwindle any time soon. With restaurants, delis, and vendors, you can discover how Italian products are made and, more importantly, try them!
If you want to eat traditional Italian dishes, try a selection of cheese, or try out some wine tasting, this place is like Disney World for foodies and those who don't like roller coasters.
If you can't make your way to Bologna, whether you fancy a lasagna, seafood, or a vegetarian option (roasted stuffed vegetables, for example), there's something on an Italian menu for everyone!
Once you've finished your meal, why not try a tiramisu or panna cotta? Italian desserts are outrageously good!
While Italian restaurants are great, Italian food is best served at home and you should try cooking it for yourself. If you can't cook, you can always get Italian cooking tutorials from a private tutor.