Not a lot of things make me sick, I am proud to be one of those guys who never puked after an intoxicating night out in uni. Funnily enough I puked once when I got my results for my third-year pharmacy practice exam, you can guess it wasn’t out of happiness. But if there is one thing that sickens me to my very core, it’s fake Italian food. An effective torture method for Italians. The food that poorly imitates Italian cuisine just like a “knock off-brand”. Selling it at an underwhelming quality and confusing the public perception to what real Italian food really is.
The best part of watching scooby-doo as a kid was the hope of one day tasting a scooby snack (don’t judge me). If you didn’t have a childhood, the cartoon show has you playing the “who done it? game” with the monster costume-wearing person creating havoc to whatever place the mystery team was in. The ending of the episode would always reveal to you who the scary monster was. I hope at the ending of this article I can reveal the scary monster.
Whenever I am invited to eat at a knock-off Italian restaurants I observe a lot, from the outside decor to what people order from the menu. I observe because it helps me understand why a sane person would come here. I also take note of what my fellow peers consider “good food” when they order. Understanding the difference between “good food” and “food”, is like being able to distinguish between “music” and “noise”.
Anyways, back to the experience at one of these restaurants, as they all have a similar feel so let’s set the scene. You arrive at the establishment and from the outside, you see some curved olive trees that have been punished by the English wind. You look up at the logo to make sure that you are in the right place, and you read the name with the cheeky Italian word “Bella” “Vapiano” ”Prezzo” ”Azzuro” ”Strada”. You try to remain composed knowing what you’re about to endure. You walk in and hear Italian words flying through the air between the waiters and cooks from Italy, so you relax slightly. However, you try listening to the tables around you and you don’t hear nor see any Italians, confirming that no Italian could walk in here without getting paid except for me. You sit down and look at the menu that is littered with Italian words “Antipasti” ,” Primo” and ”Dolce”. You start from the top and work your way down and by the end of it, you need eye bleach. To the ordinary eye, the menu is “Italian” because of garlic bread, pasta and pizza dishes with convincing Italian names “Rustica”, “Sofia”, “Daniele” and then you go to the dessert menu which always includes tiramisu.
It’s always a fucking Tiramisu!! And the best part is they serve it in a cup, it’s not jelly bro. Italy has such a diverse range of desserts and these restaurants paint this picture that Italians only eat tiramisu and gelato. All you have to do is go visit a Sicilian bakery and the choices available for your sweet tooth will leave you rolling out of the bakery with a hyperglycemic attack.
You see, what makes my blood boil is how these restaurants paint this illusion of “Italianess” to the general public who then accept it as the standard of Italian food. This misinterpretation taints the reputation of one of the best cuisines in the world.
So how does one know that the restaurant is serving real Italian food? The details are on the menu. So use this to your advantage when you’re window fooding and can’t decide whether the restaurant is worthy:
- No chicken on pasta/pizza.
- No cream or onions in Carbonara! If they use Guanciale as their meat that’s amazing but I doubt it, so expect to see Pancetta/bacon.
- No cheese and seafood combination dishes. That goes with also not adding Parmigiano to your spaghetti Alle Vongole.
- No garlic bread, doughballs or spaghetti with meatballs or Alfredo sauce. These are all American dishes.
- The Margherita has tomato, Mozzarella (the original recipe has Fior di Latte, so bonus points if the restaurants use it), basil and maybe some olive oil. Nothing else!!! No oregano or “Italian seasoning”.
- Cacio e Pepe: is just Pecorino Romano, a tiny bit of Parmigiano and black pepper.
- Parmesan cheese and Mozzarella cheese! I see people make this mistake when shopping. Parmesan cheese (fake) is not the same as Parmigiano. Mozzarella cheese (fake)is different from mozzarella. Next time you go shopping, look out for it yourself. Therefore, look out for this on the menu.
- Food is regional in Italy, so if you are ever travelling there expect certain foods to taste better or different eg. pizza in Napoli is different from pizza in Rome. Each region has its speciality, so do your research beforehand to have the best possible experience.
We’ve covered the menu, now let’s cover etiquette:
- Avoid the use of extra toppings and other garbage eg. asking for ketchup, mayo, chilli flakes for your pizza/pasta. Enjoy the flavours as it is. It’s like taking a fine-tuned Ferrari and putting a muffler on it. Yes, its a Ferrari but it won’t sound the same nor give you the same experience.
- Don’t bother adding salt/pepper to your dish.
- No bread should be eaten with your pasta. Unless you have leftover sauce and this is where you can fare la Scarpetta which means “make the little shoe” referring to the bread that will have the responsibility to soak up all that sauce.
- The knife is not needed when eating spaghetti nor should it be used to cut it up.
At the moment I don’t know how we can solve this problem, how to solve the “let’s eat Italian, let’s go to Vapianos” problem. It’s not Italian, it’s just a place that offers pasta and pizza, but other than those words it’s far from being anything Italian. So please be careful out there.