When I first moved back to the US from Italy over 20 years ago, it's no surprise I missed a lot of things about eating and drinking there. It reminded me of when my sis first moved to Italy in the mid-1980's; she'd always ask guests visiting from America to bring her peanut butter because she couldn't find it anywhere. And believe me, she tried!
Today you can find almost any Italian food item in the States. There are a couple of terrific Italian alimentari here in Minneapolis, and - in the rare instance I can't find something there - I can always rely on the Internet.
Really what I miss most about Italy are the traditions related to eating and drinking. Like the way Italians rarely eat a whole piece of bread, they just use a chunk to do a good old-fashioned "scarpetta," that is, to wipe the plate and enjoy every last bit of the sauce!
And how they eat salad after the pasta, never before. Or how cappuccino is only drunk in the morning, no milky coffee after 11am! I remember ordering an afternoon cappuccino, and the barista looked at me like I was crazy. I love all those rituals I learned and embraced, and they have since become a part of how I eat and drink today.
In the picture above my son and I are eating Taralli, what I would consider the Italian version of a potato chip. Taralli come from Puglia, a region in the "heel" of Italy, and are often served in bars making the perfect crunchy and savory snack to drink with an aperitivo. Some are flavored with fennel seed or black pepper, but my fave is the classic: made with flour, high-quality olive oil and lots of salt. My son loves them too. He's always happy when I toss a few in with his school lunch!
During one of my first nights out for pizza in Italy, we went to my soon-to-be favorite pizzeria overlooking Lake Como. They had a bottle of olive oil filled with hot red peppers on the table. When our food arrived, my sister drizzled the oil all over her pizza, so I of course did the same!
Red pepperoncini are grown throughout Southern Italy, and Italians use "olio di pepperoncino" to spice up pizza, but they will drizzle it on just about any type of pasta too. I always have a homemade bottle of this southern Italian condiment around, so my hubby an I can spice up any dish we like!
Hands down, one of the things I miss most about Italy is the coffee. For the taste, of course, but also for the rituals Italians have around their beloved drink. The smell of coffee drifting from every bar in the morning is one I'll never forget. Italians love their first morning shot of espresso while they greet friends before hustling off to work. If they run into a friend in the street, they always finish the conversation standing at the bar, sipping a coffee. When my sis and I would get our hair cut, we were always offered a coffee, with the assistants running to the bar next door to get it! And of course no Italian meal is complete without "un café per favor"!
The iconic Moka Pot is a must in Italian kitchens, and the same is true for mine. It's certainly not the same as enjoying my favorite caffè macchiato with my sis, but it sure is fun to think of all those we did share with every pour.
Italians love their food and they love their families, and I'm grateful my sister and I were able to experience those mutual loves while living in Italy and have them now be a part of our own lives today.