This moreish history
of the pleasures and failings of La Cucina Italiana follows a millenia
of political, social and religious events that led Italian
edibles to international fame.
History of the Italians and Their Food
by John Dickie
British historian John Dickie effectively debunks the myth that Italian
cuisine originated among peasants in rural villages during the Middle Ages.
|"Saint Bernard's sauce - hunger -
was the most important ingredient in the peasant diet for most of the
last millennium. Happily the recipe has now faded from memory," he
It was in the urban areas
of Italy, with their wealth and extensive food markets, that Italian
cusine came into fruition.
food is city food. Italy has the richest tradition of urban living on
Italian food is closely related
to its place of origin, according to Dickie, and Italians derive much
of their identity from the foods they eat. The act of eating secures
the bond of person to place.
Each chapter of Delizia!
is a self contained story situated in a single city at a specific time:
Palermo, 1154; Venice, 1300s; Ferrara, 1529; Bologna, 1600s; Florence,
1891; Genoa, 1884-1918; Rome, 1954; Turin, 2006. Arranged
chronologically, the chapters relate the history of Italy through its
foods from the Middle Ages to the present day.
"What urban Italians have done
again and again over the past thousand years is use food to create
identities for themselves," Dickie points out.
|While the larger story of Italy's
culinary history is at the heart of this book, it is the little stories
about specific foods like pesto and mortadella and pasta and spaghetti
and pizza that are the most revealing, and the comparisons of Italy's
palate to the eating habits of other countries are deliciously entertaining.
From the Italian point of view,
the American diet is "a cornucopia of horrors," according to Dickie.
"The gastronomic clash begins over breakfast. In the morning, the
Italians gently coax their metabolism into activity with coffee and a
delicate pastry. The very notion of frying anything so early in the day
is enough to make stomachs turn. So the classic American breakfast is
an outrage; among its most nauseating features are sausage patties and
those mattresslike omelets into which the entire content of a
refrigerator have been emptied. Grits defy belief. And anyone in Italy
who tried serving a steak before the early afternoon would be disowned
by their family."
Complex, well-cooked and appropriately spiced, this is a satisfying
read for anyone interested in food history, Italians or gourmet cuisine.
Italy has become the model to imitate when
it comes to making ingredients, cooking them, and eating them together.
Some people believe that our health, environment, and quality of life
may depend on whether we can learn some of the food lessons that Italy
has to offer.
This book is a history of Italy's
civilization of the table, rather than just of what Italians put on