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Italy vs. Britain - Food wars

Luglio 2016
Ecco un’area in cui l’amore degli inglesi per l’Italia non è decisamente corrisposto. Non è tanto il cibo: anche in Inghilterra si trovano ormai tutti i prodotti italiani e i ristoranti etnici sono eccellenti. Si tratta in realtà di cultura alimentare. Qui siamo ancora lontani anni luce...

di Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts
Rachel Roberts

A lot of British expatriates love to complain about life in Italy, particularly when it comes to things like bureaucracy and the school system. I’m sure that many Italians, when they hear us complaining, probably think to themselves: ‘If life is so awful here, why don’t you just go home?’ Of course we couldn’t possibly do that! There are so many things about life in Italy that keep us here, even against our will, and one of those is the food.


It’s not just the Mediterranean diet. You can cook yourself Italian dishes anywhere. The UK is full of Italian restaurants and, boringly, you can buy all the well-known Italian pasta, olive oil and coffee brands in virtually any supermarket. We even have panettone! What we don’t have is Italian food culture.
In spite of the best efforts of chefs like Jamie Oliver, who write about good food and who work to make British eating habits more healthy, for a huge percentage of the population eating is just about putting fuel into the machine.


There is no excuse for this attitude. British TV broadcasts a wide range of cookery programmes, which are very popular. The UK has a multi-ethnic culture, so you can buy many different types of food and try out many excellent restaurants. However, the sad fact is that most people prefer to take some industrial product out of the freezer and heat it up in the microwave. They do this at any time of day – regular mealtimes are becoming a thing of the past – and they often eat their food in front of the television or computer.


Of course there are some people who care about what they eat, but they are the exception and they often call themselves “foodies.” They may even use this term as a kind of excuse to apologise for their unusual “obsession’ with food: ‘We’re having Scottish salmon with broccoli this evening, but, you know us, we’re foodies.’


When British people come to live in Italy, we become instant food snobs. We know we have a bad reputation to shake off and probably we always knew there was more to life than frozen pizza. Very soon we start complaining if the pasta is not cooked “al dente” and, if we stay in Italy for more than five years, we laugh at British and American tourists who drink cappuccino after their evening meal.

look at me!

The best thing of all – the thing that makes us really happy – is going home to the UK and meeting up with old friends. When someone says, “I always buy Italian virgin olive oil,” we can say, “Oh, really? I get mine from a local producer in Tuscany!” Or alternatively, “Cold-pressed taggiasco is my absolute favourite. I buy it whenever I go on a trip to Liguria.”
The fact is that we love to be different, and genuine Italian food gives us so many possibilities to talk about things that most British people have no access to.


Wine is a category all by itself. Most British people are drinkers and Italian wine provides us with marvellous opportunities for “one-upmanship” with our friends. In other words, we can boast about having access to something immensely superior to anything our friends can get their hands on. You can imagine the conversations: “Oh, my God! Is that really a screw-top bottle?” or “Yes, this £60-bottle of Barolo isn’t bad, but I get all mine from a local producer in the Langhe.”


Of course there’s another side to the coin. While the Brits love Italians for their food culture, the feeling is not usually mutual, and with good reason. The thing that seems to worry Italian parents most when they send their kids on school trips to the UK is what the host family will give them to eat. What can I say? A couple of weeks won’t kill them, and they might even be lucky enough to find themselves in a “foodie” family! If you’re travelling to the UK for a holiday, many restaurants serve excellent food and you can try various cuisines from all over the world, especially in the cities. Restaurants can be expensive, however, and you may prefer to try out a gastro-pub, where the food is usually cheaper and, in some cases, of excellent quality.

go home!

In any case, the next time you hear a British person complaining about the absurdity of the Italian tax system, just remind them that they can always go back to a frozen meal for one... if they really want to!

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