Wednesday, February 11, 2004

A English friend of mine, who has been here for four years, said to me recently that: “They say they love football, but they don’t. They love the azzurri, they love watching the national team play, and some of them love their local team. But they don’t love football; they don’t love football for football’s sake. As soon as Italy are knocked out of a major tournament, everybody stops watching”. And I’ve been wondering if a similar mentality exists with the food: they don’t love food per se, but instead love eating, be it in a restaurant or at mamma’s place.

They are not a nation of cooks; most of my Italian friends say they don’t enjoy cooking. This came as a shock to me, as I can’t imagine being happier than spending Saturday afternoon preparing a big meal for friends whilst listening to the cricket. Mind you, they don’t have cricket here, so perhaps that’s the crucial missing ingredient.

And, indeed, many of them don’t know how to cook, particularly the men, the result of spending all their life under the family roof until they marry, at which point their wife takes control of the kitchen. (If there’s one thing that continues to shock the British contingent here, including those that have been here for years, it’s just how common the above scenario really is.) And neither do they have desire or curiousity to learn; leave it to the experts, they say. And, it should be said, there may be some wisdom in that attitude.

However, get them talking about food and they’re away. Last week, five minutes before the end of the lesson, I mentioned my pasta conversation from the previous day to my Italian teacher. We were still there 45 minutes later, so maybe I’ve found a cunning way of getting more lesson for my money.

However they always talk about restaurant food, not their own cooking. When they discuss individual recipes, they talk about “..some of this, a bit of that...” and not about techniques; not about cooking.

The difference between loving food, loving eating and loving cooking is, at least in part, one of semantics. But don’t be fooled into thinking that by inviting an Italian into your house you automatically have a good cook around. You may, but equally so you may not. What you will have, however, is someone who knows good food, and who probably wouldn’t be afraid to tell you so.

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