When most people think of Italian food they think of dishes of spaghetti, lasagna, minestrone, and tortellini. This is a very general view of Italian food and if you were to travel to Italy you would be very shocked by the Italian food that they eat. The main reason for this is that there are over nineteen regions in Italy, all serving up their own variation on Italian food. Furthermore, Italian food is very seasonal and depends on the freshest ingredients, so the cuisine in summer will be very different than the winter cuisine.
The Italian food that most Americans are familiar with comes from the northern parts of Italy. This is where the rich dishes full of cheese and heavy on the sauce come from. The meats that are most commonly used here are beef and pork. If you love the Italian food that you can find in America, than the northern region of Italy is the place for you. This food will be most familiar, but it will still offer an exciting change from the Italian food found in the United States. Also, don’t let the stereotypical view of Italian food just being spaghetti and meatballs slow you down. In fact, very few people in Italy actually eat spaghetti and meatballs. The Italian food that is actually found in Italy is much more complex and diverse and will rely on more spices than just garlic.
As you move further south in Italy you will find that the cuisine changes. In the south there is more fish used. Often this brand of Italian food is called Mediterranean food. The dishes here are much lighter and are healthier in general. The people in the southern half of Italy are amongst the healthiest in the world and it is due in great part to the types of Italian food that they eat. One of the reasons this Italian food is so healthy is because they use olive oil to cook most of their food in.
One of the great misconceptions about Italian food is that it uses too many spices in overwhelming quantities. This misconception probably arises out the importation of Italian food to America where it is often cooked by people who have never been to Italy, much less eaten authentic Italian food. While spices are used in Italian food, they are meant to be an accent to the natural flavor of the dish. The fact that Italian food is seasonal makes it less likely to rely on heavy spices since there is a strong fresh flavor about the meats, sauces, and pastas. However, travelers will find that the food in the northern regions of Italy do use a little more spice in their Italian food than the southern regions.
So, when thinking of Italian food it is important to remember that there is no national standard of the cuisine. With nineteen regions there is a vast diversity in dishes. Each region boasts their own unique take on Italian food, showcasing their native crops and livestock. However, all throughout the country travelers will taste that certain something; will feel that comforting familiarity; that makes Italian food one of the most popular cuisines in the world.