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Eating Europe - Salads to Pizza to Coffee
Guido Veloce Explains Europe to You - Issue #1


I. Salad Dressings - Here and in Europe

The Atlantic Ocean is a big place. You could get lost in it. Many have.

It's true for food and the words we use to describe what we eat, too. In this day of near instant communication, words, concepts and recipes fly across the world's oceans at lightning speed. But they don't always come back the way you'd expect.

Take something as simple as a salad dressing. In American stores bottles of salad dressing take up several aisles. Most are thick as a milkshake and oddly colored. A great many of them contain sugar. Manufacturers add sugar so that "sugarless" salad dressings can take up yet another aisle--sugar, of course, being an ingredient no reasonable person would put in a salad dressing in the first place.

And usually the translucent thickness of the stuff comes from an additive called something like "guar gum." It's supposed to be natural. Who'd you ever see chewing guar gum?

And then, as if the manufacturers were really afraid to say "we developed this glop in Queens at an abandoned paint factory," they try to pawn the stuff off on some poor country that has no control over the contents by labeling the bottles "French" or "Thousand Island" or "Italian." In a million years you wouldn't see a real French guy squeezing out a quivering ribbon of the phosphorescent red, guar-gum-laced stuff they pass off as "French Salad Dressing" onto his bowl of lettuce. Maybe that's why the French won't join us in the little war we're bound and determined to have. It's the oil.

In Europe, you see, olive oil is king. You want a dressing for a green salad you start with the basics: oil and vinegar. A good dressing requires that both be top quality. Sure, you can make a vinaigrette outta those two ingredients by whipping in a little shallot and maybe some mustard, but the basic foundation of a great salad dressing is oil pressed out of olives with a bit of cultured wine vinegar. That's it.

Such things compliment good lettuce. Better than guar gum, trust me.

II. So How Come I Ordered A Pepperoni Pizza in Italy and didn't get meat? What's up with that?

Here's another funny thing about language. Ever notice how we tend to shorten phrases into words so we don't have to exercise our lips any more than we have to? Remember when we had "cellular phones?" Now we have cells. Who'd ever have thought we'd be happy owning a cell?

Deciding amongst your peers to shorten a phrase into a little word isn't a bad thing. Pretty soon the media starts repeating it and--wham!--the shortened expression becomes part of your culture. But what happens when you use a foreign term and don't tell the original owners of the word that you're intending to mangle it?

Ok, here's the punch line: pepperoni is the Italian word for "pepper." You order a pepperoni pizza in a non-tourist pizzeria and you'll most likely get red bell pepper slices.

Still want that "pepperoni?" Try "salame piccante." That should do it. Hot red peppers are "peperoncini." They make the food picante.

And, by the way, the shortening deal works both ways. Italians call basketball "basket."

III. Speaking of crazy Italian customs, why did that Italian bar guy give me a weird look when I ordered my usual morning latte?

Because latte means milk. You just ordered a milk. Nobody in Italy drinks milk. Maybe you wanted a "cafe latte."

In places where tourists flock they'll be able to translate this for you. But head out to the boondocks and you're liable to be stuck without the cafe part. And ten years ago you woulda spit the milk out upon tasting it.

Why? Because for a long time Italian milk was kept in a plastic bladder that had been irradiated to kill the bugs and other stuff that makes milk go bad. It keeps forever without refrigeration that way, as long as you don't puncture the bladder. But it tasted like crap when you opened it. I don't know why, it just did. Today there's fresh milk in cartons just like in the US.

Funny story; an American acquaintance of mine takes her kids to Italy to visit their Italian grandmother for the first time. Mom's taught them to say in Italian, "I'd like some milk, please." So when they get to grandma's house the kids run up to her, give her a hug, and chant their little Italian phrase in unison. Grandma is baffled, because nobody drinks milk in Italy, but she's game so she pours a couple glasses. The kids gulp it down, turn to face each other, screw up their faces, and blurt out, "YUCK." To this day grandma thinks the word "yuck" means "good" in English--thanks to mom, who took some liberty with the translation.

The Guido Archives
Eating Europe I - Salad Dressing; why you won't get meat on your pepperoni pizza; why you may not even get coffee in your morning "latte."

Eating Europe II - Entrées to Smörgåsbord - Ruminations on the structure of an Italian Meal.

Eating Europe III - Pork Butts and Clams - Odd European food combinations with an excursion into the Italian sport of butt-pinching.

Secrets Behind Cheap and Charming European Hotels - from floors to bathrooms, from electricity to how Europeans write numbers, Guido answers all your questions about Hotels in Europe.

European Place Names - Is Wales England? Guido digs into the meanings behind European place names after a reader asks him to educate travelers on the differences between the United Kingdom and England. Not content just to admonish his readers, Guido goes on to explain the problems with having the word "United" in your nationality.

Safety and Debate in Times of War - Guido takes on the issue of whether or not Europe is safe for tourism as America Girds for war in the Middle East. Europe is not Texas, Guido Argues, and Europeans are likely to think differently than Americans when it comes to such things as war. Talk to them--they'll wanna talk to you.

Shopping in Europe: Buying Cheap Wine - Guido, warned by the editor not to tick people off by debating political issues, discusses how you can get decent wine in Europe without forking over lots of cash.

Shopping in Europe II: Covered and Open Air Food Markets - Get a really fresh meal in Europe cheap by hanging out in the market square on market days. Guido will clue you in on language, market etiquette, and what you can sink your plastic fork into even if you don't have cooking facilities at your hotel or inn.

Bar and Cafe Life in Europe - How are bars different in Europe than in the US? It's not all about getting drunk, or even pleasantly buzzed. Guido gives you the skiny on what you'll find (including ice cream) in a European bar, plus he adds a couple of hints for further enjoyment of the European institution.

Airline Security - How Much Can You Take? - Guido editorializes on the odd state of airline security in light of recent results of the Stupid Security Competition.

Ode to Peasant Food - Haggis and a wee Dram? - Guido likes peasant food for its spiritual properties and the life that's reflected in these loving preparations.

About Guido Veloce - Guido Veloce recently became a full fledged American when he gave up his Alfa Romeo for a Hummer. Concerned that he still couldn't fit in due to a rather sleek and zippy driving style that didn't seem to fit the Hummer or America, he bought a second cell phone to toy around with while he snakes his way blindly through the clogged freeways of our great land, looking for the essence of Americans in their canned and bottled foodstuffs and comparing them to the food of his homeland.

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