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