Thursday, October 21, 2010

The non-Italian on an Italian Diet

Here's the typical curve that non-Italians follow when they spend more than a week in Italy:

We start flying high...
1. Italian food is AMAZING, give me more pasta!
2. OMG it's sooo much better here than they make it at home!
3. I could LITERALLY eat pasta and pizza every day for the rest of my life!!

...technical difficulties...
4. Why do I feel myself wanting nachos? I'm in Italy for godssake the food here is DOPE.
5. OK, I mean one night of non-Italian food wouldn't hurt anyone. There's got to be some places that serve a good chicken salad.
6. Oh, there's basically nothing other than Italian food? Oh... that's ok... I'm in Italy after all, I should just enjoy it while I'm here.


I love a good amatriciana as much as anyone, yet those of us that have stayed here for an extended period of time know that, all stereotypes aside, the Italian diet is somewhat limited. In any American city, you can find anything from Vietnamese to Peruvian to fried chicken. I guess that's why they call it the melting pot.

But still, how is it possible that the choice of ethnic restaurants in Italy is so limited? Sure, there's your Middle-Eastern kebabs (love those), over-priced Argentinian steakhouses, and ubiquitous Chinese/Japanese places, but that's really where it ends. Don't go to any of Rome's Mexican joints if you expect anything resembling an authentic chalupa (or if you're on a tight budget for that matter).

The fact is that Italians just love their staples and don't really trust anything else. Of course I'm over-generalizing, but it's clear that there's very little demand for anything other than the traditional dishes. Tourists, who usually only make it through 1-3 of the curve, compound this demand.

Ask an Italian how they can eat pasta almost every day and you'll get "Ahh but there are many different ways to cook pasta!" every single time. The Chinese are not trusted in general, so it's no big surprise they are not lining up to eat their food (it's an urban myth that the cats of Largo Argentina are used in the restaurant next to it). Everything else is too expensive to eat with any regularity.

While I don't want to be the ball-breaking foreigner who rolls into another country and has the nerve to tell them to change their ways, a burrito joint here and there really wouldn't hurt anybody.


  1. Dude, I am from San Diego so I can feel you on the need for a decent burrito. On my way to the airport, as I was about to leave for Rome, I insisted on stopping at my favorite taco shop.

    That being said, I haven't hit the "NEED APPLEBEES NOW PLS" point. Maybe that's because I'm only a month into my program?

  2. Yeah it definitely depends on the person and how open they are to a complete change in lifestyle, who knows maybe you will never hit that stage (lucky you! haha). I think for me it was around halfway through my first semester that I hit real frustration. My last meal before flying here is always Mexican!

  3. Hi!Ok, I admit it: I am not a student in Rome, just an italian reader of your good blog. It is so interesting to know what you think about us and our habits!
    So I wondered: he is right. Why do we eat pasta every day of my life?
    The answer is: we eat pasta because we cannot stand up without!Trust me, our phisique is accustomed to do that. We use to eat it for lunch within the s.c. Mediterranean Diet. When I go abroad and cannot eat it, I feel tired and weak. Avoid tourist restaurant, but!Bye, Pincherle

  4. in Rome doesn't exist many ethnic restaurants how in San Diego or London. yeah the italians love their food(and are many diffidents about anything else),but ethnic restaurants exist,if you search well.
    unfortunally,in Rome we have few mexican restaurants,but also there are many chinese or japanese restautant,afrincans an indians or turkish. however we're talking about restaurants,not fast-foods,who have difficulties to afrirm theirselves in italy(and i bless Good that here won't ever arrive KFC).

  5. Do you know the yellow pages? Try "ristoranti" (restaurants), and when you need a good chicken salad ask for panino con pollo e insalata russa. It is the same thing...:)

  6. @ Both Anonymous: Thanks for your feedback! It is definitely true that there are ethnic restaurants in Rome, it just seems to me that there are fewer than we are used to in America and they are a bit more expensive in Rome. In the States, since we don't have a cucina tipica like in Italy, we eat a little of everything, so there a many ethnic restaurants that are not necessarily expensive.

    Più che altro volevo commentare su come noi americani, anche se pensiamo di voler fare tutto come gli italiani, alla fine ci rendiamo conto di quanto l'italia sia diverso dall'america. Alla fine è che sono il tipico americano egoista che vuole tutto come in america!

  7. Ok there arn't many Mexican restaurants around, which is normal considering that Mexico is on the other side of the world. But there are tons of Indian and Chinese around outside of the center. I feel Rome is extremely diverse, so much so it doesn't always feel like Italy to me. If you want to see a country that only eats their own go to Turkey. Other than Mcdonalds you won't find any foreign food at all!

  8. My wife and I went to Italia (Italy) and oue favorite place was Florence, nice people, great food and even greater sites, like the Duomo!