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robert brown

Can Truly Good Italian Food Travel?

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Has anyone noticed that once you cross the border from Italy into France, Switzerland, Germany or Austria that you can no longer get real-taasting Italian food? I haven't tried Italian food in Austria or near the German-Italian border part of Germany. However, I have been to the two"best" Italian restgaurants in Nice-L'Allegro and Auberge de Theo" and the food tastes (and the restaurants smell) just like I get in New York. I have also eaten in the Ticino, but have never had a seemingly authentic Italian meal, although it has been a long time since I was last there.

Am I mislead by somehow being psychologically affected by stepping across the Italian-Something border? Is it possible that great Italian cooking is so regionalized that once you leave the area for obtaining the proper ingredients it deteriorates into a vulgarized version of "internationale" Italian food? What do you think?


Edited by robert brown (log)

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It can only be one of two things. Your imagination or, there are different food distribution networks in each country. My kishkes tell me it's the latter. French restaurants buy from French wholesalers who get their food from Rungis etc. There must be a similar system in every country.

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As you know this is one of my favourite subjects. Read my previous comment about having pasta in Chiasso (Ticino), literally a stones throw from Ponte Chiasso (Italy) and the pasta in Ponte Chiasso was RealItalian® and the one 60 yards away was not. SP is wrong again, it's not just the suppliers (and it's definitely not your imagination) it's the whole balance and mind set of RealItalian® (Craig says he registered this for me! - I think he was kidding.... I think) food.

So there!


Edited by peterpumkino (log)

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Peter - I submit that it is impossible for food in restaurants that are 60 yards away from each other to taste different unless the source of ingredients differ. Sure, the way different cultures approach cooking food is different but a raw tomato is a raw tomato. You can cross the border from Menton and go to the market in Ventemiglia and the quality of the produce can improve. That makes no sense. It's 2 miles away.

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From our home near Varese it is just 30 minutes drive to the beautiful town of Lugano in Switzerland. The menus look the same but the food is certainly different - even the gelato is not quite as good. I do not believe there is a difference in the food products the restaurants can buy. One thing that is different is the people. Our Italian friends who grew up here on the border with Switzerland consider themselves in no way Swiss and the Ticino Swiss you meet just over the border consider themselves Swiss not Italian. It is these distinct and real cultural differences that make the people a little different from one another and this in turn changes their food - if only slightly.


Edited by Craig Camp (log)

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Peter - I submit that it is impossible for food in restaurants that are 60 yards away from each other to taste different unless the source of ingredients differ. Sure, the way different cultures approach cooking food is different but a raw tomato is a raw tomato. You can cross the border from Menton and go to the market in Ventemiglia and the quality of the produce can improve. That makes no sense. It's 2 miles away.

A raw tomato is a raw tomato, right? But you can bake it, boil it, fry it in butter, fry it in oil, fry it in oil with garlic - need I go on.

And, sorry Steve, but you can submit all day and all night that it's impossible there's a noticeable difference between two restaurants that are 60 yards apart, but it's a fact. They may be only 60 yards apart but we're talking Italy vs Switzerland here - these two countries are thousands of miles apart in the dynamics of the country, their people, their political system, their food, their discipline, their organization, their enforcement of traffic laws, their legal system etc etc etc ad nauseum.

Maybe that's the difference between you and me, your more Swiss and I am definitely more Italian. In other words I can put up with there not being any stamps in the post office (something that would NEVER happen in Switzerland) for the mentalita del cortile of the Italians.


Edited by Craig Camp (log)

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Another way to look at it is if there isn't great Italian food in France because the produce is coming from Rungis (which is hardly true for the Italian restaurants in Nice and elsewhere in France), how is it that places like Rochat and Pont de Brent in Switzerland; and Tantris in Germany make highly credible, if not highly praised, French cuisine? They're not getting the lion's share of their produce from Paris. Don't eat Italian in any of those parts.

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Another way to look at it is if there isn't great Italian food in France because the produce is coming from Rungis (

Didn't I say this in my first post?

I just think that French restaurants buy from French suppliers, and Italian restaurants from Italian suppliers. And the food chain in each country (one of the rare times you can use that phrase literally :biggrin:) starts at Rungis in one country and elsewhere in the other.

Look at Loulou. Where does Eric buy his beef from? Bucherie Marbeuf in Paris. How come he doesn't buy Chianina beef? The truck from Paris has to drive 8 hours to Nice and it's only 4 1/2 hours to the heart of Tuscany. Old, Provincial habits die hard. I mean he wouldn't dream of buying non-French beef, any sooner then the restaurants in Tuscany would agreed to be supplied by Bucherie Marbeuf.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Pumpkino - I assure you that no matter how different the Italians are from the Swiss, whether it is cultural, psychological or genetic, tomatoes from the same source taste the same no matter which country is serving them. And if you believe otherwise, I've got a castle overlooking Edinburgh I'd like to sell you.

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Another way to look at it is if there isn't great Italian food in France because the produce is coming from Rungis (

Didn't I say this in my first post?

You didn't. The "if" in Robert's post put your words in question. Wasn't that clear?


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I would suggest that it's probably not a problem for good Italian food to travel domestically, but international travel would be difficult as even great Italian food would have difficulties in obtaining a passport. :rolleyes:


=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

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Pumpkino - I assure you that no matter how different the Italians are from the Swiss, whether it is cultural, psychological or genetic, tomatoes from the same source taste the same no matter which country is serving them. And if you believe otherwise, I've got a castle overlooking Edinburgh I'd like to sell you.

Boy, your posts are getting better by the moment. I made a point of specifying that it depends on how you cook the tomato and with what ingredients, that's the difference - what part of that statement didn't you understand?

How much is that castle?

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I think that in principle your observation is probably right, Robert.

I'll allow Peter his RealItalian® trademark, but I'm uneasy about defining "real" Italian. I don't think that matters here, because it would be enough to say that the food in Italy has a certain quality to it which is mostly lacking across its borders. I believe that is unlikely to be due to the difference in ingredients, but is more likely connected to an "attitude" towards food and its preparation.

The French and the Swiss are precise and rigorous in their approach to cooking, whereas the Italians exhibit their natural gioia di vivere in theirs. I have watched Italian chefs cook food, and they seem to shun measurement, they prepare by instinct. The good ones will somehow make their dishes the same every time, the less good are more hit and miss, but that's the price you have to pay, I guess. For me, the classic example of this "cooking by the seat of your pants" approach is in pasta sauce. Good Italian cooks always manage to produce a sauce of the perfect consistency to adhere to the pasta while not being cloying. They do this despite the fact that you need to prepare and cook the sauce slightly differently every single time depending on the exact consistency of the tomatoes and oil, etc that form the ingredients of the sauce. I don't think many non-Italians can do this.

This exuberant, joyful attitude to food is what makes Italians different, and it must be something handed down from parents to children. As soon as you cross the borders a new culture comes into play, and I think this is what is lost.

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The French and the Swiss are precise and rigorous in their approach to cooking, whereas the Italians exhibit their natural gioia di vivere in theirs. I have watched Italian chefs cook food, and they seem to shun measurement, they prepare by instinct. The good ones will somehow make their dishes the same every time, the less good are more hit and miss, but that's the price you have to pay, I guess. For me, the classic example of this "cooking by the seat of your pants" approach is in pasta sauce. Good Italian cooks always manage to produce a sauce of the perfect consistency to adhere to the pasta while not being cloying.

As soon as you cross the borders a new culture comes into play, and I think this is what is lost.

Very well put Macrosan and my sentiments exactly. Of course SP won't have a clue what you are talking about as he just doesn't 'get it'.

Regarding my RealItalian® trademark: RealItalian® is a description of a type of cooking as cooked in Italy. I'm not saying it's the best way to cook Italian (although I personally think it is) but only that it is the cuisine you find in Italy. Then, of course, there's EnglishItalian which is great for many but it's very different to the cuisine cooked and served in Italy as is AmericanItalian which is something else altogether.

I repeat again AA Gill's comment that people are going to Italy and returning, complaining that they couldn't find any Italian food!

As to your contention that Italian chefs shun measurement that's true too. In fact I read somewhere that there is a real problem translating Italian cookbooks into English for the American market as the Americans demand very precise measures in their recipes whilst the Italians seem to wing it (very successfully).

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I think that in principle your observation is probably right, Robert.

I'll allow Peter his RealItalian® trademark, but I'm uneasy about defining "real" Italian. I don't think that matters here, because it would be enough to say that the food in Italy has a certain quality to it which is mostly lacking across its borders. I believe that is unlikely to be due to the difference in ingredients, but is more likely connected to an "attitude" towards food and its preparation.

The French and the Swiss are precise and rigorous in their approach to cooking, whereas the Italians exhibit their natural gioia di vivere in theirs. I have watched Italian chefs cook food, and they seem to shun measurement, they prepare by instinct. The good ones will somehow make their dishes the same every time, the less good are more hit and miss, but that's the price you have to pay, I guess. For me, the classic example of this "cooking by the seat of your pants" approach is in pasta sauce. Good Italian cooks always manage to produce a sauce of the perfect consistency to adhere to the pasta while not being cloying. They do this despite the fact that you need to prepare and cook the sauce slightly differently every single time depending  on the exact consistency of the tomatoes and oil, etc that form the ingredients of the sauce. I don't think many non-Italians can do this.

This exuberant, joyful attitude to food is what makes Italians different, and it must be something handed down from parents to children. As soon as you cross the borders a new culture comes into play, and I think this is what is lost.

Excellent post. Explains it all. Case closed - let's all go home.

:laugh:

I remember being in college and being taught a recipe for something called rasam - watery soup with tomatoes, lentils and so on - by a South Indian friend of mine. I started quartering the tomatoes and she insisted that I just squeeze them with my hands ...... it's the only way to do it, she said. You have to squeeze the tomato and get the juice all over your palms ...

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Very well put Macrosan and my sentiments exactly. Of course SP won't have a clue what you are talking about as he just doesn't 'get it'.

Do you guys believe in witches and warlocks too?

I submit that if you take vegetables from the same source, olive oil from the same source, and you saute them in a pan using the same recipe, it will taste the same no matter which side of the border you are on. Vibes do not make food taste differently. Neither does body English, spirit, or mental telepathy. For food to taste differently you need a substantive difference in the ingredients or the recipes. And we are not talking about fine cuisine here. Home cooking. One of the restaurants that Robert pointed to, L'Allegro, makes ravioli to order. He wants to know why less then 20 miles from the Italian border, the food doesn't taste authentic anymore. And it can only be a few things. The way the ravioli wrappers taste, or the way the fillings taste. Or I guess it could be the water they are cooked in. If the ingredients were the same, they would taste the same. It has nothing to do with the vibes of the chef being transmitted to the ravioli. Or how he drops the ravioli into the pot. And this phenomenon is even more confounding when you consider that the Nicoise are really Italian, everything up to the Nice aiport being part of Italy until the mid 1870's.

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And this phenomenon is even more confounding when you consider that the Nicoise are really Italian, everything up to the Nice airport being part of Italy until the mid 1870's.

Yes, and the food tastes totally different the minute you hit Menton.

Steve, did you actually READ the last para of IndiaGirl's post regarding squeezing the tomatoes. I know these things look minor bt they DO make a difference.

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Yes I did. Squeezed tomatoes and quartered tomatoes still taste the same if the tomatoes are from the same source. Only food from different sources would taste differently. I mean one preparation can be better then the other, but that won't change the taste of the ingredients if they are from the same source.

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Peter - Your assertion is preposterus. Are you saying that chefs on one side of a border quarter tomatoes and on the other side squeeze them by hand, all to make the same dish? We're talking about friendly borders here. Not the Iron Curtain.

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This exuberant, joyful attitude to food is what makes Italians different, and it must be something handed down from parents to children. As soon as you cross the borders a new culture comes into play, and I think this is what is lost.

Dancing-Chicken-Formerly-Known-As- Martin: Which 'Italians' are these? The ones in the South or North? West or East? Germanic, Slavic, 'Italian' or Greek Ancestry? From the Mountains or in the plains, mainland or the islands? What about those people that were formerly part of 'Italy', but are now 'Slavic', were they joyful Italians with excellent regional food one minute, then depressed Slavs with a derivative cuisine the next?

It is interesting that on many other Italian threads there has been my talk about the importance of regionalism in Italian food culture, but in this discussion all Italians get lumped together. I have seen many examples of Italian food not tasting 'right' outside of Italy and outside its particular region within italy (if it is a localised food type). Could it be however, that Italian food suffers outside of Italy for much the same reason that Indian, Thai, Spanish etc also suffer? Prehaps the food served outside of Italy isn't representative of the regional food served within Italy, in much the same way that the 'Cinnamon Club' in London doesn't reflect the food served in India?

Prehaps, it is the inability to transport regionalism that prevents the successful transplantation of many cuisines, rather then some attractive, but flawed ideas about a particular peoples 'joyful' attitude. Presumably, many of these 'Italian' restuarants in foreign climes are owned and ran by 'Italians', did there grandmothers suddenly change all the recipes on them, once they had crossed the border?


Edited by Adam Balic (log)

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Adam - You've broadened the geographical area. Robert's question has to do with restaurants on the opposite side of the same border. The two places he lists in Nice are Italian restaurants that are within 20 miles of the Italian border. Yet their food does not taste like authentic Italian food.

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Surely because Italian food truly expresses 'terroir' in a way that French doesn't. This is why 'French' is French, but 'Italian' is hardly ever Italian.


Wilma squawks no more

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Adam - You've broadened the geographical area. Robert's question has to do with restaurants on the opposite side of the same border. The two places he lists in Nice are Italian restaurants that are within 20 miles of the Italian border. Yet their food does not taste like authentic Italian food.

No, as I read the Robert's posts, his examples are specific, but the question is general. You could also ask the question "why does 'caponata' taste different in Milan compared to Sicily, just as validly as why does Italian food taste funny in Switzerland. Anyway, my suggestion is more interesting, then reading posts by you and Peter slugging it out over how a tomato does or doesn't taste over the next ten pages. If you want to talk about 'authentic' Italian food, you may want to define "Italian" and "Authentic" first though.

Gavin - in my experience much regional French food doesn't travel so well either, unless it has been beaten with the Parisian-Bistro/haute-cuisine-stick first.

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Does ANY regional cooking travel well? Isn't that the point of its regionality?

v

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Gavin - in my experience much regional French food doesn't travel so well either, unless it has been beaten with the Parisian-Bistro/haute-cuisine-stick first.

Quite. the argument is between a centralising (quasi-)political system (French/EU/Haute-Cuisine) and a regionalised expression of terroir.

Regional French Food (Provencal, Perigourdine) is really Italian (bad and good respectively). Reflecting the historico-political reality underlying the existence of these cuisines, and certainly anti-modern. By contrast 'Italian' and French cuisines are post-enlightenment systems of food & thought, with all the baggage that entails, but at the least transportable.


Wilma squawks no more

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