As a native Italian, I grew up with people from different parts of the world claiming that Italian food is the best in the world. I can’t disagree with that! But honestly, I do get a bit defensive, or even peevish, when I see misinterpretations of my beloved traditional dishes. So this post sets the record straight on famous Italian foods that aren’t actually Italian and are instead, Italian-American. Then I give recommendations on the dish that’s similar but authentically Italian that you could order instead.
Before we dive in, I will admit that of course us natives are guilty of culinary aberrations with our cuisine. Sometimes we feel creative and want to cook something that doesn’t belong to our tradition. For example, many pizzerias in Italy call “Pizza Americana” a pizza with fries and hotdogs as toppings, thus it’s really a pot and kettle situation. So although I do love mixing cultures, there’s really nothing quite like a delicious, traditional Italian meal.
Italian Foods that Aren’t Actually Italian
Here’s a list of Americanized Italian dishes and food misconceptions that make native Italian skin crawl. If you try to order them at a restuarant in Italy, good luck.
Don’t expect to come to Italy and order this pasta. It doesn’t exist in the menus of our restaurants and the waiter will look at you funny. Shocker, right?
I actually had never heard of this phantasmal “Italian” dish until my friend from Pennsylvania told me how much she loved ‘Fettuccini Alfredo’ and how lucky I was that I could eat it all the time.
After I googled it, I came to the conclusion that the closest, but enhanced, dish that we have to “Pasta Alfredo” is “Pasta ai Quattro Formaggi” (Four Cheese Pasta).
It’s four cheeses because, other than Parmigiano, the sauce that seasons this pasta is made with three more cheeses: Taleggio, Gorgonzola, and Groviera. And forget the fettuccini – which are actually called fettuccine – because you will be served penne.
This is another thing that doesn’t exist in our pizzerias in Italy. Actually, if you’re in Italy and ask for a ‘Pepperoni pizza’ you’ll most likely be served a pizza with bell peppers on it. ‘Pepperoni’ is only one P away from ‘peperoni’, that means “bell peppers”.
If you want pizza with salami as toppings, you’ll have to ask for ‘Pizza al salame‘, or ‘Pizza alla diavola‘, but beware! The chance of being served a pizza with a very spicy salami, the so-called “salame piccante” and recognizable by its very bright red color, is very high. Your mouth will be on fire.
A good combination, if you’re a brave enough individual who isn’t afraid of cholesterol, is “pizza al salame piccante and gorgonzola“. Give it a try!
Chicken and Pasta
Every time I am on Pinterest and stumble upon an “original Italian recipe” that involves putting pasta and chicken together, I have to fight the urge to scream. So take these words as an axiom and repeat them like a mantra: “If there’s chicken and pasta together, it’s not Italian whatsoever.”
Chicken and pasta is so far off from our cuisine that there’s really nothing similar you can order. Pasta is a “primo”, a first dish, whereas chicken is a “secondo”, a second dish. We never, ever mix them.
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t use the high amount of garlic that (fake) ‘Italian’ recipes require. Of course we cook with it, but its taste has to be very subtle, almost imperceptible.
If you want some food that really makes you taste the garlic, you can ask for a ‘Bruschetta‘, which is a slice of crusty, toasted bread with a fresh garlic clove rubbed on it. It also has chunks of fresh tomato and olive oil. Note, you won’t find garlic bread at our tables, nor any bread covered with butter of any kind. So count that out as well.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
Just like the chicken and pasta, we don’t mix a “primo” (spaghetti) with a “secondo” (meatballs).
They are two distinct dishes. If you want something similar, you can have “pasta al ragù“, which is basically the same thing, except the meat is minced, instead of in the form of meatballs.
And if you’re in the mood for starting a fight amongst your Italian friends, simply ask them “whose grandma makes the best ragù?” and enjoy the ruckus that the question will inevitably cause.
That was basically all you need to know if you’re planning your first visit to Italy but want to pass for a native tourist who knows how to move around in our boot-shaped country!
Buona fortuna e buon appetito!
– Guest Post: Dany
About The Author
As a native Italian, Dany was born and raised just outside of Milan. She’s a proficient writer, with works that range from novels to short stories.