One of the most intense (and most memorable) experiences a traveler will have when upon his adventures will involve food.
Living abroad has taught me so much about my (our) relationship with food. I truly believe that how a country values their mealtimes can give a foreigner great insight into its overall culture. And when I say mealtimes, I mean all things, people, and processes involved. How the (and what) food is prepared, presented, and partaken in signify other characterizations of a culture. South Korea taught me this, and I am learning the same in Italy.
My second week in Conegliano has passed, and I feel as if it has been but a time lapse of delicious foods! Everyone knows that Italy has one of the most (if not the most) delicious cuisines in the world. Whenever I told people I was coming here, they all said the same thing: You’re gonna get fat! Eat lots of pasta! Drink the wine! The food’s going to be amazing! Etc, etc. etc. And before coming here, I expected to do exactly that. I expected to go to these tiny restaurants with low-lighting and one chef. I expected to be sitting on the patio at a table with white linen cloth, drinking wine and eating pasta with olive oil and garlic while smooth jazz played in the background. I expected the most stereotypical “young-girl-in-Italy-from-a-90s-movie” scene ever! And yes, I have been eating pasta, drinking wine, and even ate on a patio with French jazz music playing in the back. But it isn’t as spectacular or romantic as I thought it would be.
The family I live with (the Rossis) loves food. High quality, environmentally-friendly, and healthily-made food. They make their own bread, they make their own pasta noodles, grow their own vegetables, and never eat fried foods, or dairy products made from cows. They rarely eat meat, and when they do, it’s not often beef, pork, or chicken. To be honest, I was a little worried before coming here; I thought, How can I enjoy Italian food the way I expected to with all their restrictions? But no worries were needed! This family knows how to cook! Roasted horse, risotto, fermented peppers, fresh tomato sauce, homemade tiramasu…All made with organic ingredients, and all delicious! Now, to some people, this may not be something amazing. But coming where I’m from (a poorer area in America), it is almost unheard of to make an entire meal from scratch; even less so with all organic ingredients. I mean, who has the time? And more importantly, who has the money?
And though the meals have not been eventful, they have been familiar and satisfying, which tells me a little something about the eating culture in Italy. Living with the Rossis (and visiting their friends) have shown me that in Italy, it takes a community to eat. Getting ready for lunch and dinner always involves “the family.” Setting the table, clearing the table, cutting the bread, preparing the condiments, pouring the soup…at one point, everyone in the family has touched your plate. Also, no matter how simple the meals may seem, they will be made with love and positive energy. There will be a story behind the ingredients, or some history behind the recipe. There will be more than one course, and there will be plenty of side dishes.
I have enjoyed every meal since I’ve been here. To be honest, it’s my favorite time of day. I know I still have a lot to learn about the eating culture here (and Italian culture overall), but I feel I have gotten a pretty good idea of what it is like. And there is so much I could (want to) say about American eating culture vs. Korean eating culture vs. Italian eating culture….but I’ll save that for another post.