What Not to Eat to Be An Authentic Italian

No matter how close or far your roots are with Italy, what makes a CSI student an authentic Italian is definitely what they eat.

By Valeria Di Bisceglie

Staten Island has a lot of Italian supermarkets that serve products imported directly from Italy. The largest, La Bella Marchet, is located in Tottenville.

Photo Credit: Valeria Di Bisceglie

The CSI student community has always been characterized by a colorful mix of cultures with a predominant presence of students of Italian origin, according to CSI’s student office. 

Some of them come from immigrant parents or their grandparents identified themselves as proud Italians, but can they really be considered Italian? Their roots and knowledge regarding Italian culture does not seem to match reality. 

American culture is filled with misconceptions about what it really means to be Italian and has essentially created its own subculture of false Italianness. However, they all seem to agree on one point: there is nothing better than Italian food. 

“I have always been used to eating Italian food on every occasion especially for holidays,” said Nadia Evola. “My father owns a very successful Italian restaurant that the whole family is very proud of.” 

Evola is a student from New Jersey who considers herself a second-generation Italian. Her grandparents moved to America in search of job opportunities while always maintaining close contact with Italy. 

Evola, like other CSI students, has said that she is very fascinated by Italian culture, especially when it comes to the food. But can we really consider Italian food served in America authentic? 

As we searched for authentic Italian food, we came across a lot of fake Italian recipes from chicken parmigiana, tortellini with Alfredo sauce, and Italian dressing, down to garlic bread and spaghetti with meatballs.  The inauthentic recipes were capable of giving any Italian grandmother a heart attack.

The first meal that would surely make an authentic Italian cringe is spaghetti with meatballs.

Indeed, it seems that Americans invented spaghetti and meatballs on their own when in fact, no Italian would eat mounds of pasta served with meatballs the size of baseballs and a snowfall of Parmesan cheese on top.

 In Italy, meatballs are almost always offered as a second course, never served with pasta, which is generally almost never used with meat except for the famous Bolognese ragù dish. 

Spaghetti with meatballs certainly looks delicious and tasty but cannot be attributed to Italian culture. We might more properly identify it as Italo-American since it combines key elements of Italian cuisine with a completely American twist.  

CSI student Rachel Restivo has always had a curiosity for Italian culture passed down to her from her father’s family, a family of migrants who moved to America generations ago.

Her great curiosity led her to participate in the study abroad program offered by CSI, for which she chose Italy as her destination. She will leave next January for Florence, where she will spend the next semester exploring Italian culture. 

“Spaghetti and meatballs is real Italian food. I don’t care what anyone says,” said Restivo. “I will go to Italy to prove my point.”

While continuing our search among the most loved Italian dishes in America, we came across garlic bread. There is nothing similar to this dish in Italy; the closest thing to it could be considered bruschetta, which has a totally different taste and appearance. 

As tasty as garlic is, no authentic Italian would dream of eating a mountain of garlic served on a small piece of bread. No one also seems to be sure of the origin of this appetizer so present in American kitchens but so distant from Italian ones. 

There is a long list of recipes and foods totally modified in an all-American key. But if the food we find in America cannot be considered Italian and does not make us authentic Italians, how can we define these recipes that have now become part of the Italian-American tradition? 

Alyssa Russo is a senior at CSI. She believes that this reinterpretation of Italian food has created an interesting mix between these two cultures that have always had a close bond, marked by a history of immigration. 

Her knowledge comes entirely from the stories of her grandmother, who moved to America with her family from Messina.

Russo said her family is a great supporter of Italian culture and they have tried to never stray from authentic Italian flavors. Despite this, she very much loves the “fake” Italian foods that are now part of her daily meals and still feels like a true Italian at heart. 

“I find it interesting how Italian dishes are modified by immigrant families and then passed down from generation to generation in America,” said Russo. “Even though I know that some are not exactly Italian foods, I still feel like a proud Italian.”

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