Emma Cairo-Benoit: Italia America 2022

Il Cibo è Servito – La Comida Esta Servida

Il Antipasto – El Aperitivo

Food is one of the rare things in life that can bring people together, however it can also divide people because it is something so important to everyone. Food is what fuels us, as humans we need the nutrients in food to survive, but good food is what feeds our soul and what makes us want to discover more cuisines. We live in a world where fusion and different cultures influence what we eat on the day to day basis, but because of this traditional recipes have been lost and altered. 

I grew up in the kitchen with my grandmother making authentic Colombian dishes of sancocho, buñuelos, empanadas, pan de bonos, and mazapanes. These recipes lied in my grandmothers little brown leather book that had been passed down for generations, and have now been passed on to me. Living in Miami, whenever we would choose to go to a restaurant and order a Colombian dish, it would never be the same as those authentic recipes. Somehow the advertised “true” Colombian meals would be completely different. Restaurants in the United States have “Americanized” many food cultures from all over the world to appeal to a larger audience, but offends people who adhere to tradition and hold their native country’s authentic food close to their heart. 

Primi – El Plato Fuerte

Americans love Italian food, or so they think. Italian food has changed completely from its original form since it was brought to America. Italian restaurants began in America when immigrants came in the years around 1880. The Italians opened restaurants and food stores that existed to serve their small communities and provide an ongoing livelihood. Unfortunately, they did not have all the available resources to produce the authentic Italian cuisine that they were used to. The Italians adapted to using local ingredients, and eventually the restaurants attracted non-Italians.

One thing that has always attracted patrons to Italian restaurants is the price of food. In the early 1900s wine at an Italian restaurant was anywhere from 50 to 60 cents a quart. As immigration from Italy to America increased, prices continued to remain low. The working-class customers provided high demand for the Italian eateries, and as its customer base was laborers, they had to be inexpensive. During this time, Italian restaurants were not considered fine dining, like many are today. In 1908, many people preferred the fine dining experience at French restaurants due to the trained restauranteurs and attractive plates. However, the taste of the food in relation to the price is what kept the business alive during this time. In his book From the Antipasto to the Zabaglione – The Story of Italian Restaurants in America, Mike Riccetti says, “Cheapness coupled with exuberant and easily enjoyable flavor had already become a hallmark.”  

In the 1920s Italian immigrants were faced with a problem, laws began to be passed that limited immigration. The Quota Act of 1921 and The Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 reduced new arrivals from Europe. Fewer immigrants meant that many of the Italian restaurants has to seek non-Italian customers. Along with this, Prohibition was enacted and this eradicated the distributing of alcohol in restaurants, directly affecting Italian restaurants because they were no longer allowed to serve wine with their meals. Many Italian restaurants discreetly provided wine during this time by pouring it in coffee cups to deflect attention, however many authority figures caught on and they were forced to eradicate the wine completely. This led to the opening of many Italian speakeasies which then introduced Italian food to the masses. Because of this newfound popularity, Italian restaurants began to open throughout the entire United States.

Il Dolce – El Postre

Throughout the years the once original and authentic Italian food, first served at the home-cooked immigrant restaurants, changed and became commercialized to appeal to all of America. Many dishes that we think to be authentically Italian today were created in the kitchens of restaurants in order to appeal to larger audiences. Chicken alfredo, pasta and meatballs, osso buco, Caesar salad, and tiramisu are just some of the many meals that were curated in restaurant kitchens in America. 

Food is one of the most important aspects of a culture. It tells stories of generations and and change throughout time. To someone of a specific background, when that culture is changed to be commercialized it takes away from those stories. It takes away from the memories of hearing your relatives speak about your ancestors and how they would make authentic cuisine. A New York paper noted in 1903, “No people are more devoted to their native foods than the Italians.” Italian restaurants are a common sight to this country and serve as an introduction to Italian food to many, but it does not show the real authenticity of Italian culture. Flying pizzas, plump meatballs, an immense amount of garlic on bread, and chicken in pasta is not true to the culture of Italians and is something Americans have created as a facade of Italian food. The culture lies in the kitchens of families that have passed down the original recipes through generations and work to keep the authentic of true Italian food alive. 

References:

Riccetti, M. (2012). From the Antipasto to the Zabaglione – The Story of Italian Restaurants in America

Sohn, J. (2019, August 10). History of pasta and its influence in the U.S. – june sohn. Scholar Blogs – Emory University. Retrieved April 25, 2022, from https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/noodlenarratives/2019/08/10/history-of-pasta-and-its-influence-in-the-u-s-june-sohn/

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