Italy was a melting pot thousands of years before there was a United States. Italy like many European countries was a country of city states; Rome, Milan, Venus, Florence, Naples, etc. The foods of one region, city, or town were often unique like traveling from one country to another. The same was true of the United States before the creation of franchised, mass produced fast and casual foods.
Travel to Italy today, and you will find the cuisines of many regions still remains unique, but has become more diverse. Italians have embraced Asian and American cuisines.
While Americans may classify Italian foods as Northern or Southern it is much more complex than that.
One Name – Many Variations
Names like lasagna, focaccia, risotto, and even pizza are quintessentially Italian, but there is no one universal recipe or acknowledged national standard. In fact, the name for what appears to be identical foods can vary from region to region. What is called lasagna in one city to town can be significantly different in the next city or town. There are as many versions of a food like lasagna as there are dialects even within the same region.
Italians are a proud people and fiercely loyal to their town/ city, language or dialect, and culture. While they are all Italian, many remain fiercely loyal to the city or town of their birth and its foods.
This is one reason why a Mediterranean Diet is so diverse and sustainable. Is a thin circle of bread topped with fresh tomatoes and olives a pizza or focaccia? Does it matter? Why sweat the small stuff? What difference does it make if one person calls it a pizza and another focaccia.
Tomato sauce can be sugo, salsa di pomodoro, or ragu. As Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name smells as sweet.”
Mediterranean Diet Diversity
Many researchers consider the ideal Mediterranean diet as the diet of Southern Italy along the coast of the Mediterranean and Adriatic. What is considered Southern Italy? Does it mean the mainland or does it include Sicily the southern most part of Italy? If it includes Sicily, does it include foods with an Arab, African, or Greek influence?
Any one recipe or food is a moot point. It does not matter if it is authentic Italian (whatever that means), Italian Greek, Italian Arabic, Italian African, or Italian Turkish.
What does matters is the type and ratio of carbohydrates, fats, and protein.
Northern Italy borders the Mediterranean, but its cuisine of dairy based sauces and seafood is not considered as healthy as a Southern Italian diet emphasizing vegetables, seafood, and poultry.
A diet that is not sustainable is a flawed diet. A diet that is not flexible is a flawed diet. If Americans truly understood an authentic Paleo diet, no one would eat it. Instead of authentic, you get Paleo-American diet.
Stuffed rats was a delicacy of the ancient Roman aristocracy. It is not popular today.
This website does not showcase “authentic” Southern Italian recipes. Recipes with octopus and squid are not as popular to the American palate as spaghetti and meatballs. Italian-American restaurants rarely serve pasta with greens, or pizza with greens.
If a Mexican restaurant opened up in my parents hometown of Conversano, I am certain it would be a success. Healthy? Not necessarily. But, Italians do not eat out on a regular basis like Americans. For Italians, Mexican food or Asian foods are a rare treat, not a weekly ritual.
My mother was in her 50s when she was introduced to Mexican food, and it was authentic Mexican food not fast food Mexican. She enjoyed it so much she started making her own variations.
A wide diversity of recipes allows individuals to select what works best for them using ingredients available in their area.