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 are still 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
Foods like lasagna, focaccia, risotto, and even pizza are quintessentially Italian, but there is no one universal recipe or acknowledged national standard.
As Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name?”
A food may be called the same name in may regions of Italy, the the actual recipe and preparation can vary widely from region to region. What is called lasagna in one city or town can be significantly different in the next city or town. There are as many versions of lasagna as there are dialects even within the same region.
Italians are a proud people and fiercely loyal to their town, city, language, 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.
Mediterranean Diet Diversity
Many researchers consider the ideal Mediterranean diet 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 and lean protein like 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 what is an “authentic” Paleo diet, very few would eat it. Instead of authentic Paleo which is nothing more than guess work, you get versions of a Paleo-American diet complete with Paleo cookies and ice cream.
Stuffed rats and door mice were delicacy of the ancient Roman aristocracy. They are not popular today.
This website highlights many “authentic” Southern Italian recipes that appeal to the American palate. Recipes with octopus and squid are not as popular to most Americans compared to spaghetti and meatballs. Italian-American restaurants rarely serve authentic Southern Italian pastas with greens and a variety of vegetables, or pizza with greens like arugula. For many Americans, arugula is a salad green not a pizza topping.
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 most Italians, Mexican, India, Chinese, and other ethnic foods are a rare treat not a weekly ritual.
A diverse diet is a sustainable diet.