Mangia! Mangia! – Baccalà Binds and Divides Italy

In the U.S. you can count on finding a burger at every truck stop, small town or major city. In the U.K. the same could be said about fish and chips. In Italy, it’s baccalà (salt cod). In the case of hamburgers or fish and chips, the recipe never varies much, but the recipe for salt cod changes drastically from region to region in Italy. Don’t ask for baccalà alla Livornese in Venice or baccalà mantecato in Puglia.

It’s not hard to imagine why salt cod became the go-to food around the Italian boot. In times before trucks and refrigeration, … Read More

Italian Food Rules – Italians Only Drink Tea When They Are Sick

Tea drinkers of the U.K. and the U.S. might as well give up the idea of a good “cuppa” in Italy. Italians only drink tea when they are sick – at home.

You can ask for, and receive, hot tea in a coffee bar. First, the barista will give you a searching glance from a distance to see if you are obviously infectious. Then, he will run some hot water out of the coffee machine into a cappuccino-cup. The water will be unfiltered tap water, which may taste great, but in Florence, for example, is highly mineralized, a taste hidden … Read More

Italian Food Rules – Only Dip Biscotti in Vin Santo, Not in Coffee

Italians are very particular about what they dip their biscotti into. Pretty much it is a list of one – Vin Santo. The Italian Food Rule — Only Dip Biscotti in Vin Santo, Not in Coffee.

There is nothing more satisfying for dessert at the end of a long Italian meal than a couple of  almond -studded biscotti and a small glass of Vin Santo. The hard biscotti become sweetly moist after a few seconds dipped in the sweet late-harvest wine. Not too filling. Just a sweet note to the perfect repast. All that’s needed is a shot of espresso … Read More

Italian Food Rule – Wine or Water, Nothing Else

In thousands of kitchens across America there is a person standing in front of the open fridge calling out to those gathered around the dinner table: “I’ve got white wine, red wine, mango juice, beer, milk, Pellegrino, ice tea, Coke, 7-Up, a bottle of Bacardi Breezer Lemon, and, of course, cold tap water. What does each of you want to drink?”

Let’s ignore the fact that there is a bottle of red wine in the fridge and get right to the Italian Food Rule: Wine or Water, Nothing Else.

In the homes and good restaurants of Italy the only beverages … Read More

Italian Food Rule – Don’t Dip Bread in Olive Oil

It was at least twenty years ago when I first broke the Italian Food Rule: Don’t Dip Bread in Olive Oil.

Or, to clarify: Don’t serve bread with a bowl of olive oil with a swirl of balsamic vinegar as an appetizer (or any other part of the meal).

Back to my first experience: I was so enchanted by the new food presentation, I never forgot the moment.

It was my first dinner at Farallon, that fantasmagorical Paul Kuleto restaurant in San Francisco. Sitting under the jellyfish chandelier, I watched with curiosity as our waiter presented with a flourish a … Read More

Italian Food Rule – Don’t Touch the Fruits and Vegetables

What is it about the fruit and vegetable stands found in markets and along the streets of every town and city in Italy that make foreigners want to fondle the merchandise?

Italian Food Rule: Don’t Touch The Fruits And Vegetables.

In the US everyone feels free to poke, prod, squeeze, thump and sniff the fruits and vegetables whether they plan to buy anything or not. At a produce stand in Italy that will garner you a withering look and a command to unhand the eggplant: Non tocchi le melanzane, per favore!

One of the pleasures of Italy is the taste … Read More

Italian Food Rules – No Ice Cubes in Beverages

Florentine Francesca and I are in a New York restaurant where “Hi! I’m Sam, your waiter” is assisting us to have the best lunch experience possible. This includes large glasses of iced water that arrive immediately on the table with a large basket of warm bread. Francesca immediately starts scooping out the cubes into the empty wine glass. “Hi! I’m Sam” arrives to take our order and notices her he half full glass of iceless water. He leaves and returns with the water pitcher, which he turns sideways so that it dispenses the maximum amount of ice and a lesser … Read More

Italian Food Rules – No Cheese on Fish

Except for ordering a cappuccino or a caffellatte after your dinner, nothing is more likely to raise the ire of your Italian waiter than to ask for some grated parmesan to go on your spaghetti alle vongole or pasta al baccala’.

So, as you drive down Interstate 5 munching on your Filet o’ Fish with extra cheese, remember the Italian Food Rule: No Cheese On Fish.

The reasons for the rule are: logic, location, and tradition. But can there be change on the horizon?


Except for salt cod (baccala’), canned tuna, cured sardines and anchovies … Read More

Italian Food Rule – No Doggy Bags, 2nd Serving

This is how I learned about the Italian Food Rule: No Doggy Bags!

Years ago, I was a regular at La Maremma on Via Verdi in Florence. I loved their penne pasta with mushroom and truffle sauce. I adored their fruit tiramisu. In fact, I don’t think I ever had a dish I didn’t like there. Everything was cooked to order, the service was fantastic, and the ambience with its slanting floor was warm and comfortable. (Since then, the restaurant has been renovated, but the high quality of the food is still getting rave reviews.)

One evening, I … Read More

Italian Food Rule – No Doggy Bags!

History of a Food Rule

Some of the best stories are those that start in the same place where they end. The more things change the more they stay the same. The Italian Food Rule: No Doggy Bags! has strange antecedents because according to some the doggy bag’s first appearance was in the 6th century BC … in Rome.

Apparently, when invited to a banquet at the neighbor’s villa the ancient Roman would bring a napkin or two. It was a compliment to the host to take some of the dinner home wrapped up in your napkin.

But perhaps … Read More