Italian-inspired pasta, pizzas, and sauces might reign supreme in America but may have little to do with actual Italian eating styles.
There are plenty of American and even Italian-inspired American foods that most Italians probably wouldn’t eat— at least, not while in Italy. Here are some foods that you probably won’t find in Italy.
Spaghetti and meatballs is an Italian-American delicacy.
Spaghetti and meatballs exist separately in Italy, but you probably won’t find them together on a menu. This “classic Italian meal” was actually created by Italian-Americans.
According to The Smithsonian, when Italians immigrated to the US at the turn of the 20th century, the majority came from Southern Italy, which was experiencing economic poverty.
In a thriving America, immigrants were able to buy more meat, but not filet mignon, so they disguised their rough cuts as meatballs. The ingredients for marinara sauce were widely available, so they paired these foods with another widely available Italian food: spaghetti.
Taking your coffee to-go is frowned upon.
Eataly’s guide to Italian coffee culture reveals that a day in Italy is defined by its coffee rituals. Morning coffee is either a cappuccino, caffè latte, or a latte Macchiato served hot in a cup for immediate consumption, often paired with a single pastry.
In a cafe, Italians will drink sitting down or standing up at a bar, but usually not while walking to work. If you walk around with coffee in a to-go cup in Italy, you might get strange looks.
Italians take their coffee pretty seriously, which is why, after 47 years, Italy got its first Starbucks in 2018. And the Starbucks has been modified to fit Italian culture — including a marble-topped coffee bar fit for espresso rituals.
“Italian dressing” isn’t actually Italian.
Though it’s in the name, Italian dressing is much more American than Italian.
Though Americans use the dressing for everything from salad to marinating chicken, it just isn’t a thing in Italy. In fact, pre-packaged dressing is basically unheard of in Italy.
“Instead of bottled dressing, households always have oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper on the table as, generally speaking, people prefer to dress their own salad themselves,” Food blogger Disgraces on the Menu wrote. “The same goes for restaurants and cafeterias — oil and vinegar are brought to the table whenever a salad is ordered and the waiters never ask what kind of dressing the customer would like.”
Combining seafood with cheese is a no-go.
Gastro Obscura set out to find why, asking Julia della Croce, a cookbook author and an American expert on Italian cuisine.
“It definitely originated in Italy, there’s no doubt about that… Italians are very religious about mixing cheese and fish or seafood, it just isn’t done,” she told the publication.
While the origin of the unpopularity of this pairing is uncertain, Gastro Obscura suggests that perhaps it didn’t make sense regionally in placeswhere seafood was plentiful and cheese was not.
It’s rare to get a plain, single slice of pizza in Italy.
New York City-style $1 slices heavy with cheese and sauce aren’t very prominent in Italy; Spontini was one of the first by-the-slice pizza jointsin Italy but even those start at about $3 each. Unless you’re in a very tourist-friendly area, when you order pizza in Italy, it will typically be a personal pizza, not a single slice.
Plus, pizza toppings in Italy are more traditional and include options like sardines, prosciutto, or arugula.
American portion sizes are very different than Italian ones.
In an Italian-inspired restaurant or chain in America, the word “family-style” gets thrown around. This is the colloquial name for the gigantic portions that are served in the US. Buca di Beppo defines it as “meant to be shared.”
On an Italian menu, you will find pasta served as a “primo” or first dish. It’s an appetizer portion that is often followed by a meat, seafood, or vegetable main dish.