Why Italians Love to Talk About Food


Complete Summer Reading

Why Italians Love to Talk About Food

by Elena Kostioukovitch
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 480 pp., $35

How true it is that the best and fastest way to understand a culture is through its food! I've spent the last 15 years or so studying the relationship between foodways and people and feel that through this passion I have gained a decent grasp of culinary anthropology from many parts of the world. But upon reading this magnificent tome on the food culture of Italy, I feel like a baby in diapers. What a fantastic job she has done, translating her experiences as a non-native living in and understanding Italian food culture over the last 20 years. Elena Kostioukovitch, a native of Russia and translator of Umberto Eco's work, has carefully noted and explored the intricate relationship between Italians and their food in an amazing collection of essays that focus on the deep differences between regions, noting specific specialties of each. As Eco himself writes in the foreword: "In Italy, perhaps more than anywhere else ... discovering local cuisine means discovering the spirit of the local inhabitants. Try tasting Piedmontese bagna cauda, then the Lombard soup cassoela, then tagliatelle Bolognese-style, then lamb alla romana, and finally Sicilian cassata, and you will feel as though you might have moved from China to Peru, and from Peru to Timbuktu."

To say that Italians love to talk about food is an understatement. Italians are their food, probably more than any other culture in the world (although Mexicans must be a close second.) Touching on art, politics, poetry, literature, and pop culture, Kostioukovitch takes on subjects such as sagre, the traditional festivals celebrated all over Italy centered on one specific seasonal foodstuff; the intricacies and myriad pasta shapes and the proper sauces to use with each; the much-discussed Mediterranean diet; the slow food movement; and the many cooking techniques used for specific dishes in specific regions. Her painstaking research is something to be savored slowly, carefully, and with great joy – not unlike a fine Italian meal. I can't recommend this book enough to anyone with a serious interest in foodways, regardless of their origin. Bravissima, Elena!

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