December 20, 2006

Food Rituals

Conforming to social norms in the realm of the pallet is as essential a part of Italian culture as conforming to the latest fashion dictates and always arriving with the proper gift for every occasion. Keeping to Italian food rituals as to what time of day, week or year you eat or drink this or that, in what order, accompanied by which olive oil and in which setting is never intuitive and, at best, only an acquired skill for Americans living here. We simply did not have Italian mothers and did not grow up with Italian food culture.

Meals for Italian children would be an exhausting exercise for anyone but an Italian mother, starting with breastfeeding and weighing the baby before and after each feeding to be sure that he or she has taken enough. Then comes the vegetable and meat broths with dozens of types of pastina, olive oil and parmigiano, the best sole at the market steamed and carefully de-boned on Fridays for lunch and the best cuts of meat cooked and hand ground along with crushed steamed zucchini. All patiently fed spoon by spoon with the concentration most of us would save for brain surgery. Course by course, meal-by-meal, day-by-day, holiday-by-holiday, season-by-season Italian children are indoctrinated into the rhythms and regimented world of Italian food culture.

The next time, you feel an itch to free up and rebel against food order, timing and combinations of ingredients set in stone, keep in mind that the greatness of Italian cooking was born into and because of this frame. The Great Russian novels were born within the confines of various difficult political systems, as the Great Italian cuisine within the confines of Italian food rules and rituals. In captivity, creativity is unleashed.

A domani, E

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