Just kidding. There is nothing fast about the way of life here in Italy. For some people this can be frustrating, but for me – this is exactly why I fell in love.
Being a Brooklyn native (before it was cool to live there) and living/working in the ad world in NYC for nearly a decade, I gladly welcomed this change. I already lived that fast-paced life, where you had no time to cook and/or didn’t have enough of time (or money) to go out to eat often. In the states, they live to work. But in most of Europe, you work to live. And Italy takes that motto a step further. Italy is a country that lives to eat, rather than eats to live.
I love food, plain and simple, so this was the life I had always dreamed about and always wired for. And this was the life I wanted now. So, after 12 years of a lot of back and forth (and extensive internal dialogue with myself) I finally made the jump to give up everything I knew and start my new life in Rome.
I was no stranger to Rome – or Italy. I had 4 vacations and a short semester abroad here in college many moons ago. But this was the first time I would stay in Italy for 90 days determined to build a permanent life there one day. I documented my food intake with pictures and a journal at least 3x a day for those entire 3 months. For no other reason but to not forget the glorious things I was consuming. As I spent more time, observing and making friends with the locals, I learned some valuable lessons. Italians took the time to savor things – whether that be precious moments in a day, their family and friends, or their food. Especially their food. Italians have a beautiful philosophy on life which most definitely applies to their approach to food. There is almost an obsession to use only the best, seasonal ingredients. The recipes are simple. Unlike in other countries, less is more in Italy. But don’t be fooled – these “basic” dishes have some of the most complex flavors I have ever tasted. And I’ve tasted a lot. Mostly everything is homecooked, homegrown or home-farmed. There is no need for an organic or “farm-to-table” movement here because in Italy this concept has existed as long as time. People know where their products are coming from. Sometimes they even know the family personally.
There is no such thing as “fast food” in Italy. Or at least, not in U.S. standards. Sure, you can find some McDonalds and Burger King fast-food chains. But that’s the American, model- not Italian.
Italian fast food on the other hand is an entirely different animal. Italian “street food” has origins dating back farther than the history of the United States of America. Like everything in Italy, each region has its own specialty. In Rome, there are several. The first I became acquainted with was “pizza taglia” (by the slice) which is different than in other parts of Italy. Roman pizza is much lighter and thinner and with a crispier crust than the traditional Napolitano pizza. Both were so different than the kind I grew up eating in Brooklyn. It is never greasy or oily and only the freshest, simplest ingredients are added as toppings.
Another familiar item (I like to refer to them as “false friends”) was suppli. Growing up in a predominately Italian-American neighborhood, with first generations settlers coming mostly from Southern Italy and Sicily, I always referred to this as the “riceball” (modeled after the Sicilian “arancini”). Not to be confused with the Roman suppli, as the ingredients, shape and size are completely different. During my first month in Rome, I also encountered some unfamiliar fast food such as “baccala fritto” (lightly fried salted cod). I was a bit reluctant but soon pleasantly surprised. It was the most convenient and delicious on-the-go snack. Never would have imagined that being so. I was also surprised to learn that what I’d been calling a panini back in the states, was completely incorrect. When referring to a sandwich in Italy, it is called panino. Singular not plural. Unless you want to order multiple sandwiches to do a taste test, which I did on more than one occasion.
Unfortunately, this was not the only thing that was lost in translation back the states. When I was “forced” to return to NYC for 3 months (after my Visa expired) I soon experienced a reverse culture shock. All of the things I had grown up eating and thoroughly enjoying (my mom’s cooking being the only exception) were completely disgusting to me. The ingredients tasted “off”. At first, I literally became sick – my literally body rejected what I was eating. I thought my friends from back home would all stop talking to me with the way I was going on about the food, beginning all of my sentences with: in Italy this… and in Italy that…I couldn’t eat out at restaurants, which was always one of my favorite pastimes. I had been so used to higher quality food at 1/3 the price. And don’t even get me started on the wine. $15 for a glass?! A carafe of house wine would cost me 5 euro – at most. Italy had totally spoiled me and I found myself legit food depressed. I only wanted to cook at home, as to better control what was going into my body. But even then, the products that were at my disposal were not even close to what I had access to in Italy. It was a long 90 days, in which I lost 10 pounds, but I found myself back in food paradise at last.
Oh, how I had missed my cappuccino in the morning. Something that I couldn’t even bring myself to order when I returned to the states. This was the first thing I had upon my return – literally at the airport before I headed over to baggage claim (I couldn’t wait any longer than that). I was so excited to eat everything I had been craving and dreaming about while I was visiting the states over the summer. But I reminded myself that there was no rush- I would have another 3-full months of food discovery in Rome.
There is nothing fast about this beautiful country I am now proud to call home, and that is especially true when it comes to food here. In fact, it’s the thing I love most about living here.
ENDING 1: It’s been a little over a year and I’ve never been happier than I am now in Rome. Although I may be 10 pounds heavier because of it.
ALT ENDING: Although I may be 10 pounds heavier because of it, I have never been happier (than I am now in Rome).