More Than Pizza and Pasta: What Italians Really Eat

Whenever I am in another country, I always try to stop off at a grocery store to see what the locals REALLY eat. Sometimes I find some surprising stuff

While in the Tuscany region of Italy, I discovered that Italians have some pretty crazy food (at least for my American palate). While I have visited many grocery stores throughout ‘old‘ Europe, ‘exotic‘ Asia, and plenty other regions, I was truly in awe of what Italians stock their shelves with.

I could understand seeing McDonald’s selling their Big Mac’s “Special Sauce,” in bottles at grocery stores…but since when is McDonald’s known for their mayo or ketchup?!?

What is up with this stuff? Since when does McDonald’s have consumers craving their condiments so badly that people actually seek out entire bottles of the McDonald’s branded mayonnaise and ketchup while grocery shopping. But I guess the Italians really just have a desire to create the ‘Golden Arches’ experience in their own homes when they are tired of pasta. Anyway, these condiments were NOT cheap either. Oh…and I always laugh when I see a bottle of ketchup labeled as ‘Tomato Ketchup’. Is there any non-tomato ketchup out there that I should be aware of?

Ham and tuna flavored cream cheese does exist…but I think I am just going to stick with plain…

Then I also came across this craziness. Ok, here in the USA we do like our cream cheese and have many varieties to chooses from.  Just look in the grocery store’s refrigerated aisle and we have cream cheese in spread-form and brick-form. We have non-fat, low-fat, and regular. There is whipped versions and now even ‘Cooking Creme’ versions. Cream cheese is added to regular shredded cheese in the ‘Touch of Philadelphia’ products and there is now even chocolate added to cream cheese in the ‘Indulgence’ variety.  And to fully take advantage of and prey on America’s cream cheese weakness, the cream-cheese-king Kraft Philadelphia, has a huge selection of flavored varieties to try. In the USA there are so MANY flavored cream cheeses now available, ranging from ‘Garden Vegetable’ to ‘Pineapple.’  We kind of have an obession with the stuff. We may actually need to get some serious help for this addiction…So if our nation does need to go to “Cream-Cheese-Anonymous,” at least we will not be alone in our quest for rehab; Italians also seem to be equally in love with the highly processed form of cheese. Walking in the dairy aisle at a major Italian grocery store,  I came across some unique flavors that proved just how Americans are not alone in their passion for Philadelphia and the many flavors. I was really intrigued by these two flavors I saw on the Italian shelves: Porsciutto cotto (baked ham) flavored cream cheese and a tuna flavored cream cheese…but definitely not something that I planned on putting on my bagel.

When does cereal become candy?

I love some quality granola and Honey Bunches of Oates are always showing up in breakfast bowls in the Fed Up kitchen; so of course I had to check out the Italian cereal aisle. I came across a disappointingly small selection of your stereotypical Kellogg’s options. BUT…there were a few gems worth checking out. I thought this overly decadent Nesquik cereal what kind of cool. It was nothing that I personally would buy; it just seemed TOO much like pure junk food to be considered a legitimate breakfast option. Judging by this box, it looks like this cereal is just chocolate cereal that is covered with extra chocolate powder and then  filled with some sort of cream.  And I like how even the Italians try to make a highly-sugared, dessert-like cereal seem healthy by having the huge ‘made-with-whole-grain’ logo that has become so common in the USA. All the ‘whole grain’ in the world can’t magically turn a pile of sugar into a nutritionist-approved meal.

When did ‘deep-south’ Uncle Ben turn to manufacturing ‘south-of-the-border’ meals?

Back home in the USA, Uncle Ben’s is known for their line of rice. But when I saw a shelf full of Uncle Ben’s “Mexican Salsa” I had to smile a little. Talk about branching out into a new product category…Uncle Ben, who appears to come from America’s ‘Deep South’ seems to not only have changed his product category from rice to condiments, but also change ethnicity…

To me it feels wrong for Italians to purchase processed bags of ‘pizza’ cheese when each region here seems to manufacture their own specialty cheese.

There was also a few things that kind of pissed me off…Here in the land of the Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Tellagio, fresh Mozzarella, and other legendary cheese; there are STILL vacuumed-sealed bags of tasteless, processed junk that attempts to mimic the glory of what real cheese is. I had just walked past a section of amazing looking, locally-produced wedges of cheesy-awesomness…and then I see this nonsense of pre-packaged crap on the shelf. But I guess pre-shredded, shelf-stable, budget-friendly cheese will always have a place in supermarkets. Personally, I am very guilty of resorting to buying this sort of ‘cheese‘ when I am home…but I live in Louisiana, not Italy. Italians buying this vacuumed-sealed  stuff,  would be like  me buying frozen shrimp imported from half-way around the world, when in the next aisle over there is beautiful fresh shrimp that were pulled out of our local bayous just hours ago. The good news was that the  section for the fresh, locally produced Italian cheeses was far greater than that of the factory made stuff. I wish all grocery stores had similar ratios, but for now I will just have to settle with Kraft as being the dominate cheese supplier in my city.

The horror of frozen pizza in Italy

THEN, just after passing up the pre-packaged cheese I saw it…a frozen pizza. I first laughed at how funny it was to see frozen pizza in this store when just outside there are at least a few hundred restaurants and stalls serving affordable slices of freshly baked pizza.  Then I cried a little when I realized at how society is becoming so accepting of mediocrity.  So many people around the world seem to be OK with food that tastes crappy. I am just fed up when people settle to eat bland junk when other more tasty options are affordable  and so readily available. I then started to get pissed at the very idea of any true Italian ever purchasing a frozen pizza…but suddendly it hit me…soemtimes simple convenience is enough to make us sacrifice everything we belive in.

I did manage to grab a couple of  foods for myself. I love yogurt each morning, and I especially go for Greek yogurt whenever possible. I generally prefer plain Greek yogurt, but I found a flavored option from Fage that I had not seen before in America. I also found some unique yogurt that was ‘cereal and coconut’ flavored. These were REAL good.  I grabbed a box of cereal as well which was extremely crunchy, but its taste  was nothing compared to my usual choices I typicaly pick up at home. I also got a bag of dried chestnuts. These things are a great snack when on the road. And the best thing I found…WILD STRAWBERRIES. These were not anything like the massive, often bland conventional grown junk you pick up at Sam’s. These were nothing that you could even get at Whole Foods. These were tiny, truly wild strawberries that reminded me of the ones I would pick up along hiking trails in the Alps. These little strawberries packed an amazing flavor. So…next time you are in Italy and going grocery shopping, make sure to question if McDonald’s branded mayonnaise is necessary, avoid the vacuumed-sealed cheeses,  and pick up as many pints of wild strawberries as you can afford.

After exploring the Italian grocery stores, I spoiled myself with some amazingly tasty foods that I wish we could find back in home in Louisiana

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Categories: Rants, Recommendations, Unexpected Randomness

Author:Mr. Fed Up

A guy looking for good grub. and YES....I have a website...and I am not going to bore you with one of those personal journal type of blogs. I promise. Check it out; www.FedUpFood.com

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12 Comments on “More Than Pizza and Pasta: What Italians Really Eat”

  1. July 21, 2012 at 7:25 am #

    than

    • July 21, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

      HAha, I blame it on my Louisiana grammar.

  2. July 22, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    YES, there is a ketchup other than tomato ketchup that you should be aware of: Mushroom ketchup. It packs a nice umami punch on top of steak. And while we’re at it, the famous German “Curry Gewurz” ketchup… which, although tomato-based, has little to do with tomato ketchup. Although the first one is a bit “out there”, I think you might enjoy the latter, it’s pretty awesome.

    As for McDonald’s mayo… The Golden Arcs do have a reputation for their mayo in the Netherlands, more so than for their fries at least. (In fact if you drop by in the land of the windmills and they happen to serve the “McKroket” there at the time you’re there – try it). The mayo isn’t “just” mayo there. It’s slightly pickled and herbs are added and it’s actually Quite Nice. And yes, it’s also outrageously expensive.

    • July 22, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

      Wow. I had NO idea there were other types of ‘ketchup.’ The mushroom one sounds AMAZING! Yep, and that curry one seems like a whole different breed of condiment…more of a ‘main-player,’ rather than an accent to a dish.

      Maybe McDonalds has a solid reputation for its ‘vinigered/flavored’ mayo in Italy too…I have no idea though, because I avoid McDonalds, and hated seeing them right next to famous Roman historic sights. I am also ALWAYS amazed at how much people are willing to pay for McDonalds in other countries…

  3. July 27, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

    Thanks for the grocery store report! Always interesting learning about that sort of thing

    • July 28, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

      I have seen grocery stores/ markets around the world…but was REALLY surprised at the Italian food finds.

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