Why Italian Food Sucks

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Back in 1999, I took my first trip to Italy.  I was dazzled by the ancient ruins, the magnificent cathedrals, and, of course, the food.  It seemed no matter where I sat down, a good meal was waiting to happen. From pizza to pasta, in Italy, you were basically guaranteed something tasty. Oh, how times have changed.

Since then, I have returned to Italy on three separate occasions, and each time I have left dissatisfied with the cuisine.  My most recent trip to Italy’s culinary heartland, Bologna, though, was certainly the most disappointing.  This was supposed to be the mecca of Italian cooking:  the home of ragù, mortadella, and tortellini en brodo.  So why was my food a salty mess of garbage?  Honestly, I found myself wishing to exchange my bowl of tortellini for at least some passable Russian pelmeni. And it’s not just me.  Apparently, even destitute migrants are thumbing their noses at free Italian food.

I have two basic theories about what has happened to one of the world’s most iconic cuisines.  The first being that Italian food was never that great.  Italy was one of the first European countries that I ever visited.  Maybe I was easily impressed.  Maybe I have let nostalgia color my judgment.  Or maybe Italian food just seemed good considering that the only thing I had to compare it with was the Olive Garden.

A market in Catania, Sicily

There is no doubt that the American culinary scene has changed immensely.  Twenty years ago, restaurant options were limited unless you lived in a big city like New York.  It was a world of diners and family-friendly chains like Applebee’s.  For most people, authentic Italian food just wasn’t an option. 

However, today it’s almost assured that you live within driving distance of some hipster’s bistro.  And as much as I despise hipsterdom, they care quite a bit about the quality of their food. While America (and much of the rest of the world) experienced a revolution in cooking, Italian fare has remained provincial and uninspired.

My second theory is that mass tourism has completely altered the marketplace for restaurants in Italy.  What is the point of serving up delicious meals when you’re never going to see your customer again?  It’s much easier (and cheaper) to pour a cup of salt in the sauce than actually develop the skills needed in a kitchen.

Italian restaurants tend to overdue it on the salt

The impact of tourism becomes obvious if you happen to venture away from the center of most Italian cities. Not only does the quality of the food increase, but the prices drop as well.  One of the best meals I have had in Italy was in an outlying neighborhood of Rome. 

But this suburban culinary boundary continues to be pushed further and further afield, making it progressively more difficult to sit down to a good meal. Again we are left searching for a few hidden gastronomic gems instead of being bedazzled by a plethora of options.  It’s almost like the Italians have consciously decided to keep their food to themselves while serving second rate cuisine to foreigners.  After all, they will never know the difference, right?

So what should one do?  My best advice is to get as far away from a city’s center as possible, never eat at a restaurant that opens before 8 PM, and run for the hills if more than half of the clientele is foreign.  Alternatively, buy the ingredients yourself and cook at home. There is plenty of fresh pasta, meats, cheeses, and vegetables for sale; it will almost certainly be better than anything you get in a restaurant. And if all else fails: go to Croatia.  They may not have Italy’s art, but they sure know Italian cooking.

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27 thoughts on “Why Italian Food Sucks”

  1. Oh, so Croatians know how to cook Italian food better than us Italians? That’s rich, coming from an American! Stop going to tourist traps and eat where Italians eat!

    1. I agree, one should never eat at a tourist trap. The problem is that this is becoming harder and harder to do, and frankly, for a culinary giant such as Italy, this should not be the case. It certainly wasn’t 20 years ago. Part of this has to do with expectations. The rest of the world has caught up to Italy when it comes to producing quality meals in general. I would rather take my chances on a random restaurant in London or Berlin than in Rome. That’s not to say that Italians can’t cook, and my best Italian meals have, or course, been in Italy; they have (with the exception of gelato) just been fewer and farther between in recent years.

      1. This article written by someone who probably has never understood anything about “authentic”,”traditional” or artisinal cuisines. The ethnic foods in America have been bastardized,doctored and altered with substitutions and wanting to show creativity that only the thing authentic other than the foods they are trying to represent is the language of the name of it’s dishes’ origin. So when someone tries to state that a certain quisine in the country of origin doesn’t stand up to American standards I’ll simply respond to this form of culinary discriminationvwith a simple : “stick with your hot dogs, hamburgers,steaks and potatoes”(and many in the U.S. screw up even the simplest of these forementioned American foods) and leave be the authentic European cuisines to their countries because you don’t know crap about food in general. A total insult to my heritage and intelligence.

        1. The restaurant scene in the US has come a long way in the last 20 years. That being said, I really can’t speak of the current quality of American-Italian restaurants as I rarely have a chance to eat in them. I have had excellent meals at predominately Italian-owned, Italian restaurants in Europe. My comparison, though, isn’t between Italian cuisine in the US and Italian cuisine in Italy but rather Italian restaurants in Italy circa 2000 and Italian restaurants in Italy, today. I believe there has been a general decline in quality and that this can mostly be attributed to tourism. But I also think that Italian food outside of Italy has improved dramatically in the last two decades, which naturally makes one more discerning.

        2. Thank you, I couldn’t agree more. I lived in Eur 30 years in different regions, cities, towns and villages of different countries. You never eat in large hotels or tourist traps, you always pick a “local” one. I dont even try to compare European cuisine to the so called European food in the US, you can’t and plus in the US they can’t follow the original recipe without ‘bastardizing’ it b evause it would taste better, from those who put ketchup and salt and mayonnaise all over their food to disguise the la c k of taste.ill eat Italian only in my house or Italy!

          1. I agree. It is best to avoid hotel restaurants and tourist traps. As far as comparing Italian food in America to Italy, I only suggested that the American restaurant scene, in general, has improved since the 1990s.

    2. Thank god someone disagrees with this statement, i am from italy turin and catania but i live in thailand

    3. Total agree what do you know about Italian cuisine, Italian food is one of the most favorite and sort cuisine in the world then again your American what would you know

    4. Stop being so offended lmao Italian food is objectively boring. And if you actually took the time to read the article you’ll see that the author does indeed tell the reader to stop going to touristy restaurants and instead go to small local places away from the high tourism areas

  2. Trovo di una assurdità completa questo articolo.
    Pieno di false notizie e la ciliegina sulla torta è stata che cucinano meglio in Croazia..
    Spero che tu abbia preso tanti soldi per scrivere una serie di idiozie così.
    Vi meritate di mangiare da Olive Garden per tutta la vita..

    1. First, I would never wish anyone to have to eat at an Olive Garden (I think there is something in the Geneva Convention about it being a war crime). A lot of people are missing the point of the article; this isn’t about Italian food but a criticism of the Italian restaurant scene. I stand by my assertion that the quality of your average Italian restaurant has decreased over the past two decades, mostly due to tourism.

      Also I want to clarify that I never said Croatians cook better than Italians or vice versa. Croatia has a similar climate to Italy, shares a long history with Italy, and has a substantial Italian minority. I don’t see why it is so controversial to think that an average Italian restaurant in Zadar can’t be better than your average Italian restaurant in Venice, which has been completely overrun by mass tourism.

  3. I totally agree with the comment that salt is overused. Probably the reason heart disease is so prevalent in Italy. I suggest reduce the salt and make it available for those who need as sodium hit!

    1. I glad you brought up heart disease because it does suggest that tastes have changed even among the Italians. For me at least, reducing the use of salt would go a long way in improving quality.

  4. I’m British/Italian and I would agree with part of this article. I was given a Doctor Otker pizza. I was disgusted with the owner of the restaurant, he must have thought that I didn’t know Italian food. My family come from Lazio and the cuisine in the Provincia di Frosinone is one of the best. Italian restaurants in Italy sometimes do serve up some shit and that goes for America too. Even in England most Italian restaurants serve shit but they are not mostly run by non Italians! The best Italian food is served up in the home it can’t be beaten!! A proud British/ Italian who was brought up on the regional cooking by my Mama. Every country serves shit up when they want!!

    1. Hi Tony,

      I think you make some good points, especially about home cooking! There is no denying the country’s enormous contributions to civilization, and indeed, to the development of my own country. Italian food has certainly enriched the world, and it deserves its place as one of mankind’s great cuisines, regardless. Appreciate your comments!

  5. I would just like to say that Italy has given the world so much more than most countries. As a British/Italian I am so proud of what my family and Italian immigrants have given to the world over many centuries of history, culture, food, cars, music, architecture, literature, science, etc. Yes they don’t get everything right I would agree but without Italy and Italian food the world would be much poorer. Viva I’Italia!!

  6. The system is working as intended.

    The people who know about food get to go to the good places, and those who don’t, get to go to the crappy tourist places.

    Italian restaurant scene is alive and well, thank you.

    There a McDonald’s and a burger king in Bologna, for next time you’re there.

      1. Who needs Italian-levels of salt when you’ve been brought-up on hydrogenated forever-fats as part of your pantry’s essentials? Sounds like you just had a hard time reading a menu or a review before going into a joint. Stick to BK; you can get it your way 😉

  7. I know I am late but I wholeheartedly agree with you… I fell into the hype of Italian food and each Italian meal that I tried has left me unimpressed and quite pissed off. A) loss of money and B) was gypped by a marketing ploy that was clearly a scam.
    My general liking for Italians has decreased tremendously, also the comments here have pushed it down even further which I already expect before reading the comments because Italians really don’t know how to take critiques and behaved like insufferable children.

  8. Yeah you are totally right.
    I am russian but i have lived in italy since i was a child. 18 years in italy now. I am planning to move back to Russia, but i think i can give a realistic advice on the food.
    In my opinion is way more overrated than it should be. Yes it can be good as a tourist, you try all the traditional dishes ( pizza pasta ecc), but try eating them every single day. It becomes super boring and you will notice that everywhere you go they will give you pasta with tomato. (I don’t even like tomatoes but thats another story) but it is super boring, a few dishes with infinite shapes and infinite names. But it is basically the same in every region with little differences based on the local production ( for example fish).
    And the final touch is the enourmous price. You can’t charge me 12€ for 150gr. of pasta.
    However, i would rather eat a bowl of good old Pelmeni with butter and dill, you will never get disappointed 😉

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