There can be no question that Italian food has done more than any other regional cuisine to influence the spread of fine dining and the absolute enjoyment of meals that are crafted using only the freshest of ingredients and combine flavors in a way that makes enjoying the restaurant experience one of life’s greatest pleasures.
However, the spread and popularity of Italian cuisine has also, strangely enough made the search for authentic Italian restaurants that much more difficult. It seems that many entrepreneurs who have a desire to get into the restaurant business have looked at the continued popularity of Italian food and recognized that the Italian concept restaurant has survived trends and changes in tastes far longer than many other types of operation.
However, this also means that many of these restaurateurs will feel the need to cater to the tastes of the masses – and that is where they sometimes lose sight of what authentic Italian restaurants should be.
If you are in search of an authentic Italian meal these are some of the things you should be looking out for.
Firstly take a look at the garlic bread offering. If it’s the baguette type with healthy lashings of butter and garlic – you’re probably not in an authentic Italian restaurant. Italian cooking uses a lot less garlic than one might think and the version that is served in Italy as a snack would be ‘Bruschetta aglio e olio.’ That is garlic rubbed on toasted bread and soaked in olive oil.
The starter of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. In Italy the fine taste and refinement of a good olive oil would never be ruined by the overpowering taste of balsamic. If you are offered this in a restaurant that claims to be the real thing there’s a good chance that it’s not.
If you are being offered the choice of carbonara with cream it may not be the authentic Italian experience that you are looking for. It is delicious but the Italian version is ‘Pasta alla carbonara’. Al dente is prepared, pancetta (bacon) is fried until very crispy. The two are combined and whisked raw egg is carefully added. Then pecorino cheese is grated over this with the addition of black pepper and salt. A very different and sumptuously rich dish – no cream required.
in fact there are very few pasta dishes in Italian cuisine that are prepared with cream. Even the famed Fettuccine Alfredo was created (albeit in Italy) to cater to American tastes.
Another sign that you might not be in for that authentic Italian dining experience is if the menu is incredibly pasta centric. Pasta is huge in Italy – but there are wealth of other choices from regions across the country. And if you do order the pasta and the sauce is simply piled onto the top – you’re in the wrong place. That only leaves the top layer of pasta soggy and the bottom dried out. It should be mixed before being served.
Authentic Italian cuisine can be an absolute delight and exploring it is a culinary adventure – make sure you are enjoying the real thing.