Most Americans’ idea of authentic Italian dining experiences stem from two sources: that restaurant from Lady and the Tramp and Mafiosi yelling in Brooklynese with gobfuls of gabagool in The Godfather trilogy. Italian-Americans revel in their heritage, yet some would feel quite out of place in the motherland if they abided by the dining dictates of the new world. Remember Paulie Walnuts’s visit to Naples? (This forty-five-second clip sums it all up)
The Italians have rigid dinning rules from sunrise to sunset; many are nonsensical by today’s standards though all are steeped in tradition and superstition. And while you could surely get away with breaking some these rules stateside, you’re definitely going to want to abide by nuovo Etruscan etiquette abroad. Capiche?
1. Cappuccini* after Breakfast
Italians consider this frothed affair to be a breakfast-only beverage. Enjoy your “capped hat” java, named after the hoods of the Capuchin friars, before noon or expect eyerolls. Generations ago, Southern Italians believed that milk after a meal was bad for digestion and taking more than a macchiato’s amount of milk after noon has become ingrained throughout the country. (*plural for cappuccino)
2. Cheese on Seafood
I once saw a woman in an upscale Italian eatery in New York ask exhaustively for cheese on her linguine alle vongole, believing the waiter was slighting her. She then turned to her guest when the server was done snowing Parmigiano-Reggiano all over her clams, and exclaimed, “He didn’t offer any to me because I’m a woman!” Her friend told her the real reason — that Italians would rather ketchup carpaccio than cheese their seafood — and the woman shrunk three sizes. But why? Cheese won’t curdle with citrus, and there’s really no reasoning behind it; it’s just not done. You could suck consommé through a straw, but you shouldn’t do that either.
Italian imposters will slip you a spoon prior to spaghettiing, and Emily Post thinks it’s perfectly proper, yet it’s not so much that it’s improper; it’s simply unnecessary. If your pasta is served in a bowl (as it should be), you needn’t any other utensil other than a fork. The reason pasta is not plated is so that you can twirl it against the side of the bowl. And anyone who cross-cuts their strangolapreti should be strangled. Period.
4. Campari After Sunset
Campari from lunch to apperitivi is the way to go: from Garibaldi, to Americani, to Negroni, but bitter-cocktailing after the sun has set simply not does sit well with Italians. Wine or water is poured for dinner, unless you’re enjoying pizza, in which case a soft drink is acceptable.
If you see a goumba gorging himself on galamad and think that stating the obvious to your friend that he’s probably “in the mafia!” is a good idea, you should think again.
While you may very well be right, do you really want the don to hear you? If you don’t own a storefront business, deal with contractors, or work in an Italian restaurant, then you should leave well enough alone. Those in the know certainly know better than to ever say the word in public — after all there’s a hand gesture for that. Raise your eyebrows, take your right index finger, lay it beside your nose and casually push your nose to the left.
For example, “That maitre d’ gave you grief about ordering a cappuccino with dessert? Get the fuck outta here! I’ll have my cousin Frankie take care of that stupid mamaluke for you. You remembah Frankie — he’s uuuh — [insert hand gesture].”
Five Things Not Found in Italy
- Chicken Parmesan (sadly).
- Penne alla Vodka (first clue: “vodka.”)
- Fettuccine Alfredo
- Cappuccino with whipped cream
- Chicken on pizza