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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: American Foods in Italy

PART 46: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.

We live in Puglia in the Summer and then back again in the winter.

Step 1: I lived in Italy for eight years in the 1980s, and now we are returning, living in Puglia following the 90 days in/out model (see previous blog).

Peoples, cultures, and practices evolve, including the emergence of American foods in Italy. Examining some foods that have entered the Italian mainstream might be fun.

Step 2: The pancake. I was in our grocery store in Puglia recently, looking at all the packages of cookies that I shouldn't be buying. One package caught my eye since it was labeled "pancakes." Of course, I picked it up and squeezed it. Yep, cooked pancakes inside wrapped in cellophane. I called my partner over and showed him with a curious expression.

We went for coffee the following week, and I saw pancakes on the menu, so I ordered them. A few minutes later, I had a nice stack of 3 pancakes with maple syrup, nuts, and bananas in front of me.

When I squeezed the bag of pancakes in the grocery store and then ordered them at our cafe, the pancakes had a similar feel of density. The pancakes were not light and fluffy but were much firmer than what I am used to, having been made beforehand. I have seen cooked pancakes stacked up and pre-prepared, in fact, in several cafes.

In conclusion, the pancake has entered the mainstream in Italy, but it is a different take. I don't find pancakes in Puglia better or worse than the fluffier type I am used to since they are a different type of product adapted to another kind of taste.

I am glad that I can appreciate both.

Step 3: Peanut butter. I love my peanut butter but hate the kind that separates into a layer of oil. Personal preference.

When I lived in Rome in the 1980s, the seminary supplied us with peanut butter (shipped in from Africa) because of the number of Americans. But then, one day during a conference, the priest in charge claimed it caused cancer, so the peanut butter stopped.

We suspected the real reason was the expense; he wanted to reduce the budget, so he made a story to cover his tracks.

Fast forward to now; we can find peanut butter in just about every supermarket we have set foot in here in Puglia. But in our experience, stores tend to carry less expensive Italian brands with a layer of oil, or Skippy, which spreads easier. What is the downside? Skippy peanut butter is expensive.

Our solution: buy the Skippy but stop putting gobs of it on a sandwich as we do back in California.

If I have to spread thinner to keep getting my Skippy, I will do that!

Step 4: Doughnuts. When I lived in Italy in the 1980s, I saw donuts at most bars and cafes; they were always sugar donuts. I am not a big donut eater, but occasionally, I would enjoy a fresh Italian donut with a crunchy sugary crust.

What about the American version of donuts, covered with maple, vanilla, pink, blue, and almost every other color and flavor of frosting? Back in California, there are so many choices that sugar donuts get hidden by the maple bars and strawberry-filled jellies.

Back to Italy: I've always felt a sense of pride that Italy seemed to have stood fast and stuck with the simple but fresh sugar donut.

But alas, all things change. I counted at least five different frosting colors on the donuts at the bakery in our supermarket.

I saw the increased variety as a setback rather than progress.

Why can't we stick to the delicious fresh sugar donuts, which depend more on simple, fresh ingredients rather than crazy-colored frostings?

Give me my plain sugar donut, please.

Step 5: Coca-cola and milk. Years ago, a family I knew invited me to a formal lunch at their home in southern Italy. When we sat down, everyone except me had a wine glass on the table. In front of my dish was placed a can of Coke.

Since I was friends with this family, I laughed out loud. "But don't you always drink Coca Cola?" one of my hosts asked. "I haven't drunk a Coke in years!" I replied. "What do you drink with your meals?" they asked.

I thought for a moment.

"Well, water, juice, or sometimes, when I have a sandwich for lunch, a glass of milk."

You can guess what happened next.

"Milk! Milk???? Milk with a meal????"

I still hear about that one.

Coca-cola has been mainstream in Italy for decades; the first bottle produced in the country was in 1927. It is a popular beverage, as evidenced by various varieties in stores.

The stereotype that Americans drink Coke a lot still has some remnants here. Some do, but others stick to water, juices, and other beverages.

I have to make a confession: recently, the longer I am in Puglia, the more often I ask for a Coke Zero, whereas in California, I rarely touch it. Why is that?

As far as drinking a glass of milk with a sandwich for lunch…well, my local friends still think I'm crazy when I do that.

But I like my milk. What can I say?

Insights: American foods working their way into Italian culture can be gratifying, amusing, or regrettable. (I hope junk food doesn't replace the incredible cuisine here.)

It can be interesting to trace the influence of cultures through foods and appreciate what is unique to certain areas; it helps one understand that the intermingling of cultures can have many positive, negative, or neutral effects.

My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US:

More next time.

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Jun 05, 2023

Loving your blogs as my husband and I intend to try the Schengen split basing ourselves in Bari. As Australians 🇦🇺 the foods are pretty much the same here and we have enjoyed the Italian take on foods. Same same but different 😂😂😂 We do love a croissant filled with crème or pistachio. Keep on blogging 👍

Mark Tedesco
Mark Tedesco
Jun 05, 2023
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Thank you so much. I am glad you are taking that step; life is short and you are making your dreams into a reality. Not everyone has the guts to do that! Bravo

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