Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What's wrong with the American cooking? - Che cosa e' successo alla cucina americana?

Italian mom cooking a simple pasta dish for lunch
Seriously, what's wrong with the American cuisine? As far as food is concerned, I have never thought of myself as fussy. In the UK, despite I was used to only eating biscotti dipped in caffe latte in the morning, I even managed to eat - and enjoy - black pudding (fried animal blood mixed with a filler) and sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs simmered in the sheep's stomach) for breakfast. Ok, perhaps in those days everything had the taste of beer but, honestly, in 13 years I traveled, I complained about food once. I was living in Galway, a small town on the west coast of Ireland, fish was overpriced, the alternative, if I remember well, was to eat jacket potatoes and subs topped with mayonnaise. My Irish friend was totally on my side. At times she was driving me around to help me find a place where to eat. At some point I remember she said that our best bet was to go to Subway. Back in England, food was no longer a daily issue for me. There were Pret a Manger restaurants in all towns and having lunch outside the house was never a problem. 

Yet, here in Boston, I am finding it extremely hard to get used to the local cuisine and I keep bumping into three types of American moms and combinations of the three.

First there are the moms who claim they love cooking. These are people who buy spoons that cost more of their wedding ring and books with everything but simple recipes (e.g. pheasant cooked in champagne with artichokes) These are people who decide to order take out food after realizing that they were supposed to boil the artichokes they have already put in the sauce. If I go to their house on a normal day, I end up eating an old piece of turkey or cheese dip for nachos, which was probably in the fridge for a month, as the container was the size of a petrol can. Smile. It could have been worse. They could have put on the table spaghetti from the fridge with peanut butter. I saw this in an American comedy! I can guarantee that not a single person with a sense of humor would laugh at this on the Italian TV. The first immediate and only reaction would be: yuck!

Then there are the so called hypster-moms who view cooking as a science fiction thing from Mars (or at least it looks as if they are using ingredients from Mars). These are the people who only buy organic products from local businesses. Ironically, most of the food these people buy consists of processed stuff such as hot dogs (pardon, only white meat!) and chips (only organic, off-course!), pre-chopped vegetables ready to be microwaved in the bag, which already started to go off in the bag when it was in the store, and everything rigorously whole wheat, pasta included. Whole wheat pasta is almost impossible to cook properly. It either gets overcooked and sticky or undercooked and too hard. In Italy the only people I saw eating that are diabetics. No wonder their children throw everything on the floor.

Then there are the bakers. These moms, most of them with part-time jobs, are working hard and I have deep admiration for them. In my entire life, I have baked two things from scratch: a simple lasagna and a simple apple crumble. These people? In a year, they bake everything you can possibly imagine: bread, quiches, cupcakes, chocolate cheese cakes, fruit pies - you name it and they will make it for you, as long as it is rigorously filled with sugar. Their house smell like a bakery shop and their children, sooner or later, will learn to bake. So what's the problem? Despite their amazing baking skills, these moms, when it is time to prepare lunch or dinner, will raise their white flag. They would rather grab a couple of fried chicken pieces from an old bag in the freezer, throw some fries with it and give it to their children than trying to cook something simple but fresh. "Signur! Pet food in Italy looks better!", commented William's babysitter in one occasion. So true. 

An Italian woman I know, who runs a home daycare in the Boston area, is a star to the eyes of the American kids she is taking care of and a devil to the eyes of their mothers, simply because, like the average mom in Italy, she is able to cook a simple dish of pasta with tomato sauce! Apparently, the kids attending her daycare, at some point, asked their mom to cook something similar (instead of giving them sandwiches for lunch) but their mother said that they did not know how.

Sure, pasta is an Italian dish but how about the American BBQ? I mean, not burgers but chicken or a nice steak, cooked on the BBQ?

Cowboy cooking  a simple meal on the BBQ
Why can't I find this more often on people's BBQs here in the US? Why burgers and hot dogs instead? Last week I was late at a party and instead of that lovely piece of meat my taste buds were longing for, I ended up with a burned burger. The healthier alternative? Salad covered with blue cheese and garlic. The week before I ended up with bad pizza from the nearby Food Court at another birthday party. The BBQ was there but the host decided not to use it to avoid the hassle.

I don't have to eat at people's houses. I can always go to a restaurant on my way to their houses. It is not hard to find one. The problem is that at most restaurants they don't serve restaurant food but overcooked pasta, corn (the food the Italians give animals to eat) and super flavored pieces of burnt meat with extra gluey sauces on top, covering the flavor of the meat. Most of the times all this is stuffed into a big chewy piece of bread that if my father ever had to eat it, he would leave his denture inside.

It could be worse. I could get an invitation to an "Italian restaurant". Below are some of the dishes that might be in the menu:

1) Pasta in alfredo sauce (with the unforgettable garlic after taste)
2) Spaghetti with meat balls dog style (where does this come from?)
3) Cesar salad (who had the idea of turning an healthy dish into a bomb of calories?)
4) Penne with chicken in wine sauce (great idea, let's add chicken to pasta!)
5) Pizza without tomato sauce - I swear I saw someone adding tomato ketchup to it!
6) Lasagna (made with tortillas)
7) Folded pizza to make it into a calzone

Italian readers, what would you do if you were me? Escape? I bet most Americans readers wouldn't mind ordering one of the dishes above. Sadly, I see more and more people here in the Boston area, Italians included, who have lived here for many years and who have got used to eating food that tastes bad and to even liking it. It makes me wonder if I am the one who is awkward about food here. Luckily, I am in the land of freedom and I can always say: "No, thank you. I am not hungry" and go to my secret chocolate stash in my handbag.

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