Italian Appetizers – A Breaded Misunderstanding

We often wonder how the Italians manage to stay slim when all they seem to eat are bread, pasta, and meat. The answer is simple – they eat everything in moderation. However, this question is a result of our decades-long misconception about what Italian cuisine really is. Italian Americans are largely responsible for this misunderstanding, as when they came to America, they had to make the food they used to prepare back home with the ingredients that were available to them in their new environment.

The Origin of the Misunderstanding

Our idea of Italian appetizers is one of many misconceptions we have about authentic Italian cuisine. People in the United States believe that a thick slice of tasty garlic bread is a traditional appetizer in Italy, but they’re wrong. Bread – and especially garlic bread – is highly caloric and is therefore not usually served as an appetizer in Italy. Bread became accepted as one of the traditional Italian appetizers because of its similarity with bruschetta, something the Italians actually eat as an antipasto.

The traditional bruschetta is made of thinly sliced grilled bread with garlic, topped with salt and a splash of olive oil. Bruschetta is served as an appetizer in combination with fresh tomatoes, and less frequently with other vegetables. When Italians came to America, they were amazed at the amount of ingredients they could purchase for merely a fraction of what used to be their food budget back home. This led to an increase in the quantity of food they served, which might help explain how bread replaced bruschetta as one of the most popular Italian appetizers.

Do Italians Eat Bread?

Italian appetizers

Although bread is not one of the authentic Italian appetizers, it is regularly served with other meals. Italians don’t eat bread on its own, but rather in combination with some other foods. Because Italian food is usually sauce-heavy – a tradition established at the close of the 16th century with the introduction of tomatoes to the everyday diet – they use the remains of their bread to mop up the sauce that’s left on their plate after they’ve finished eating the dish.

There’s even a name for this custom – it’s called “fare la scarpetta,” which is an equivalent of what we refer to as “licking the plate clean.” One of the more plausible explanations of this ritual says that it’s rooted in the so-called “poor cuisine” of the south. People were so hungry there that they would mop up every last drop of sauce off their plates because they never knew when their next meal would be. Their fear-driven ritual remains a custom throughout Italy long after mass-hunger became a thing of the past.

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