Every Friday night during my childhood, without fail, my family would sit down to an elaborate antipasto. It would be replete with rich buffalo mozzarella, briny olives, good bread, and copious amounts of prosciutto. And every Friday night, without fail, my dad would complain that whoever sliced the prosciutto at our local Stop & Shop didn’t cut it thin enough for his liking.
This is hardly my dad’s only strong food opinion. A born-and-bred Milanese who only moved to the United States in his late 30s, he has plenty of thoughts about bastardized Italian food in his adopted country and strong attachments to certain culinary traditions. Sundays were always reserved for a leisurely pasta lunch, during which he found it baffling — no, offensive — that we would ever choose to eat our salad before the spaghetti. (And God forbid anyone cook pasta or rice one second over al dente.) He hates creamy sauces — far less typical in Italian cooking than the average chain would want you to believe — about as much as he loves watching soccer, and he can be found watching soccer the vast majority of the time he’s not working. The last time we went out to Chinese food together, he called the dumplings “ravioli.” Yes, before you ask, he does make this hand gesture a lot.
I like to joke that my dad is the most Italian man alive, but that would be inaccurate — he’s just a regular amount of Italian. But it wasn’t until later in my life that I realized that my dad wasn’t uniquely a pain in the ass about food, and that most Italians are insanely tightly wound about their cuisine.
Last year, I came across a Twitter account that exemplifies that attitude, and it quickly became one of my favorite places online. Italians Mad at Food (@italiancomments) is a treasure trove of, well, Italians mad at food. The creator, who is not Italian, combs the comments on Tasty and other viral recipe purveyors on Facebook to bring you the best (read: maddest) Italians the internet has to offer. They’re furious that American recipe sites have taken their beloved national dishes and spit out deranged remixes; one-pot pasta is particularly enraging for them, as well as anything cooked in a cream or milk-based sauce, but there are no limits to their anger. Crucially, they’re all very dramatic. “Obviously there is no spinach chiken pasta recipe in Italy. In Italy, a recipe like this is a crime worst than a murder. Anyway,” writes one. “Porco dio. Ohhh yes the fuck. Pasta boiled in the milk? Yes we did things like this for our dog,” bemoans my personal favorite.
The account is hilarious, but beyond that, I found myself feeling pangs of of nostalgia and a deep attachment to it every time I scrolled through. I could hear my dad’s voice — and his irritation — in every single comment.
When I sent the page over to him and remarked on the stark similarities, he first wanted to make it clear that he’s not as “vulgar” as most of the commenters. This, I will concede. But he also insisted that he wasn’t nearly as extreme or as attached to food as the rest of them, saying he “wouldn’t go to war over a plate of spaghetti.” “They’re so full of themselves that they can’t acknowledge that other countries can cook better than the Italians,” he continued. “But in the case of the Americans, they’re right. When Americans put their hands on Italian food, they really abuse it.”
It’s a well-worn cliché that we all turn into our parents, to the point where we brace ourselves to expect this inevitability. But one of the surprises of getting older is finding the unexpected places where those similarities will crop up. As for me, the hair on the back of my neck stands up in indignation whenever I hear someone mispronounce bruschetta, and I recently caught myself describing a recipe for “fruit panzanella” as “an abomination to both God and man.” I may have tried to outeat my destiny — one inauthentic fettuccine alfredo dish at a time — but, at the end of the day, I suppose I’m just another Italian mad at food.