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Real Italian Food

How to make authentic Italian food? What is Italian comfort food? What are the 10 Italian dishes that don’t exist in Italy? When we’re speaking about real Italian food, if someone never visited Italy, and never tried for example southern Italian food, might not even know what it actually is. You know, the food in Italian restaurants around the world might be called Italian, but just a few of them are authentically Italian. Each country and each restaurant changes somehow the recipes. One great example before we start talking about real Italian food in detail is the Spaghetti alla Carbonara. So, let’s get right into the real Italian food and Italian food that doesn’t exist in Italy!

Real Italian food – Authentic Italian dishes

There’s almost no place around the world where this simple Italian recipe would be done authentically, and in most cases, it has actually nothing to do with the real Italian spaghetti Carbonara. Well, in this article we’ll be discussing what is authentic Italian food, and what isn’t. By the end of this post, you’ll learn how to tell if a dish is actually Italian, or it’s just called as so.

You should know, that everything we discuss in this article is considered authentically Italian if it is something that’s popular in Italian cuisine, it’s part of the Italian cuisine or it’s considered being Italian by the Italians. We’ll discuss if different Italian food is used in the kitchen of Italians or if it’s used differently? Also, those originating from Italy but aren’t popular in the country, or they were completely recreated in the United States or other countries.

How to make authentic Italian food?

Authentic Italian Pasta
Authentic Italian Pasta ( Cucina con Bubu )

In New York City – but also in my area, Washington DC – there are few authentic Italian restaurants. My subjective, but experienced, opinion is that 90% of the Italian restaurants in the US are not Italian at all. If the words “Italian food” conjures up thoughts of Italian American restaurant chains or pizza with a red-purple sauce and lots of garlic powder, well… this is simply not Italian!

I personally hate that type of cooking! Italian American food is loaded with too many strange-tasting additives. In fact, one might even call them “addictive,” because people end up getting used to their strong, overwhelming flavor, to the detriment of the much more delicate — and healthier taste of authentic Italian cooking.

Italian dishes are all about simplicity. Italians don’t like to stuff one dish with dozens of ingredients, instead, they prefer making many different but simple dishes. This is very much visible if you’re getting the chance to attend an Aperitivo or a dinner at an Italian house (in Italy!). The table will be full of many different things, but they are all simple, easy-to-make Italian dishes, with fresh and healthy ingredients.

When it comes to authentic Italian food, believe me, that the key is always the natural taste of great ingredients. And never the artificial spice mixes that you can buy in the shop. That’s done for business, and not for your health or healthy eating. So let’s see what are those like southern Italian food types and Italian dishes that are not Italian? Also, we’ll discuss what is considered authentically Italian. But let’s dig deeper into the Italian comfort food and see what’s traditional and what isn’t!

Pasta – the king of Italian dishes

italian pasta
Authentic Italian Food: Strozzapreti, tagliatelle, buffalo mozzarella, real Parmesan cheese 

You may already know that Italian pasta is the base of most Italian dishes. What makes the pasta still really authentic and interesting, that it comes in different shapes and even different colors. You might be asking how many types of pasta exist in Italy! Well, you should know, that each region and even each town and city has their traditional types of pasta that sometimes really defer. It’s great when you are planning to visit Italy to check out the pasta types for the region you’re visiting.

This way, you always know what is local and traditional Italian pasta in the place you’re visiting. This also gives you the possibility to try great Italian local dishes that you might not find anywhere else. So about the shapes. There are more than 350 types of pasta in Italy.

As we know, spaghetti, tagliatelle, macaroni, and farfalle pasta are really popular all over the world. But imagine that, 350 types of Italian pasta! If you eat a dish with a different shaped pasta every day, you won’t be eating the same shaped pasta for almost a year. This variety, and the creativity that has created it makes the Italian pasta a perfect base for different dishes. For more, read here how NOT to cook pasta.

Authentic Italian Dressing?

real italian food

How to make authentic Italian food? Here’s an example of Italian food that doesn’t exist in Italy. That so-called authentic Italian dressing. Just think about how many businesses are that basically make their living by giving their food dressings or salad dressings an Italian name, or putting it on the jars that it’s ITALIAN. As we all love Italy, obviously we want to buy it, am I right?

However Italian dressing doesn’t exist in Italy. Yes, there are different sauces sold here as well, but they aren’t popular among Italians who are still making their dishes the way they learned from the nonna (grandma). Also, in Italy it’s considered a sin to change traditional recipes, or to mix up eating and food traditions, so you can imagine how many people leave the grocery store with some kind of pre-made dressing. Looking it up online, there are more than 100 different brands and types of so-called Italian dressings just in the US.

Well, if you want to eat authentic Italian food, you stop buying those dressings and you start making the sauces and dressings with fresh ingredients, at home! That’s the Italian way. Anyway, Italian dressing is usually either olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or lemon juice. That’s it!

The same goes for Italian-style bread crumbs or Italian seasoning. Concoctions you won’t find anywhere in Italy. Italian style bread crumbs are dried bread that was grated as anywhere else in the world the normal bread crumbs are made. And about that Italian seasoning… We in Italy use salt, pepper, sometimes oregano and basil, but NOT for each and every existing Italian dish. In Italy, you’re not overpricing the dishes. Remember, simplicity!

Marketing the not-authentic Italian dishes in the United States

real italian food

In the mind of many Americans, Italian comford food continues to be associated with the image of a pretty big guy eating spaghetti with meatballs. But the reality is that, practically, no one eats spaghetti with meatballs in Italy. These days, some people do it now in Italy as well, but spaghetti with meatballs is not at all authentic Italian!

Italians do have meat sauce recipes that require long and laborious preparation (including marinating the meat for 3-4 days in aged red wine), but they also have an incredible number of variations of pasta dishes cooked with vegetables or seafood. The branding in the US for Italian products, like southern Italian food, or Italian dishes is really an amazing marketing trick to make people buy their products, nothing else. It’s just great marketing for something that’s not actually authentic, as it is often being sold as.

The variety of the Italian diet, the continued, widespread reliance on fresh ingredients cooked on the spot, and the extensive use of vegetables, fruit, and olive oil all contribute to the generally healthy state of Italians who, on average, appear thinner than Americans, especially after they hit the age of 40.

It is known, in the end, that there is a direct relationship between being overweight and the heavy consumption of over-processed foods and sugary drinks, along with the avoidance of fruits, vegetables, and a little bit of wine with your meals.

Mind, this problem is not only American, but it begins showing also among Italy’s younger generations, more and more attracted by the American lifestyle and the fast food, that’s trying to break through in Italy as well.

A lot has been written about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Without going deeper into the matter, I would like to tell you that Italian comfort food – that is found in Italy – is not only good for you, but it really tastes great! Enjoy the adventure of exploring authentic Italian food, not only a delight for the senses but also an expression of the cultural and traditional heritage of the country. So if you’re asking how to make authentic Italian food, below you can learn how NOT to do it!

Guide to recognizing real Italian dishes and food

pizza forte sirmione
The best pizza with Gorgonzola and Spicy Salami – Restaurant Al Cavallo, Sirmione, Italy – photo by Helga Dosa

The Italian comfort food includes most of the traditional Italian dishes. When you are outside of Italy, having “Italian” printed somewhere on the menu is not identical to authentic grub. If you’re after Italian-American dishes, then your spaghetti and meatballs or fettuccine Alfredo are perfect, and indeed, they can be delicious. Yet, if you’re after real Italian dishes, then you have to pay attention to a couple of things, both when you shop and you’re eating out.

Shopping to cook – How to make authentic Italian food?

authentic italian food

Shopping to cook a proper Italian meal, or Italian comfort food is actually very simple, once you are into the gist, and it’s pretty cheap, too. Italians tend to cook everything from scratch and that means you’ll probably spend less than you think at the grocery store! You’ll only need basic – but fresh – ingredients!

So, if you’re planning to turn your dining table into an Italian one, you should keep these few things in mind:

  • Invest in very good quality extra virgin olive oil: it’s at the heart of our cuisine and there is no reason to save on that. If you find it, do buy Italian, of course!
  • Always try to cook with what’s in season: in Italy, we like to eat what nature gives us, when nature gives it to us. So, forget about zucchini in December or oranges in August. They are just not going to be at their best.
  • Always keep the following in the kitchen: extra virgin olive oil, plain tinned tomatoes (without any extra flavor or herbs added), 00 flour (plain flour), dried yeast, dried herbs (oregano, rosemary, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves), pulses like lentils, a good chunk of Parmigiano, fresh garlic, a couple of onions, canned tuna, good quality pasta (wholegrain too: we’re getting big into it!) and some seasonal vegetables. With these, you can make everything you want, really.
  • Dress your salad the Italian way: a dash of olive oil, a bit of red vinegar (or lemon, if you prefer it), a bit of salt. Forget about everything else!
  • Eat your bread without butter …..but not together with pasta!

Eating out – Proper Italian dishes

authentic italian food

Taking care of your shopping is easy when compared to the difficult task of recognizing an authentically Italian eatery from a bad, spurious version of it. Let’s see if we can give you a hand!

  • Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! Italian food is all about simplicity so, if a place has over-complex, over-rich dishes laden with cream and egg, then it’s not likely to be a real Italian place!
  • Pasta and chicken just don’t go together in Italy! I am not saying it’s not nice, but chicken is never served with pasta, nor is it, in fact, flavored with pesto.
  • Fresh cream (cooking cream) is not that popular in Italian cuisine! Sure, we use it here and there, but if you see an “Italian restaurant” with a list of creamy dishes as long as Route 66, then you can rest assured the grub ain’t that authentic. Maybe good, but not authentic.
  • Mozzarella is a soft, fresh cheese! You can’t grate it and it’s not smoked or vacuum-packed dry either. Mozzarella is sold in a plastic bag conserved in its own liquid! So, if they offer you grated mozzarella, just leave! That’s not a real Mozzarella. A tip though: Costco imports excellent water buffalo mozzarella directly from Italy.
  • We don’t do lasagne with french fries, nor garlic bread!
  • Pasta is not a side dish for meat! Pasta is a primo piatto, which means it’s the first course and it’s eaten before the meat!

So, how to make authentic Italian food? It doesn’t matter if it’s southern Italian food or from the north. Here’s our little take on the difference between “real” Italian food and what its international version looks like. Mind, there’s no will to denigrate other countries’ cuisines here! In fact, there are many, truly delicious non-Italian Italian dishes out there. Problem is, they are not from the country they claim to be and this creates not only confusion but also an overall problem about the way Italy is perceived and portrayed abroad. Let’s try to keep what’s inspired by Italian comfort food separated from the real thing and we’ll certainly end up with happier, fuller stomachs!

Original Article by Paolo Nascimbeni – Complete makeover by Helga Dosa

Pin it: Authentic Italian Dishes – Italian Food that doesn’t exist in Italy

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Brad Checkett
2 years ago

Just like Mexican food I don’t eat the real thing. Oh well ! I prefer the non authentic versions more anyway. Store bought pasta , chicken , lots of sauce and parmesan cheese in a shaker can. I can live with that.

3 years ago
Reply to  Wm Cullen

Your comment is correct, however also the article I wrote is correct. I grew up in Italy in the 70s and 80s I wrote the article a few year back when I never heard of Fettuccine Alfredo. It is not at a common dish in Italy but recently some touristic restaurant do offer the dish. I consider Italian dish a dish that you can commonly find in Italy at a non touristic restaurant. Thanks for the comment and the research however.

Wm Cullen
3 years ago

The author claims, “If you’re after Italian-American dishes, like spaghetti and meatballs, or Fettuccine Alfredo”…

Apparently, the writer here, needs to talk to some more Italians. My research, (FOUR sources) say in the early to mid 20th century, Alfredo di Lelio, introduced Fettuccine Alfredo at his restaurant in Rome, preparing the pasta dish tableside. I am pretty sure the “Rome” in this case wasn’t Rome, GA, but Rome Italy.

This makes me wonder what other errors are in this story.

3 years ago
Reply to  Derek McDoogle

We hope you’ve found the right place!

3 years ago

I like what you said about investing in high-quality olive oil to help you make Italian food. My sister has been telling me about how she wants to start cooking more in the coming months. I’ll share this information with her so that she can look into her options for making Italian food.

4 years ago

I did not know that spaghetti and meatballs isn’t an Italian dish. My friend who is from Italy will come to visit me and I was thinking about what to do for dinner. I will better look for an Italian restaurant where we can have a delicious dinner.

4 years ago
Reply to  Mike

Hello Mike! Often oil and vinegar are brought to the table with the salads. You might find it already on the table, but it’s not a good habit to have bread and olive oil before your dinner, it ruins your appetite. It’s not something we normally do.

4 years ago

Interesting side note:
While vacationing in southern Italy several years ago and enjoying the wonderful small family owned restaurants, never did we have a dish of olive oil placed on the table with bread for dipping as we do here in the states…Anyone else have that experience??

Tarnika Wilcher
4 years ago

I really appreciate what was said from PS on here… Italian-American food and restaurants is very different from Italian food.

Mike Hickey
4 years ago

I’ve lived in Italy for one year now having visited a number of times and eaten many meals at the home of different Italians and I will tell you that there is definitely not a songle definition of Italian food by any means. I’ve had my faborite houses and reestaurants. And you can get bad pizza and gelato in Italy. I would in fact say that most of the gelato and pizza is downright not very good at all but Italians eat it it anyway. I’m not kidding! It constantly surprises me.

4 years ago

Very hard to find (in Italy) a restaurant that serves chicken.
In Italy chicken is considered a home meal.
I lived 55 yrs in Italy and never eat spaghetti and meatballs, so I don’t know what are you all talking about.
I have one of the very few Italian restaurant in US 100% Italian.

4 years ago

In 25 years living in and traveling throughout Italy, I have yet to see meatballs and spaghetti on a menu! A good article; it’s too bad that one cannot taste what is being described while reading. Of course, Italian cuisine differs from region to region, but it is difficult to find a bad meal.

Bryce Bertolino
4 years ago

Its regional. My family were Montana homesteaders from Piemonte and Val d Aosta. I remember very little shaghetti but exquisite meat ravioli a couple times a year. risotto with mushrooms from the mountains and early spring dandelion salads. Into the fall it was Sage Hen or Rabbit Cacciatore or Saiovie. They were forced. to make their own wine so there were a lot of stews even horse.. The highlight of the year was Bagna Cauda at the end of the year. I remember a 50 mile rounnd trip for anchovies.
I do remember some pasta made from chicken stock and ketchup. We needed the carbs.

Barbara Sullivan
4 years ago

Just returned from Italy with my family … food absolutely delicious… did not see any heavy people anywhere… all thin.. My 12 year old grandson said the mozzarella on the pizza there is delicious while in America we freeze the cheese .. maybe that’s why the pizza tastes different he said… not as good…

4 years ago

The reason so many Italian dishes are the way they are is because when the Italians first came to America they were extremely poor and brought over non perishable items and made pastas and breads to fill them. Meat was later added to their meals once they made more money and felt as if it were a luxury to eat meat and starches together as the Americans did. They used what they had to feed their families and as we all know… fed whoever came to their door even if it meant less for them. That’s just what Italians do!
So, you see the Italian-American cooking stemed from what they had at the time and the new generations passed it along. At least they cooked from the heart!

Mrs Marcucci
4 years ago

Finally, someone is educating the American people that 99% of the Italian restaurants are not Italian cuisine, Bravo!
They service food we that Italian never heard of and come up a stupid name for a dishes of pasta or whatever else on their menu.

I can’t believe how people just love to eat Italian food, that is not, examples
Fried ravioli (it tasted like cardboard and had no taste) also the
eggplant parmesan was horrible. Spaghetti with seve with one huge meatball that had no taste to it and meatball was the size of softball,.

People, keep on forcing me to go with them to try these Italian restaurant. I honestly, can’t say they disgraces the Italian cuisine and as I tell my husband who is Italian like I, they should call there restaurants anything else but not Italian restaurant.

Begin Italian I prefer to eat at home, the taste of true Italian cuisine which I learned from Mia Bella Mamma

Susan Burgess
4 years ago

Beatiful information! My mother’s family was from Northern Italy in the Lombard region. My mom told me that her father hated ketchuo and never on the table. He liked tripe. Also they made sauce with a piece of roast simmered in it. They had friends that brought them trays of ravioli from there past business in St. Louis where we are from. When I was a young girl, my family made ravioli with a recipe handwritten by a relative. It was delicious! I can’t wait to go to Italy and try the cuisine. It sounds amazing! I love to cook and try my best to stay true to the cuisine. Thank you!

4 years ago

wow…..to be sure much food in American restaurants is far afield of their native ethnic origins, not just Italian, and are adjusted to the American palate…..eat a meal in an Italian house and you will realize how off base our versions are….Americans don’t understand that…..go to the UK and order a pizza, it just ain’t Italian, get over it, the same thing but different

4 years ago

Been to Italy twice. The way of life is different there. From what is usually ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner to desserts. Food is light and simple. Food is also made healthier and not alot of added flavors. Sauce is sauce, pasta is a main dish, eggs and sausage for lunch. Breakfast consists of a light biscuit, cookie or pastry. Lunch is your heaviest meal of the day. Dinner is your appetizers. Pizza doesn’t have alot of toppings, usually just a couple and with no shredded cheese. So visit Italy, you would love and admire the “dolce vita” as they call it.

Randolph D
4 years ago

“Pasta is not a side dish for meat.” It is in Nebraska, but the places that do that do not claim to be authentic Italian. They claim to serve cattle.

Julann Dycus
4 years ago

Wonderful information! I am opening an Italian restaurant soon. I really want true Italian dishes. Thank you!

4 years ago
Reply to  G pizzo

Hello G pizzo!
I am Italian and live in Italy and with my family we normally eat salad first. At the restaurant no, you are served salad with the second courses. Unless you order a salad as starter (which I sometimes do). But at home we like to have salad first.

G pizzo
4 years ago

Salad before meal NEVER!!!

G pizzo
4 years ago

Sauce? Gravy
My family always calls it gravy. Made with meat.
Marinara without meat.
Always ate our salad at end of the meal. When did eating salad first begin???
Nothing beats the food in Italy!!

Angela Waterford
4 years ago

It’s interesting to know that Italian dishes rely on fresh ingredients in order to bring out certain flavors in their dishes. I think I’ll look for some restaurant menus and see which restaurant I’ll go to. This way, I can eat healthy while I eat in an Italian restaurant.

J L Holsten-Roca
4 years ago

Use what you have on hand & seasonal ingredients. Creativity in the kitchen is key. Limoncello Tiramisu anyone?
Favorite dish at local restaurant
– Gnocchi with Pesto Cream Sauce Portobello Mushrooms.. Owner is from
Italy. I adapt, create, and yes have used
hints from husbands family (origin Naples). Just found out that I do not cook or serve in an Italian manner.
It is about enjoying what you do and sharing with family and friends. I
enjoy cooking and eating Italian,
and have received 5 stars (*****) from
my father in law for my Wedding Soup.

Patrick I McDermott
4 years ago

Best advise I got was eat the local specials and drink the local wine.

4 years ago

The idea of Itsliam food is not reality. Food differs from region to region. Northern food is very different from true Sicilian fare. Real, seasonal ingredients, less meat, more veggies, etc.. cetera are universal.

Teresa Agugliaro
4 years ago

I totally agree with your comments. There is not like having a meal in Italy. Correct, no meatballs on the menu. Every region has it’s own speciality, we have been fortunate enoughh to have visited from North to South and can say there’s no where like Italy.

4 years ago

Please address the salad with the meal. In my family you always ate it last. Also the difference between sauce and gravy please!!

Lina Zanardo
4 years ago

True Italian cooking does not have lots of garlic. Sorry Ron.

4 years ago
Reply to  Ashley

Well nobody I know went to Italy and came back disappointed with the food they may come back disappointed with other issues maybe but not the food. Meatball pasta is sometimes cooked in home cooking but it is very seldom seen in a restaurant menu ( In Italy ) –
My main problem is the way it is cooked by most places in the US. Issues are ( assuming the ragu’ is made correctly which is a big if since many use powder garlic and other horrors) : They do not use salt or use too little salt in the pasta water How not cook pasta with Meatballs. Then look at the image. The pasta is still white !!! Pasta should be removed from the boiling water and finish cooking ( last 5 minutes ) in the sauce so that the pasta absorbs the sauce, that is called mantecare la pasta.
As it shows the pasta will become quickly sticky and will quickly not be able to absorb the sauce

4 years ago

I thought that it was interesting when you said that people who live in Italy rarely eat traditional meatballs and sauce. I have been thinking about taking a trip to Italy to try this dish but I have been worried that I would end up getting disappointed. I will be sure to enjoy this meal in America at a fiuine restaurant so that II can ensure its existence.

4 years ago

I never took into account the fact that most of the Italian restaurants don’t make real Italian food. Thank you for letting us know that real Italian food is made with fresh ingredients lots of garlic. We are going to search online for an authentic Italian restaurant so that we can enjoy the real taste of Italy.

5 years ago

My dad likes eating Italian food and my mom decided to go to an Italian restaurant for his birthday. It was explained here that there are only a few restaurants that serve authentic Italian food like prosciutto. Furthermore, it’s recommended to go to trusted restaurants when planning to eat authentic Italian food.