Italian food is highly-rated the world over yet, as one who has retired to Italy, it is hard to see why based on the offerings of any restaurant we have visited. The first problem with Italian food, and there are a number, lies in the fact that there is absolutely no choice. Every menu in every restaurant in our area (Umbria) is just about identical and is as follows:
A selection of cold toast, hard full-fat cheese, anchovies, pate, and thinly-sliced leathery prosciutto (raw ham). The ubiquitous and completely inedible Italian bread with its strange musty taste and the equally ubiquitous olive oil to pour on it are at hand in case you have foolishly arrived hungry.
Italian food covers the full range of different types of pasta - ravioli, spaghetti, tagliatelle, linguine, fettucine - but ultimately they are all pasta so they all taste the same! Pasta tends to be over-cooked (rarely ‘al dente') and always over-salted. To give flavour to it, you are spoilt with a choice of combinations of tomato, cheese or truffle (tartufi) sauces all of which are swimming in grease from their high-fat cheese and olive-oil base. In a really avant-garde restaurant, you may also be offered a ‘piccante’ or ‘arrabbiato’ sauce which is just tomato sauce with some chilli powder sprinkled in. Sometimes the ravioli comes stuffed with spinach. Help yourself to some high-fat Parmesan just in case your cholesterol levels aren't high enough already.
Not something the average Italian restaurant does very well - surprising given the variety of fruits and vegetables which are locally available. ‘Salad’ is either chopped lettuce, or ‘insalata mista’ (mixed salad) which is chopped lettuce and rocket with possibly the odd pomadoro (tomato) or you can just have plain ‘pomadori’ (chopped tomatoes). It is considered odd to eat this salad with anything but do persevere. You can, of course, add olive-oil and vinegar to your salad and munch another piece of that awful bread.
Umbria produces some of the best tasting meat you could wish for yet what the butcher and chef then do to it is best not considered. Suffice it to say that by the time it reaches you it will be cooked to the texture of leather, burnt in places and raw in others, caked in salt and garlic and full of splintered bones. The meat dish in a restaurant is the most expensive.
Italian food includes a good range of cakes, ice-cream which is rightly world-famous yet you are unlikely to find these represented on a restaurant menu. The standard offering is Tiramisu (literally - pick-me-up) which is a slightly alcoholic, coffee-flavoured filled cake. You may also find ‘Pannacotta’ (Creme Caramel) or Lemon Sorbet but the standard is Tiramisu.
Having finished your meal, you now have the inevitable Italian coffee. This is not the frothy and insubstantial cappuccino but a tepid, sugary blast of caffeine that comes in a thimble-sized cup. If you feel particularly brave or foolish, you can have a glass of ‘grappa’ which is to wine what the most rustic type of scrumpy is to cider.
Expect to pay €20 to €30 per head for this culinary treat.
Finally, if it isn't enough that every restaurant has the same menu (and, no, there aren't other choices, there is no choosing dishes), they all close on the same nights, too!
So, why do I choose to live in Italy? I actually like Italy - I just don't like Italian food.
Clive West has retired to Central Italy with his wife, Damaris. Clive was a civil engineer and he is using that knowledge to modernise a former Umbrian farmhouse which was destroyed in a recent earthquake. You can read more about living in Italy or see all of his free articles on his other sites.