- Historic Sites
“Everybody Likes Italian Food”
A restaurant critic who’s a food historian and the fortunate recipient of an Italian grandmother’s cooking follows the course of America’s favorite ethnic fare in its rise from spaghetti and a red checked tablecloth to carpaccio and fine bone china
December 1989 | Volume 40, Issue 8
Meanwhile, supermarket managers, prodded by the gourmet boom and an accompanying insistence on authenticity, began stocking their produce stalls with radicchio while their butchers offered rollatine of veal, and the aisles blossomed with more Italian food items than any other ethnic kind, including microwavable pastas, salad dressings, fresh tortellini, and all manner of frozen pizzas. Cold pasta salads—nearly unknown in Italy—are the new replacement for what used to be called macaroni salad. In fact, pasta, in all its shapes, forms, and sizes, has become one of America’s favorite foods. We now eat more of it than ever before—4.2 billion pounds a year, or 17.1 pounds per person—up from 13 pounds just seven years ago. Ironically, much of this new love of Italian food comes from the urgings of nutritionists who have decided that the Mediterranean diet is one of the most healthful in the world—rich in complex carbohydrates, proteins, monounsaturated fats, fruits, vegetables, and lean meat.
The Italians always knew this, from the time they came here hoping to carve out a small part of the American Dream, which promised them their children would have enough to eat—and then more than enough to eat. As the sons and daughters of the first generation enjoyed more and more of the American bounty, their appetite for meats, sweets, liquor, and large portions of everything attended a growing sense of self and a belief that you become what you eat—tall, robust, strong, and healthy, like the Americans. Sometimes you got fat, but that was all right too.
You can still find the old dishes, the peasant dishes, the contadino’s dishes at places like Mario’s on Arthur Avenue. And the pizza there is made the way it’s still made in Naples. And the Migliucci family is always there. Always. All of which makes Mario’s a vital link to an Italian-American heritage that began in hunger and moved to abundance. So that, still today, when you enter an Italian-American’s home, at any hour of the day or night, you’ll be told—not asked—to sit down and eat something. It wasn’t always so in the old country.