In the beginning there was hunger
Eat it! Italians, Sicilians in particular, love food. They do, of course, like the eating, but much rather prefer talking about it.
People keep track of what they had, the way it was prepared and the flaws, a collection that grows over the years in seizes and intensity.
A friend told me about a conversation between honeymooners he overheard during a dolphin show somewhere in the USA, where instead of praising the acrobatics, they discussed how they’d prepare the animal. Stewed or coated in breadcrumbs.
This obsession with food is probably traceable to dire times when food was insufficient. What’s for sure is that the fear for famine is unreal but the obsession remained.
Home sweet home
Nobody prepares food better than who cooks for a family, a mother, grandmother, aunt, a relative of any kind. Embodying food authority, they set the standard, the benchmark for taste.
Only reluctantly someone will admit that any given preparation comes close to the one they refer to. So as a child you are taught that difference means less good and you’ll tell your granny the food you had at a friends house was good but not as good as what she prepares.
Avoiding social suicide, kids grow up with the certainty of being incredibly privileged, a belief that will be carried along with pride.
Sicilians who eat out are suspicious more than anything else. The idea being that they could eat just as good and probably better at home; without paying.
A thesis heavily sustained by the elder who find eating out a waste of money. As already mentioned, admitting the food eating in a restaurant is better than the food served at home, is out of the question.
Until recently foreign food was looked down upon, and most small inland towns still despise all what is not traditional. The absolute mistrust delayed the coming of hamburger restaurants and sushi bars. Mentioning one or the other makes elder people shiver, while young people who love new fast food still feel embarrassed doing so.
Quantity versus quality
Hard to please, Sicilians do like to eat out. To counter the nuisance, restaurateurs came up with a solution, actually a double solution to keep those quibblers quite.
As soon as the hungry suspicious crowd enters, they start the feeding. Immediately waiters bring the appetizer, making sure there’s no lull between courses. Pasta or rice abound and a second helping is forced upon rather than offered.
By the time the meat or fish arrives, most people go no further than mere tasting. The fact of being stuffed and hardly able to move is interpreted as a success. The other option is go for excellence and opulence. Whatever is in fashion – high in price – does the trick.
Italians are convinced that the food coming from and eating in the country side is genuine, healthy and somehow miraculous.
On Sunday city people invade the rural areas, supposedly to get some fresh air and bring the children in contact with nature. Actually it is a pretext to eat voracious in a forgiving context. Nothing as nice as feeding the animals that will later be served.
The intention to have a walk after being stuffed is usually reduced to waddling half way across the parking area before driving home.
Having a pizza is a weekly affair. Please note that having a pizza actually means going to a place that sells pizzas, a pizzeria, not ordering in.
More than a visit it looks and feels as an invasion. The pizzeria is the only place where pretending to be the only costumers present is accepted. Which does not mean that the same behavior does not occur in other places, but that is an other story.
What strikes me and most foreigners is the way pizzas are ordered over here. You must modify and personalize your order by adding and removing ingredients, insist on crunchiness or softness, and, especially make a scene if the pizza does not come exactly as you ordered.