Food Customs in Italy

Ariana Piacquadio is a 3rd year Italian and Global Environment and Sustainability double major. This spring 2019 semester, she is studying in Italy on the UVA in Italy: Siena program. Now that she has settled into her life in Italy, read what she has noticed and learned about food culture there.

A view of Siena, Italy from the top of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo

There’s a reason Italy is famous for its food. Granted, it’s a bit of a stereotype to say that all Italians know how to cook and that all Italian food is amazing. However, I think I’ve eaten better food here in the past three weeks than I’ve had in my life, so maybe there’s something to it.

The standard Italian breakfast varies slightly depending on the region you live in. Here in Tuscany, most of my friends and I have experienced small and sweet breakfasts. Generally, you won’t be eating eggs or avocado toast to start your day in Italy. Most mornings, my lovely host mom leaves me cereal, Nutella, these toasted bread crackers that are kind of like big, unflavored croutons, and of course espresso. When I walk to school, I see crowded bars full of people eating pastries and coffee on their way to work. Apparently, it’s not entirely out of place order a glass of white wine with breakfast, as I witnessed someone do this just the other day.

Lunch is harder for me to pin down because I usually have to grab something quick between classes. I’m still not sure exactly what is customary. For me, I either eat focaccia from the Panificio close by, or a mix of cooked vegetables and bread from a local grocery store our group has nicknamed “fake whole foods”. If you go to a restaurant, most don’t serve lunch until 12:30 at the earliest.

My meal of trofie con pesto at Caposantachiara Ristorante in Genova, Italy

Finally, there’s dinner, which usually begins around 8:00 p.m. here. Back in the states, I’m used to a single, large meal, but Italians do this differently. The dinner begins with aperitivo, an appetizer. When I eat with my host family, we always skip this part of the meal, but I’ve noticed in restaurants that they’re very common. Next follows i primi piatti, which in my experience is almost always pasta or soup. My host mom waits until I finish this to bring out the next part of the meal, i secondi piatti. This is usually some kind of meat, but my host family is vegetarian like me so most nights we have a vegetable dish. The meal ends with dolci e caffe when I eat in a restaurant, but at home we eat fruit. Also at the restaurants, it’s very common to order a liter or two of red wine (unless you’re eating fish, in that case you drink white wine). Wine is a huge staple of the meal and living in the Chianti region makes it very easy for me to get on board with this custom.

Good food is one of the first things people associate with Italy and while there are so many layers to this place, it’s true that food is a huge part of the culture. I’m still learning the many nuances of the customs here and how they vary in every region. I feel lucky to live with a host family, where it’s easier for me to see how daily Tuscan families eat and live.

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Italian Summer Memories: Contrada Festival

As we head into winter break let’s take a look back to summer! Christopher Fitzpatrick is a third-year mechanical engineering major who spent his 2018 summer on the UVA in Italy: Siena program. Read below how his experience of a contrada festival took him back to childhood memories of home.

 

 

When I was growing up, I lived on a cul-de-sac in a suburban neighborhood. Families with children lived in every house on my street, so Razor-scooter races and wiffleball matches occupied most afternoons and weekends throughout the summer. Every August, the neighborhood would host a block party. Fathers would wheel their grills to one family’s driveway while us children would squeal around in another family’s backyard and spray each other with water guns. The late afternoons would always consist of a main event—one year it was homemade mini golf course, another year it was a family-versus-family obstacle course—and evenings would always begin with a barbecue under a rented tent. Over time, people would age, families would move away, and the block parties would end for good, but I am still nostalgic of those memories.

Those memories unexpectedly surfaced last night. After three of my friends and I cooked pasta in their apartment, we were invited to join some other study-abroad students for our friend’s birthday celebration at the overwatch—a park we named for its incredible view of the Siena skyline. On our walk over, we were greeted by something that looked like a block party; fathers drank beer as they grilled various meats, small children ran around and screamed (quite loudly), adolescents hung out in cliques, and an entire neighborhood ate a massive dinner together under a graduation-party-style tent. We found a contrada festival.

My Italian roommates have explained contrada festivals to me before. Siena contrade—or neighborhoods—host massive block parties every summer around the time of the Palio di Siena—a famous horse race that takes place in the center of the city. Temporary performance stages, hired gelato vendors, games that in one way or another relate to the Palio, and excited chattering facilitate an atmosphere of tradition and community. These events further indicate the Siena population’s pride toward their contrade. I have woken up in the middle of the night several times to contrade rallies and their sounds of melodic hollering and drum-beating, and flags of each of the 17 contrade now fly along most of the city streets. In the Piazza del Campo—the city center—fences are already put in place for the race, and everyone sounds just a little more excited. Siena may be a “small” city, but it is overflowing in tradition, pride, and culture. The Palio is approaching, and it is palpable in the air.

 

Making Connections in Rome

Shivani Dimri is a History and Environmental Sciences major who spent spring of her third year on the IES: Rome program. Read her pre-departure reflection here (https://hoosabroad.wordpress.com/2018/08/31/rome-pre-departure-reflection/) and keep reading below to see some of what she did while in Rome last spring.

I stepped out of my comfort zone and in my attempt to make deeper connections with Italians and other people living in Rome, I did some research online and found an organization called Romaltruista (Altruistic Rome). One of the programs of this organization is Benvenuti a Cena (Welcome to Dinner). It’s a eventful that pairs a small group of Italians and foreign residents of Rome together for a potluck dinner in an Italian host’s house and an opportunity to speak with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. I made an Indian rice pudding dish to share, and had a chance to speak with people from Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Kurdistan, and Mali. Although we came from such different backgrounds, we realized we had common interests–travel and learning languages. Also, that evening, a journalist and a camera crew from an Italian news channel came to cover Benvenuti a Cena. I haven’t seen the segment yet, but there’s a chance there’s an Italian news clip with me speaking in it! I’m nervous, but I’m proud of myself for pushing myself out of my comfort zone and more importantly, being part of an effort to showcase this organization’s important initiative to bring Italians and foreigners moving to Italy together.

My immigration and integration politics class visited a refugee center called the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center. We met the staff and refugees who visit the center to socialize, gather supplies, take language lessons and more. When we reflected upon the experience as a class, there was actually a lot of conflict about whether or not the visit was a positive experience for all parties involved. My two friends and I (who speak more Italian than the rest of my classmates) had a fun time connecting with the folks at JNRC, especially when we dropped into a German language class that was finishing up. It might have been more overwhelming if there was a large class, but we got to chat with the German teacher, a man from Bangladesh, and a man from Senegal, talking about and bouncing between languages like English and Italian, and also French and Spanish. It was meaningful because we could all connect over our interests in languages and our multicultural backgrounds. Other students in the class said that they felt like they were intruding and that they did not want to disturb the guests of the refugee center. Well, I also felt uncomfortable (as I am in any situation where I don’t know anyone) until I found common ground in a small group setting! Maybe they did not yet find a common interest or maybe they faced language barriers that made it hard to break through in our short visit. Regardless, our professor told us that being uncomfortable is part of the experience and that the JNRC and other refugee centers opening up their doors to those interested in seeing is better for refugees in the long run, spreading awareness and making the public empathetic.

Besides these activities, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of other things through my classes and on my own! I also visited a section of Rome with beautiful street art for my Italian class and went to the Foro Italico (formerly the Foro Mussolini, or the Forum of Mussolini) for my Italian Fascist history class. I went to a food truck festival with some study abroad friends and the old roommate of a friend who was visiting Rome for the weekend, and then woke up early to see the Vatican museums on the last Sunday of the month (the free entry day!) and saw the Pope speed by in a car in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica on Palm Sunday. Easter weekend was my spring break, and I took the opportunity to visit my relatives in Manchester, England. One day we woke up early and made the four hour drive to London, and one afternoon I saw downtown Manchester. One day my aunt had a bunch of her family friends over and their kids in their teens and twenties were all so kind and welcoming to me as we sit around, talked, and ate. I went grocery shopping and clothes shopping, and even though that doesn’t sound the most exciting or glamorous, but it was a great break to relax and catch up with family. In England, I thought, how will I adjust to Italy again? And now that I’m writing this update between classes back in Rome at the IES Abroad center, I’m thinking, how will I adjust to home again?

Experiences in Milan

As we continue to look back at experiences students had last spring, let’s turn to Linjiang Han, a Commerce major who studied in Milan, Italy on the UVA Commerce: Third Year Core: Universita Bocconi program to finish off her third year. In this post, she writes about her thoughts from during her second month in Italy!

One of my biggest challenges since coming to Italy is the use of clothes drying racks instead of dryers. I asked around and realized other European countries also use drying racks. When I lived in the United States, I used to wash my clothes once every two or three weeks. After coming here, I must wash my clothes every week because of the lag time for my clothes to dry as well as the small size of the washing machine.

Another difference is that the grocery stores and product container sizes can be much smaller than they are in the United States. I find this to be a fact that is rooted in culture and not likely to change. In the stores, there is also not as many selections as I am used to and prices can be higher due to the cost of living in Milan and the euro-to-dollar exchange rate. I try to save on expenses by finding less expensive restaurants and places to buy food in bulk.
Not only are the grocery store prices high, but also restaurant prices. While you do not tip in Italy, there are sitting fees that are essentially mandatory tips. These sitting fees are generally €2.50. Once, I thought I should save money and ate a small meal that was €4.50 only to realize the sitting fee costed over 55% of what I ate. To get around this problem, especially when I’m traveling and prices can sometimes be exorbitant in the first place, I will eat at cafes or small establishments where there is no sitting fee. However, when it comes to eating authentic Italian food, especially ones specific to a region, I am willing to pay more money for it. In the following photographs are some of the local foods I’ve eaten: Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia (Squid Ink Pasta) from Venice and Polenta e Osèi (Polenta Cake) from Bergamo.
Related to food, another challenge I encountered when I came to Milan was the late dinner time because of aperitivo. Since then, I have fully adjusted by to it by eating lunch at a later time or eating a snack around lunch time. After coming to Milan, I have realized that not only is my body affected by meal times, but that many Italian businesses tend to take a lunch break. Even at the university’s help desk, there is a three-hour window in the middle of the day when it is closed. Therefore, I am now accustomed to checking hours of operation if I want to go someplace close to lunch time.

Additionally, everyone places great efforts in sorting out trash in Italy. For example, we have five different trash bins in my apartment with one each for plastic, paper, glass, organic waste, and miscellaneous. In addition, personal bathroom trash must be taken out by each occupant that day. I was not used to taking out the trash every day, so it was an initial challenge to remember every day.

I have been exploring Milan by going to different neighborhoods/bureaus of the city. When I went to the northwest part of the city, I was surprised to find a Chinatown. I later asked around and discovered there is a large Chinese population in Milan. After my realization, I asked some Chinese speaking locals about their immigration and was informed they immigrated to Italy when the economy in the country was good and particularly because they already had friends in Milan. This really resonated with me because I immigrated to the U.S. from China. Beside is a picture I took when the Chinese New Year was approaching and I saw there was a lot of decorations in Chinatown. On Chinese New Year, there were so many Chinese gathered that could cause someone to think they were not in Italy anymore.

Unfortunately, I have had more practice speaking Chinese than Italian since I came to Italy. My Italian is very poor and I also cannot roll my r’s. Some Italians assume I cannot speak Italian because I am Asian and they are correct in this case. Once or twice, people have greeted me with “konnichiwa” or “nihao.” The most Italian I have used is to order food to the lunch lady or the basic phrases such as “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” However, I shall endeavor to learn more Italian while I also explore more of Milan.

My exploration of Milan includes going to its different museums. From my visits, I learned a lot about the history of the city I’m currently studying abroad in.  For example, in Milan, there is one central canal with many restaurants known as Navigli. However, in one of the museums, I learned Milan was once more like Venice with many canals but, due to industrialization, most of the old canals were covered over by concrete and Navigli now remains the only main canal in Milan. While I thought this was rather tragic, I am glad Navigli is still around as I often go there for aperitivo and enjoy the view (seen on the left). I believe that anyone who lives in Milan must have seen this beautiful view as they pass by Navigli.

Through walking around Milan and sometimes taking spontaneous routes and detours, I am becoming more attuned to the pulse of the city. I believe by the end of my experience, I will feel like a real local rather than just a student who attends one of its universities.

A big part of my goal for coming to Italy was not just getting to know Milan, as I wrote about in my last blog, but the country itself. By going to other Italian cities besides Milan, I have been able to see the part of Italy that’s less business-focused. In smaller towns like Bergamo, an hour away from Milan, the pace of life is slower, though definitely not lackadaisical, in which Italians take time to eat meals or sit in a gorgeous park to read. On the other hand, in cities like Venice where tourists outpopulate the locals, many of the locals I find are around retirement age and often keep to themselves.

I believe I am learning more about Italy, not only through a third-person point of view of traveling, but also interacting with local Italians wherever I go. In Venice, I talked to a local who actually spoke Chinese to me, a huge indication of the number of Chinese tourists who visit the city, and we discussed the city itself. He told me about the pollution of the canals that is not only caused by tourists, which I had previously assumed, but mostly because of the wastes from nearby plastic factories. When I brought up how the U.S. would usually fine such companies to clean up the waste, he replied that the red tape of the system means that these factories wouldn’t really be fined. I found this topic really fascinating because I don’t think I would have researched something like this before going to Venice and I got to see Venice beyond all the touristy canals and through the lens of a local.

Currently I have traveled to six different Italian northern cities, most of which are close to Milan. My travels have provided me the opportunity to practice Italian. Since Bocconi is an international school and my classes are all in the English, I don’t meet many Italians at school. When I go to stores and shops, I use very basic Italian phrases such as “how much.” Through my travels, I seek to gain a better understanding of the Italian lifestyle and culture that are shaped by the country’s history and geographical location. Later this semester, I hope to visit more Italian places, both cities and small towns, in my efforts to become more educated about the country I am living in.

Rome: Pre-Departure Reflection

As students prepare to start fall semester abroad, we look back at the experiences of those who studied abroad last spring. Shivani Dimri is a History and Environmental Sciences major who spent spring of her third year on the IES: Rome program. Read her pre-departure reflections below, and stay tuned for more posts detailing her semester in Italy.

 

Warning: My thoughts keep zigzagging between English and Italian, making it that much harder to express my feelings about moving to Rome for the spring.

My name is Shivani. It’s an Indian name, but it has the same pronunciation in Italian. I am from Falls Church, Virginia and I’m a third year double majoring in history and environmental sciences. Let me tell you, I have been looking forward to study abroad since I started college, and I’m so excited that I’ll be departing for Rome at the end of January. I’m eager to improve my Italian, meet new people, and experience new cultures in Italy.

So…why Italy?

Arguably, the Italian language has defined my college experience more than anything. If you know me, you probably already know that I started taking Italian in my first year at UVa simply to fulfill the College’s foreign language requirement. Yet, I thought to myself, if I’m going to spend four semesters studying a language, I want to do it well. I want to actually be able to speak the language and retain this knowledge. With a positive attitude, I found that I really enjoyed Italian and had a knack for it, reading books and watching videos and finding any possible opportunity to speak it. By my second year taking Italian, I gained something that I didn’t expect to come from learning a second language: a new voice.

I know it sounds strange, but hear me out. Sometimes I’m afraid to speak in front of people I’m not already close with because I don’t want to seem stupid. Sound familiar, my fellow introverts? In a way, I have more confidence speaking Italian because it’s easier for me to assure my brain that it’s okay if the words don’t exactly come out right. It’s always okay to make mistakes, but my brain feels like I have more of a pass when it comes to Italian because I’m clearly not a native speaker. I started learning when I was eighteen years old!

With that being said, I look forward to speaking Italian in Rome with my host family, with my peers, and with anyone else I meet in the city! But of course, there’s more to my desire to go to Italy than learning the language and understanding my identity.

There’s history. My History Distinguished Majors Program thesis is on Italian imperialism in East Africa. The classes I’ll be taking at IES about modern and ancient Italian history fit right into my interests and Rome is the perfect place to take field trips related to what I’m learning.

There’s culture. As an Asian American student, I’m curious about the lived experiences of immigrants, minorities, and expats in Rome. I look forward to learning about their contributions to Roman culture through my coursework and when I’m out and about.

Oh, and I guess there’s food, too?

As a double major and DMP student, it’s taken a lot of planning and some challenging course loads over the last five semesters…but it’s all paying off because now I have the privilege to spend over three months in Italy! I leave for Rome on January 28th. My longer-than-usual winter break has been giving me time to relax at home…and pack, mine the internet for travel tips, and call upon Teresa (my friend and former UVa in Siena student) for advice. Now I just can’t wait for my adventure to begin!

Architecture in Venice

Emma Hendrix is a 3rd year student majoring in Urban & Environmental Planning in the School of Architecture. She is spending the fall semester on UVA’s Architecture program in Venice, Italy.

Grand Canal. Situated between the Middle East, North Africa, and Northern Europe, Venice was primarily established as a center for commerce and trade. Before the road and train track were created for easier access to the Italian peninsula, boats were the only mode to transport goods and people. Still today, boats come in and out of the city to transport goods, as shown here.

San Giorgio: Showing the (high water) – flooding on Venetian islands. Venetians watch the acqua alta forecast in order to be ready to walk through high levels of water. Some tourists will find the acqua alta exciting being something they usually don’t experience, but in reality the flooding is not good for the city. Speed limits for boats around the lagoon are one way the city tries to control the flooding, which in part results from the constant motion of water hitting Venice.

Bressanone, Italy: Students met with Sandy Attia (an architecture graduate of UVA) to visit her architecture firms’ projects. The town is situated in the valley of the incredible Dolomites, a section of the Alpine Mountain Range.

Grand Canal. Another vaporetto stop in Venice located on the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal (Canal Grande) is the canal that stretches through the main conglomeration of islands, which creates the left and right side of the city. To determine left and right, one stands facing away from the source of the water.

The vaporettos lined up Fondamente Nove (a street on the northern coast of the island).

Special Introductions to Florence

Sarah Genovese is a Foreign Affairs major, who went to Florence, Italy in Spring 2017 during her third year.

I can’t believe what a whirl the first 11 days in Florence have been. It feels as though I have been here for 10 minutes, but also for 3 years. I am beginning to have a sense that I am in “my neighborhood” as I approach my apartment at the end of long walks. I am getting lost slightly less often, though I have never been particularly good at directions (and still get lost in my hometown). I have faced a few obstacles: the hot water in our apartment shut off one day; my debit card is scratched and a new one is (hopefully) on its way. “Our apartment.” I share an apartment with 8 girls: 4 from UVA and 4 from Penn State. Everyone is very nice and very compatible—it turns out that college age girls with an interest in travelling Europe for four months have a lot in common.

Our first weekend here was full of school orientations, and less formal means of orienting ourselves in Florence. My personal favorite part of the first few days wa going to an aperitivo, a cheap “pre-dinner snack,” buffet-style and served with a drink. It was a cultural experience, very revealing of the slow-paced, food-oriented Italian lifestyle. It was also a lot of fun to do with my apartment-mates. It’s been a continuous, conscious effort to avoid the “study abroad bars” and “American diners” that study abroad students here tend to frequent, and make sure that I’m doing culturally engaging things with my study abroad friends.

This weekend, two of my apartment-mates went to Berlin, and three of us went to Siena. Siena was a beautiful town—we went to the Siena Duomo, a medieval art museum, and Il Campo, the city square. We had lunch at a highly recommended restaurant, L’Osteria on Via Rossi, and I had Siena’s traditional pasta with a wild boar ragu, which is a Siena staple as well. Engaging with Italy via food has definitely been one of my preferred modes.

Sunday of this weekend, I went to a church service at the nearest cathedral which, like all of the churches in Florence, is amazingly beautiful. I am a confirmed Catholic, but hadn’t been to church in a while. The contrast between the strange language and the childhood memories gave me a mix of emotions that was hard to sort out, but which draws me to go again. However, my plans for many long weekend trips may disrupt this desire. Indeed, the hardest part of study abroad so far has been trying to establish a balance between all of the things I want to do in Florence and Italy, and the things I want to do in wider Europe. I look forward to figuring it out!