It’s a culinary sacred cow, but we’re not afraid to stick our necks out and say it: Italian food is overrated.
Before you take umbrage, Italian food fans, do hear us out. If we seem to judge Italian food harshly, it’s because we’ve had better elsewhere.
Pasta – Singapore vs Italy
At Loose Ends, we’re big pasta fans. But even we have to admit that Italian pasta is not the best we’ve ever had. Especially (whispers) inside Italy.
In the UK, we can trip-trap down to our nearest supermarket and choose from a fairly wide selection of types. But in Italy, the same one or two varieties are ubiquitous within each region.
So if you go to Umbria, for example, be prepared to eat an awful lot of strozzapreti. It’s nice the first couple of times, but it gets boring quickly. Sauces are fairly uniform, too.
In contrast, we think every true pasta lover needs to visit Singapore. It really is pasta heaven.
Singapore, y’see, is populated by a diaspora of people from—among other places—various regions of China (which you don’t need us to tell you is a huge place containing vastly more kinds of regional pasta than Italy).
All of these cooks have brought pasta specialties with them from their own corner of the world, and over the generations they’ve incorporated a local twist. The result is so beautiful we’re filling up at the very thought.
Most people know about Laksa, a pasta dish consisting of rice noodles in either a sour or coconutty soup base. But if you’ve ever tasted mee hoon kueh, you’ll readily agree that Italian food is overrated.
Polenta – Mexico vs Italy
Lest you be poised to spring to polenta’s defence, consider this: in its guise as ‘maize stirabout’, polenta was shipped in aid packages to the starving people of Ireland during the 1840s potato famine.
It stopped them dying, but it wasn’t popular. Unsurprising, really, because there are plenty of tastier things out there than polenta.
Your auntie’s woolly hat, for example. Or expanded polystyrene packing squiggles.
But if you must eat maize meal, we recommend you swerve the polenta and have your corn ration as a Mexican tamale. At least tamales have some kind of innate flavour, and come wrapped up as a cute little package.
Ice Cream – France vs Italy
People, what’s the big deal with gelato? This stuff is over-sweet, aerated pablum.
Those containers of the pillowy, pastel-coloured confection look pretty, but taste- and texture-wise, gelato’s not all that. At least by comparison with French ice cream.
Anybody who’s ever visited Berthillon on the île Saint-Louis in Paris will know what we mean. Berthillon’s ice creams offer a symphony of intense fruit flavours, dense yet unctuous textures, and quirky surprises like chocolate sorbet.
Okay, so Berthillon is a premium product. But it’s our humble contention that just about any French ice cream beats any Italian gelato hands down.
Except for one Italian brand: Grom. With Grom in the race, France and Italy are neck-and-neck.
Pizza – Turkey vs Italy
If Italian food is overrated, Italian pizza is especially overrated. We’ve had plenty of greasy, flabby artisanal pizza all over Italy (and just one good version, at the Oke chain in Venice).
But we’ve never been disappointed by ‘pizza’ in a Turkish restaurant. For those times when only the thinnest base will do, we opt for lahmaçun, a flatbread topped with tomato, minced lamb and herbs.
When we want something to sink our teeth into, it’s got to be pide, a more classically pizza-like treat. In Turkey, boat-shaped, wood-baked pides traditionally act as a base for everything from vegetables to peynir cheese and halal sausage.
Italian pizza just can’t compare. Harsh but true.
Want more food and drink recommendations from Loose Ends? Watch this space!
Daily micro-posts reviewing London’s best restaurants, cafes, and bars will be coming to the blog very soon.