Common Misconceptions: Italian Dishes Mistakenly Believed to be Authentic

When Italy is mentioned, people often associate it with the mafia, football, mustachioed individuals gesticulating, or singing opera with a mandolin. But do Italians really have mandolins in their homes? The answer is ‘No,’ and it’s likely that the new generations don’t even know what a mandolin is. However, the most common associations are related to food.

It is commonly believed that Italians consume a lot of pasta. Is this true? Yes, it is ingrained in Italian culture. On average, Italians consume around 80 grams of pasta per person each day, totaling about 30 kg per person per year.

However, there is a significant difference between northern and southern Italy. In the south, people consume about 40 kg of pasta per person every year, while in the north, the figure is around 20 kg per year. Southern Italy is where most Italian stereotypes are confirmed, such as people enjoying “il dolce far niente” (the sweetness of doing nothing), speaking loudly, football, and attending church with the family every Sunday. Sundays are also known for the grand family lunch, where the “mamma” or “nonna” starts preparing the dishes as early as 5 in the morning.


Each Italian region has its own specialties, some more widely known than others. However, there are a few internationally famous dishes that people think are Italian but are actually not:


  1. Pizza Pepperoni: Across the world, you can find pizzas labeled “pepperoni” topped with spicy salami. However, in Italian, “peperoni” refers to green or red peppers. In Italy, a pizza with salami is called “diavola” if it’s spicy. The term “pizza pepperoni” is probably a name given to make the dish sound Italian.

  1. Spaghetti with Meatballs: Remember the iconic scene in Lady and the Tramp where they share a plate of spaghetti? Well, spaghetti with those giant meatballs is not a common dish in typical Italian restaurants. You can find other types of Pasta with smaller meatballs in some Italian regions, but they are not traditionally served with spaghetti. The meatballs are more likely to be served separately after the Spaghetti with tomato sauce.

  1. Pizza with Pineapple: This is not a typical Italian combination. Pineapple is a tropical fruit, and in Italy, you usually won’t find fruit as a topping on pizza. An exception is the Roman pizza with figs. Although Italian pizza is typically simple, like Margherita or Marinara, you can find pizzas that might sound a bit unconventional but are delicious, such as potato pizza or Nutella pizza. However, if you’re in Naples, the birthplace of pizza, never ask for a pizza with pineapple.

  1. Pasta Carbonara with Cream: The authentic pasta carbonara, an invention from Rome, is made with only four ingredients: pasta, pecorino cheese, pork cheek, egg, and pepper. Cream should never be added if you want to call it carbonara. If anything, you can put some cooking water. If you add cream, it should be referred to as “pasta with cream”.

  1. Pasta Alfredo: There’s an interesting story behind this famous dish that you can find here. You can try the original pasta Alfredo in Rome, but you won’t find it in genuine Roman trattorias. Don’t be disappointed if you can’t find it because pasta Alfredo, as you know it, is not a typical dish of Italian tradition. 

  1. Caffè Romano: This is espresso coffee served with a slice of lemon. I’ve never tried it because, despite the name, it’s not possible to find it in Rome. It is only sold abroad, probably with its name invented in America.

  1. Latte: When you come to Italy and you want to be cool and order a latte at the bar, be prepared that you will be served only milk. In fact, in Italian, ‘latte’ simply means milk. If you want a coffee with milk, you should order a ‘caffélatte.’ For more information about Italian coffee, you can read further here.

Anyway, I am aware of the fact that things are continuously changing, so probably these dishes will be more and more part of the Italian traditions in the years to come.

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