When people think of Italian food they think of healthy and colourful Mediterranean food like spaghetti with seafood, caprese salad, delicious salami and hams, gnocchi and plenty of olive oil in most dishes… but has Italian food always been the same over the years? It certainly hasn’t.
It has changed and evolved a great deal since after the last war and recently there has been an exhibition in Rome about how Italian food has changed over the years with many vintage photos which look always rather sweet when you look at them in these days’ eyes.
In the 50s, in the period after the war Italy was waking up to a better life. There was a call to avoid any food waste.
The humble “osterie” literally, taverns, turned into glamorous bars where drinking Sambuca became a trend.
The “gelato da passeggio” was born, going for a “passeggiata” (walk) during the hot summer evenings whilst happily licking your ice cream seemed rather appealing. Food covered in gelatine became popular and one of the latest inventions was a powder which could turn ordinary tap water into exciting fizzy water; the “Idrolitina” and “Cristallina” set a real trend. You can still find them in shops as they both remained popular for a long time (especially in the 80s).
In the 60s Italians go towards the economic boom and consumerism is set on its way. Long life milk was invented which slowly managed to put out of business many small family producers.
Nutella and insalata russa (vegetables in mayonnaise) were the latest trends and ready packaged food, corned beef and vegetable stock became quickly very popular. The trendy “panino” was born filled with meat and cheese.
In the 70s ‘ the flambe’ was so popular that it became almost a national obsession just like French food especially around the middle classes; cooking posh still meant being inspired by French cooking in those
days. In cookery books (and I can still see from the ones my mum has kept) you would always find recipes for vol-au-vents and Crépe Suzettes. Banana split and creme caramel were very popular too.
One of the dishes my mum used to do all the time was “vitello tonnato” which was veal with a tuna and capers sauce on top; stuffed peppers with mince meat were very popular too.
In the 80s Italians didn’t like to spend too much time in the kitchen and convenience foods were very popular. Frozen ready meals and fruit salads that would often come from a can were just normal; just like instant custard which was a powder to be mixed with milk.
Tortellini and pasta with a creamy and heavy sauce was one of those classic dishes of the 80s.
There were also “merendine”, those sweet mini packaged cakes aimed mainly at children often full of preservatives and additives. In the 80s “la Torta della Nonna” was invented by a company called “Bindi”. It was a tart made of shortcrust pastry with custard and pinenuts on top. Still very popular to these days.
In the 90s Italy discovers foreign foods. Chinese restaurants spread everywhere. Spanish Paella and cous-cous were popular especially at dinner parties. In restaurants it was fashionable to have lunch with an “insalatona”: a large salad with meat, cheese or fish added to it. Bresaola (lean cured beef) with rocket and Grana Padano cheese and balsamic vinegar is a typical dish of the 90s.
Since the 2000, just like everywhere else, there has been a return to more healthy food with the slow food movement and organic food being very popular. In Italy, even in times of recession the sales of organic food have grown which is a symptom of how people prioritize what’s more important during times of crisis.
This is very different to the unhealthy and fat foods of the 70s and the fast foods of the 80s. A return to natural and healthier food can only be a positive thing.