The biggest complaint most people will hear from Europeans is that people from the US tend to mess with other culture's cuisine. Then again, they don't complain when they're discovering Chicago deep dish pizza for the first time in their lives. Alongside the French (the word "cuisine" is, after all, theirs), Italians join the European "food pride crew" in being incredibly proud of their national dishes. To be fair, they kind of have a point. Part of going to Italy is sampling real Italian food – Neapolitan pizza that's hand-stretched with fresh Mediterranean tomatoes? Yum. Traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to get your Italian fix isn't the most convenient, though. Probably why the United States came up with their own version.
For those who eat out, they'll probably have your favorite. For some of us, it's Chinese. For others, it's Tex-Mex. Most people will have some kind of Italian dish as their top ten favorite foods. At least, what they call "Italian." We're kind of hoping that no Italians are reading this – finding out that Italian wedding soup comes in a can might be more than they can bear. And that's before they start lecturing you on how that (and a ton of other foods) aren't "real Italian." From the pasta dishes that sound Italian, to the appetizers you could have sworn were straight out of Naples, we're here to debunk the myths and set the record straight. Here are 20 "Italian" foods that real Italians don't eat.
21 SPAGHETTI WITH MEATBALLS
What? Spaghetti and meatballs aren't Italian? Amazingly, they're not. Deliciously cooked, piping hot spaghetti with homemade meatballs might make you think "Italian," but the reality is a different story. While Italians have plenty of spaghetti dishes (and plenty of meatballs), they never serve the two together. That means that you'd never actually be served a helping of meatballs on top of spaghetti. Italians tend to eat meatballs separately. Next time you cook up spaghetti and meatballs, re-think whether or not you call it "Italian night."
20 ITALIAN SUBS
Calling it "Italian" is one thing. Italian subs are a sandwich favorite. Packed with layers of meat, salad, and mouthwatering dressing, you could easily assume that the ingredients would have an equivalent over in Italy. Italians do eat sandwiches, but the concept of a sub sandwich is American as it gets. SUBWAY are proud of their various subs (including their Italian ones), but make no mistake – that prosciutto and salami-filled hoagie didn't originate in Italy. It came straight out of an Italian-inspired American recipe book.
19 CAESAR SALAD
Caesar salad is one of the world's most popular salads – except in Italy. Romaine lettuce, crusty croutons tossed in olive oil, parmesan cheese, and whatever else you want to add might make it delicious, but they don't make it Italian. Although the dish was invented by an Italian, he was many thousands of miles away from Italy at the time. Legend has it that the inventor ran out of ingredients. Improvisation and Caesar salad was the result.
Caesar salad was invented by Caesar Cardini – while he was in Tijuana, Mexico. It was a total accident.
18 FETTUCINE ALFREDO
Fettucine Alfredo. It couldn't sound more Italian, right? The origin of this dish is so hilarious but so true. Alfredo Di Lelio, a Roman restauranteur in Via della Scrofa, Italy came up with the recipe in the late 1800s. His creation was simple – just pasta with a large quantity of rich butter and plenty of grated parmesan cheese. As Italian-Americans established themselves in the US, the additions of peas, cream, and garlic appeared. The Fettucine Alfredo dish became popular in the US, but you won't find it in Italy.
17 MOZZARELLA STICKS
This one is all kinds of weird. While mozzarella cheese is Italian, the deep-fried goodness that are gooey, mozzarella sticks are neither American nor Italian – they're French. You might be picturing red-checkered tablecloths when you think of mozzarella sticks, but you'll be hard-pressed to find them in Italy. On the plus side, you can get them at McDonald's (and most Italian-American restaurants). A Medieval French recipe for fried cheese sticks dates back to the 1300s.
Mozzarella sticks are actually French. Medieval fried cheese dates back to 1393 in France.
16 PEPPERONI PIZZA
Don't expect much understanding if you ever attempt to order a pepperoni pizza in Italy. The European country is the founder of the cheese-topped pie, but they do it differently over there. Deep dish pizzas don't exist, and the most variety you'll get on a hand-stretched, thin-crust pizza is a colorful array of vegetables or cured ham. Meat-topped pizzas in Italy are more refined – think Tuscan sausage or prosciutto. Pepperoni on a pizza? That's saved for Dominos, Pizza Hut, or your home additions because the kids are saying "no" to anchovies.
15 ITALIAN WEDDING SOUP
This one is straight-up incorrectly named. A steamy bowl of green vegetables, boiled meat, parsley, and bitesize pasta pieces might sound Italian, but the name is far as it goes. Italian wedding soup comes from the Italian language phrase: "minestra maritata" meaning "married soup," but it was actually created in Spain. Italian wedding soup is found in some of America's most authentic mom and pop Italian restaurants, but the actual dish is rarely found in Italy. Think before you criticize, though. These people have character.
14 GARLIC BREAD
Garlic bread is a pretty standard side for most Italian foods. Ordering pizza? It isn't complete without a side of garlic bread. Not sure what to order from the long list of appetizers? Everyone will like the garlic bread. The closest thing you'll get to moist, buttery garlic bread in Italy is something very non-moist and non-buttered. Bruschetta are crispy toasted bread portions that can be seasoned with garlic, but they're nowhere near what you order in the US. Italians would be absolutely horrified at cheesy garlic bread. Until they try it...
13 MAC AND CHEESE
Mac and cheese might be the easiest dinner solution for fussy kids, but it sure isn't Italian. The only Italian element to the pasta dish is the macaroni pasta that's used. The rest is purely American. Italians do add cheese to their pasta, but they would look at you like you're from the moon if you mentioned a "box." Velveeta? They'd be lost.
Thomas Jefferson encountered macaroni in Paris. In 1793, he commissioned an American ambassador to make the dish, adding imported Parmesan.
12 PASTA AS AN ENTREE
This one needs its own clarification. In Europe, an entree is an appetizer (followed by a "main course"). Either way, you won't find pasta served as an entree in Italy. The whole meal structure is different over there. Italians tend to eat pasta as the first dish (the appetizer). Then they move onto the entree (generally meat or fish). The "dolce" dessert is in the same order. If you go to Italy and have your sights on pasta, prepare to be served a smaller portion as your appetizer.
11 MARINARA SAUCE
If you're making pasta and literally can't be bothered to start frying up pancetta or scallions, chances are you'll go for the marinara sauce. Most Americans buy the tomato-based sauce in a jar, but they're only getting farther from Italy by doing so. The only marinara known in Italy is the Pizza Marinara– originally from the city of Naples. The pizza is topped without mozzarella, using just tomato, garlic, oregano, and olive oil. Tomato sauces for pasta in Italy are called Neapolitan sauces.
10 ITALIAN DRESSING
If you're ordering a nice healthy salad, chances are you'll be picking a dressing to go with it. While Cobb or meat salads go with their own dressings (and America's love of ranch knows no bounds), Italian dressing is the one under the microscope, here. Italian dressing dates back to the year 1941. The location? Framingham, Massachusetts. A daughter of Italian immigrants created the dressing, which eventually became hugely popular. Italians tend to just use olive oil, vinegar, or lemon juice. Certainly not "Italian dressing."
9 CHICKEN PARM
Chicken parmigiana (or as we know it, "chicken parm") is definitely Italian-sounding, but is it actually Italian? If it's on this list, the answer is no. The cheese-topped breaded chicken dish is loosely based on the Italian "melanzane alla Parmigiana," but that version is made with eggplant. Chicken parm is hugely popular in Italian-style, casual dining chains like Olive Garden, but the chefs might want to check in with the real deal– you would never find chicken parm in Italy.
8 CHEESECAKE AS YOU KNOW IT
All the foods mentioned so far have either been appetizers, entrees, or snacks. Desserts aren't immune, though. In America, cheesecake is a dessert you can get in over 30 different varieties in restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory. None of them are made the Italian way, though. In Italy, cheesecakes use ricotta cheese as the main ingredient– not mascarpone. The result is a much drier, heavier cake than the smooth and creamy American equivalent. You might see cheesecake on Italian dessert menus, but you'll get a different treat in Italy.
7 SHRIMP SCAMPI
First of all, the name "shrimp scampi" makes no sense as a pasta dish. Scampi and shrimp are two different kinds of seafood, so the dish is effectively named twice. Seafood and pasta are a commonly found combo in both Italy and America, but if you ordered shrimp scampi in Italy, you'd be served various culinary preparations of crustaceans. The Italian word for shrimp is "gamberi." If you want the dish in Italian, order "spaghetti alla vongole" for clams or "pescatore" pasta for general fish additions.
"Shrimp scampi" just means "shrimp, tiny lobster." It doesn't even describe the pasta.
6 SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE
Here's a curveball. While both spaghetti and the meat-based Bolognese sauce are Italian, you'd never find Italians actually eating the two together. Bolognese sauce comes from the Italian city of Bologna. In Italy, it's served with flatter pasta varieties – think tagliatelle or fettuccine. Any Italian who knows his or her cuisine will know to avoid spaghetti with Bolognese. Spaghetti is far too thin to properly hold the sauce. It's used instead for thicker-textured sauces, like pesto. Italian-sounding, but not Italian...
5 BAKED ZITI
Baked ziti might be on the menu at Sbarro's, but it didn't originate in Italy. The oven-baked, tightly packed pasta tubes with an inordinate amount of cheese got slapped with an Italian-sounding name, but baked ziti isn't Italian. The closest thing you'll get in Italy is an "al forno" dish – that means "baked in the oven." The Italian-American dish has become a standard across US eateries, and varieties can include meat, sausage, or even jalapeño peppers. Just remember though, the emphasis is on the word "American," not "Italian."
4 A SPECIAL KIND OF PENNE
Penne with a sauce that is only appropriate for adults to consume is a dish you'll find throughout Italian-American menus. What you're less likely to find, though, is the dish in Italy itself. While the concept originated in Italy, it isn't something that Italians actually eat. The dish briefly appeared in the 1970s there, but it disappeared because Italians didn't like it. On CiaoItalia, a blogger wrote this about the penne:
"I have asked countless Italian friends if they know of this dish and they just give me a quizzical look."
3 ITALIAN BEEF SANDWICH
Hello, Chicago. Somehow, amid the hundreds of thousands of Italian-Americans dominating this midwestern city, the Italian meat sandwich happened. With thinly sliced, perfectly simmered roast beef, melted provolone, peppers, and a big old sub roll, this sandwich might be delicious, but it's not Italian. It's assumed that the sandwich originated from Italian immigrants working the Chicago dockyards, but they sure didn't get the recipe from their home country. Chicago has a huge Italian influence, but much like the deep dish pizza, this hearty meal is all-American.
2 PASTA PRIMAVERA
This isn't to suggest that pasta dishes with vegetables aren't found all over Italy – they are. The Mediterranean country makes the most of its ripe produce, and they put it in their salads as much as they do on their pizzas. Pasta Primavera might sound Italian, but it was actually invented in Canada. The Italian-born New Yorker, Sirio Maccioni first cooked up the dish for a friend in Nova Scotia, It was so popular, he brought it to Manhattan, and the rest is history.
1 LOBSTER FRA DIAVOLO
Good luck explaining this one to Italians. Fra Diavolo was a historical character who fought the French in the 19th century. For Italian-Americans though, it's a spicy, tomato-based lobster dish served over spaghetti.
Lobster Fra Diavolo is straight out of Long Island (in the 1920s).
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