Celebrating 50 Years | 1967 - 2017
Escorted Tours & Cruise Vacations

A Brief History of Italian Cuisine

March 6, 2014 - 5:00pm
Along with exploring the attractions of Italy, senior travel tour members will taste the flavors of this exquisite country.

Europe tours that traverse the elegant and animated country of Italy allow travelers to discover its magnificent architecture, religious attractions and ancient sites. But a trip to this locale is about more than just buildings and famous landmarks - guests embark on a cultural excursion that introduces them to the warm and welcoming locals, old traditions and regional arts. And in a country renowned for its role in the culinary world, visitors can expect to taste many of the Old World flavors. For example, day seven of the excursion includes a trip to Bologna, where senior group travel members enjoy a lunch of authentic pasta dressed in Bolognese sauce or a the city's signature sausage. Check out these historical aspects of food in Italy to prepare for the delicious adventure:

A Multi-Cultural Cuisine
The history of culinary arts in Italy begins with the settlement of the country some 13,000 years ago. The Romans, Greeks and Etruscans made the peninsula their home here in about 1,000 B.C.E, and these three cultures are the foundations of the techniques and flavors that make up the traditional fare. The Etruscans, for example, introduced pulmentum, which was a precursor to northern Italy's beloved polenta. The Greeks introduced the use of fish in brodetto, while the Romans contributed greatly to the development of new cooking techniques - Apicius is considered the author of the world's first cookbook.

Since these foundational years, many other cultures have contributed to the unique fare of Italy. Those who take a senior travel tour and sample the edible delights of the destination may notice global flourishes including Arab spices and African elements, such as the melding of sweet and sour as well as the use of almonds. Additionally, Austria and France are credited with bringing rich desserts to the country, while Germans are believed to have brought savory flavors to the nation. This motley combination of cultural influences are to thank for the unique and exquisite flavors of country that have, in turn, helped shape other cuisines around the globe.

Regional Differences
While Italian cuisine is best known for fresh ingredients and a delightful simplicity, there are distinct differences between the cooking styles of the north and south. Each of these regions has its own set of traditions that formed due to disparities in wealth and class. For a long time, northern Italy was where luxury items were traded, so the residents of this area became quite rich and were able to splurge on more expensive foods and imported goods. Meanwhile, in the south, people were generally poor and utilized cheap, local ingredients, coming up with new ways to make low-grade foods taste better and feed more mouths. This explains why the north is credited for perfecting fresh, wet pastas made from cream and egg, whereas southerners took to developing dry pastas that could be stored for long periods of time. Italians even exported macaroni, which was considered peasants' food, to other locations in need of long-lasting, cheap nourishment. Keep in mind that, while the country is credited with mastering the art of pasta making, it's believed that the Arabs originally developed it.

The Origins of Pizza
Seniors don't have to go on affordable travel packages for a good slice of pizza - the food is very popular among Americans. It became a beloved indulgence in the late 1800s with the settlement of large numbers of Italian immigrants in large cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. It was cheap and satisfying, which is why it became a staple for some during the Great Depression and continued to become one of Americans' favorite foods. But anyone who hasn't had a slice from a traditional Italian pizzeria has never truly experienced authentic pizza.

Pizzas were initially rubbed with oil and served with fish rather than sauce; however, people began adding sauce and topping the pie with fish and other meats once tomatoes were introduced to the country. But then and even now, Italian pizzas have continued to be much more modest than their American counterparts. The sauce is thinner and lighter, there's much less meat, and they're often topped with fish. Members of senior travel clubs who are lucky enough to try a slice of authentic pizza will also notice that the crust is considerably thinner and crunchier (almost cracker-like in some areas).

Seniors will certainly not taste all of the foods mentioned here, but there are many additional flavors waiting to be enjoyed during the Classic Italy Tour. And having an understanding of what is arguably the single most important aspect of the country - food - is essential for truly embracing the unique culture of Italy.