I've already talked about how fabulous it was to live with my lovely roommate from Mexico, Claudia. But by the grace of all that's good in terms of food-loving roommates, I had the pleasure of living with another expat last semester, my darling Bea from Milan, Italy. I asked her numerous times if she'd willingly debunk some of the Italian food myths I've amassed over the years. So, for the benefit of Spoon, and my sanity, here are is the latest installment of Tara asking her foreign roommates questions about food.

Is Fettuccine Alfredo a real thing? Or adding chicken to pasta dishes?

cheese, tortellini, spaghetti, cream, macaroni, pasta
Elizabeth Dieterich

Bea: Nope, it’s definitely not a thing in Italy! Honestly, I don’t know where the idea came from, but if you ask any Italian what fettucine Alfredo is, they will have no idea what you are talking about. And if they do, it’s only because they have been to the US and seen this weird dish on your menus. 

Also, I am betting that no Italian has ever tried fettuccine Alfredo, because, coming to your second point, chicken never goes on pasta. The thing is, in Italy we generally have meals that consist of three courses: primo (a pasta-based dish or risotto), secondo (a meat or fish dish with a choice of sides), and dessert (no explanation necessary).

So, the reason why we never put chicken in pasta is that we keep them as two separate dishes, with pasta being your "primo" and chicken being your "secondo," for example.

We do, however, use some meats or seafood that we add to pasta. We might use minced meat, with which we can do a nice ragu’ sauce, or pancetta, which we add to certain pasta dishes. In terms of seafood, there is many different ways to include it — you can do pasta with mussels, clams, prawns, you name it. I guess that the main no-go is just chicken. (Sorry, chicken).

How about lasagna? And chicken parmesan?

Bea: Lasagne (aka the plural of one sheet of the lasagna pasta) are considered Italian food, here I can confirm! But, lasagne have a very specific recipe, and I often see non-Italians try out funky versions of this dish and call them something like "vegetable lasagne." What is that supposed to be? I mean, you are free to prepare the meals that you want, but if you put sliced zucchini instead of pasta and mashed sweet potatoes instead of meat, you can’t be calling them lasagne!

A quite common alternative that you find in Italy, though, are pesto lasagne, which do not have a minced meat-based sauce, but have a pesto sauce instead. Chicken Parmesan, on the other hand, is not really a thing. But what we do have is "Parmigiana di Melanzane," which is made with eggplant. It has no meat in it, but, trust me, it is one of the best things you could possibly find.

Do you have baked ziti in Milan?

Bea: Nope, never heard of that. And I honestly have no idea what ziti is. Certainly, the name does not sound Italian...

OK so I just looked it up now, and it seems like baked pasta. So, actually yes, we do have this dish in Italy. We don’t call it ziti, though. It’s just called "pasta al forno," which literally means "pasta in the oven." It tastes good, and it is usually made when you have a lot of pasta leftovers. So, you put them in the oven to bake with a lot of cheese (no cheddar please).

How popular are cappuccinos in Italy, and what is a typical caffeinated drink that someone in Italy would drink in the morning? 

chocolate, tea, mocha, cream, milk, espresso, cappuccino, coffee
Jocelyn Hsu

Bea: Cappuccinos (in Italian, "Cappuccini") are very, very common in Italy! I drink one every morning and sometimes accompany it with a croissant. "Cappuccio e brioche" is quite a common breakfast in Italy, but of course we can’t eat it every morning, otherwise we would all be quite fat. Often for breakfast we will have yogurt and granola or milk with cereal.

Turning back to coffee, Italians generally either take an espresso in the morning or a cappuccino. Latte macchiato and marocchino are also common coffee-based drinks. Marocchino is quite similar to a cappuccino, but it has a lot of cocoa powder in it. A golden rule in Italy is that you can only have your cappuccino in the morning. Having espresso is fine at any time of the day, but you will never see an Italian order a cappuccino after their lunch or dinner meal. 

Is panino the singular form of panini? Because in America, saying you want a “panini” means you just want one toasted sandwich. Did you notice that while you were here in America?

sandwich, vegetable, cheese, meat, tomato
Tarika Narain

Bea: Yes, panino is the singular of panini, and we use this word to describe any type of sandwich, not only toasted ones! To be honest, I didn’t really notice this in the US, because I generally would not [order] a lot of sandwiches. However, while I was doing an exchange semester in Germany during high school, I did notice that they would use the term "panini" also to describe only one sandwich. But [in the Italian language], "panini" is only used for the plural.

It’s totally acceptable to mix cheese and fish, right?

seafood, vegetable, cheese, pasta, sauce, shrimp
Katherine Richter

Bea: Next question? I think that mixing cheese with fish [is a no-go, and] is probably the third golden rule for Italian food, after not putting chicken on pasta or pizza, and not cutting spaghetti. Cheese and fish don’t really work together when it comes to Italian food.

It could also be a personal taste, but I just find that it is a pity to cover the delicate taste of fish with a bunch of cheese. Yes, cheese is great. Everyone loves cheese. But that doesn’t mean you have to put it everywhere! Some things are best if enjoyed plain and simple. 

Do Italians put Parmesan on everything?

dairy product, cheese, milk, parmesan
Amy Le

Bea: I never recall putting Parmesan cheese on my tiramisu, but you never know! So no, we don’t put Parmesan everywhere, but I do have to say, we use it a lot. We use it mainly on pasta dishes (not if they have seafood/fish, see above). And then we also eat it plain, in chunks. It is just so good. I always bring a big piece of Parmigiano Reggiano with me whenever I am traveling abroad! 

Is American pizza just as good as pizza you’ve eaten in Italy? Or not even close? How did it compare?

sauce, mushroom, spinach, crust, mozzarella, pizza
Jaclyn Puccini

Bea: There are certainly authentic Italian restaurants in the US where you can find really good and authentic Italian pizza! But most of the time, pizza in the US is an American take on Italian pizza with toppings such as chicken, fries, and the worst of all, pineapple.

So, I would say that in general, your average Italian pizza will be much better than your average American pizza. But you can find amazing Italian pizza in the US, too, if you find the right place. I remember being in San Diego in a restaurant in Little Italy, and the pizza there was incredible! 

Which types of pasta are most commonly eaten in Italy? And is it more common to eat dried pasta or hand-made pasta, at least at restaurants? 

meat, vegetable, sauce, pasta, spaghetti
Rachel Williamson

Bea: Generally, I’d say that spaghetti are very common, and also penne. Apart from these, I guess it just depends on taste, as each Italian family has their own typical types of pasta that they use.

Generally, we cook already-made pasta, just because it is easier and still tastes amazing. We sometimes make our own pasta, but that doesn’t happen very often (at least not at my place) because no one really has enough time for that. Also, I think that in most restaurants, they use already-made pasta and do not do it by hand for most of their pasta dishes. 

What are Italian-American foods that you would not typically find in Italy?

Bea: I don’t really know, but I’m not too keen on finding out. I think finding out about chicken Alfredo was enough of a shock for me!

Last but not least, do you consider Starbucks to be real coffee?

lager, wine, ale, liquor, alcohol, beer
Molly Doroba

Bea: I would not consider it authentic Italian coffee, but I like Starbucks. However, it is far too expensive for what it has to offer, and that is why no Starbucks has yet opened in Italy (although I think one is going to open in Milan soon enough).

The thing is that in Italy, we have excellent coffee, which is very cheap when compared to Starbucks. So, if you can get a cappuccino for €1.2 (or about $1.40), you would not go spending four times that amount for a Starbucks coffee that is good, but not outstanding. 

And there you have it. A sampling of Italian food myths that needed some serious debunking. Grazie mille my friend, and may you never have to encounter Hawaiian pizza again.