I will admit that many Italian dishes are made from the same five ingredients: tomato, cheese, pasta, basil, garlic. Even so, Italians are very particular about how these things are combined. Certain sauces can only go with certain shapes of pasta; you can't just mix and match everything–something Olive Garden is notorious for to no end.

Here I debunk some of the myths of Italian-American cuisine with five dishes that, shockingly enough, I have never encountered on any menu in Italy.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Everyone can recall this scene in Lady and the Tramp with the stereotypical round-bellied Italian waiter and the two dogs on a date sharing a fancy meal. This is perhaps the quintessential staple Italian-American dish.

Before you say anything, yes, these two things absolutely exist in Italy–as separate entities. This does not mean that this is a signature dish in Italy by any means. If you go to Italy, don’t expect to see this dish on any menu. 

Caesar Salad

Would you believe me if I told you that this beloved salad was invented by a man named Caesar Cardini in MEXICO? Many associate this dish with Julius Caesar, but that is completely incorrect. Unfortunately, this fantastic salad has no connection with Italy. 

Chicken Parm

This dish is a spin on a classic Italian dish, Eggplant Parmigiana. Again, places like Olive Garden seem to think that you can “Parm” just about anything from eggplant to chicken to shrimp. Another thing that may blow your mind is that traditionally, this dish is almost never prepared with mozzarella cheese. The only cheese used is the classic Parmigiano Reggiano, hence the name. 

Shrimp Scampi

Ah, the buttery, garlicky goodness of Shrimp Scampi. What you might not know is that “scampi” is actually another type of crustacean common in Italy that resembles a small lobster. Dishes similar to this are prepared in this same sauce, but shrimp and scampi are kept separate. The word scampi is just the plural of scampo. Sound strange to you? It’s ok; Americans love to do that with many Italian foods: biscotti, panini and cannoli just to name a few. 

Penne alla Vodka

beer, alcohol, liquor, wine
Alex Frank

The history of this dish is unclear. Some say that this was invented in Bologna, Italy; others say it originated right here in New York. Regardless, I would not say that this dish is nearly as popular in Italy as it is in the States. Another fun fact is that its original name was "Penne alla Russia." Vodka or Russia, same difference. Am I right? 

Although many of these dishes incorporate ingredients and techniques commonly used in Italian cooking, they're still not the same. It's common for cuisines to be adapted to the American vernacular and taste. These dishes may be popular and may taste pretty good, but they should not be confused for traditional Italian dishes.