Italian culture is, in a certain sense, food. The most important symbols of Italy in popular culture are images of food, such as pasta or pizza or wine. There is a specific idea of Italian food, with specific ingredients and methods, which has become the “real” Italian food. But the idea of “real” Italian food is not a simple concept; in Italy there are different opinions on food, opinions ranging from the differences between different regions and different traditions. This becomes even more complicated when Italian culture is brought to foreign countries with Italian emigrants. In these countries, Italian culture changes, and this change creates two different cultures under the name of “Italian”.
The place where we can see this phenomenon most clearly is America — both South America and the United States. There is an immense population of Italians in the two Americas, and their culture is profoundly different from that of Italians in Italy. This diversity is a consequence of the distance from Italy, but also because migrants create their communities within another culture. There are many elements that contribute to the creation of the migrant community, from the politics of the country to the habits of the people and shops. In the United States, the Italian American community has been influenced by both the racism of American culture and the abundance of resources. The concept of what is “Italian” is reflected, not only in Italy, but how Italian traditions and attitudes enter another culture. This training process creates a culture of migrants which eventually influences the culture of the country as a whole. We can see this process in action in the food of both North and South America, but especially South America.
Since we are focusing on South America, suffice it to say that there was an influx of migrants in the late nineteenth century, and since then there has been a great Italian migration to Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. Many Italians have settled in an area called the Rio de la Plata, and have helped found cities like Buenos Aires and Montevideo.
Immigration of Italians has had a profound impact on South American culture. Elizabeth Zanoni, in her book Migrant Marketplaces: Food and Italians in North and South America, writes that the import of Italian goods to the two Americas, and the production of “Italian goods,” has an important link with the idea of Italian identity outside of Italy. Zanoni mainly writes about this movement of products, because from the first day that the Italians entered South America, there was a debate on the meaning of the adjective “Italian.”
One thing that hasn’t changed with migration are the words migrants used to describe their food. Alessandro Patat, in his book on the influence of Italians in Argentina, wrote that pasta, perhaps the most popular Italian dish, “has an absolutely Italian terminology” (Patat, 126). The citizens of Buenos Aires eat raviolis, tortelinis, fetuchinis, and ñoquis — or gnocchi (127). Spanish words are clearly recognizable as Italian. Certainly this is the model for the integration of Italian culture in Argentina, that the word for food is Italian, but the products have become an integral part of the country. the product is Italian, but a new Italian, perfect for the new world. this ‘new Italian’ is the subject of my video, based on two examples of Italian food but which has become Argentine.
This video is a visualization of two recipes: fainà and Fernandito, a typical cocktail in Argentina. these foods are important because they are symbols of the two different ways in which food becomes part of a culture. Both fainà and Fernandito are products that come from Italy, in a sense, but while fainà is a food that exists in Italy, Fernandito is an Argentine invention, and has become a drink that represents the culture of the country .
To understand what fainà is, it is useful to note that this dish, in general, is called “chickpea porridge.” It is a savory pie, eaten as a side dish. To see the Italian recipe, here is a link to Giallo Zafferano, a cooking blog very popular in Italy. When I studied in Bologna, I used it very often to discover Italian recipes. It is an important resource, because it explains a little of the history of farinata and how it is made.
Farinata is a dish with a long history. According to Giallo Zafferano, the legend of farinata “says that farinata as we know it today was born in 1284, when Genoa defeated Pisa in the battle of Meloria” (Giallo Zafferano). After the battle, Genoese ships discovered that their supplies of oil and chickpeas were ruined by salt water. However, the mariners cooked the chickpeas in the sun to obtain “a sort of pancake.” It was an accident, but the dish became popular in Liguria.
When the emigrants went to the New World, they brought their food traditions. Many of the migrants were from Genoa, as I wrote before, and therefore the traditions that became important were those of Liguria and Genoa. In addition, farinata is very simple and not very expensive to make — useful attributes for migrant cooking. However, farinata was not called “farinata,” but rather fainà – the word in the Genoese dialect. As Patat noted, the dialectal expression became an Argentine word, a mixture in the language and in the kitchen.
The word is the same, but there are differences between the fainà of Italy and the fainà of South America. The first difference is the preparation — in my research, I found that modern recipes for Genoese fainà have only four ingredients: chickpea flour, water, salt, and olive oil. This is a very simple savory pie, almost like the preparation from 1284. However, recipes for fainà in South America usually have multiple ingredients, such as black pepper, rosemary, or Parmesan cheese. Parmesan is an interesting addition, because cheese is a rich and rather expensive food, different from other ingredients. This makes sense, because the Americas are rich, and traditional foods often change and incorporate this wealth. For my video, I made the version with Parmesan.
The other key difference is that while Italian farinata is above all a side dish, Argentine fainà is served on pizza, a preparation called “pizza a caballo.” I would say this would be seen as an outrage to the original recipe in genoa, but in South America it is normal. Pizza, an Italian classic, is mixed with porridge to become a food in Argentine culture — a perfect example of how migrant culture becomes a part of host culture. A sin in Italy is a tradition in Argentina.
Fernandito is a popular cocktail in Argentina. Like fainà, it is very easy to make, because the ingredients are only Fernet-Branca and Coca-Cola. Fernet-Branca is a digestive, originally made in Milan. Now, more than 70% of Fernet is exported to Argentina. Zanoni writes that Fernandito “divulges much about how the historic movements of products and people have shaped the eating and drinking habits, food cultures, and identities of migrants and nonmigrants alike” (Zanoni, 183). That is, the drink is exactly like pizza a caballo – a food that is the result of combination and cultural mix. The interesting thing is that Fernandito is made by Fernet, an Italian product, and Coca-Cola, a product from the United States. These products, in their blend, are neither American nor Italian, but they become symbolic of Argentina. The migrant population is a large part of the creation of the Argentine identity, and we can see it expressed in a cocktail.
For this fainà, I used questa ricetta, but there are many others–I have put a few below.