Monday, December 15, 2014

France vs Italy – Who does what better?

Having lived in Europe for almost 20 years, when it comes to experiencing France and Italy, I've noticed that people tend to align themselves with one or the other. When you travel the whole world you tend not to contrast as much, as you tend to accept each place is different. But these two neighboring countries have enough in common to tempt comparison. People tend to either love the often fancier French cuisine or the more simple Italian style. Some get more charmed by a French person speaking English than with their Italian counterpart. I have heard some say they feel more comfortable traveling in a more predictable France than the considerable chaos of Italia. And the opposite is also true. And it goes without saying that how you perceive a country and its inhabitants is hugely personal.

Classic french quiche

I have had more experiences in Italy than France but it doesn’t stop me from comparing all the time. Plus friends often ask me why I moved - what didn’t I like about Italy or why do I prefer France. So I thought I would sum up some of the differences that strike me, based on my personal likes and dislikes. I have kept this blog to food items as it is harder to compare people without possibly offending. Maybe another post?

Pasta with zucchini and spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and basil

Coffee/Caffé/Café – I will start with the hot beverage that kickstarts the day. I would beg to differ with anyone who thinks there is any better coffee in the world than Italian. A ‘café’ looks like a ‘caffé’ but they are worlds apart with the latter having a much richer flavor. I have yet to enjoy one single coffee in a France café and generally skip having one except when I have no other option (you have to meet friends for a chat in a café after all and I don’t drink tea). As far as a cappuccino goes, I don’t get how the Italians can make the froth so creamy and rich that you can stand up a fork in it, while the French version has the consistency of egg whites and you are tout de suite left with the weak coffee as the ‘froth’ disappears with one stir of your spoon. And the best thing is that an Italian cappuccino costs a third to a half less than the French attempt. It’s sacred in Italy.

You know this is thick and creamy froth

Bread/Pane/Pain – Here I will stand with the French and due to its sacred status it ensures a low price. Sure you can find some decent bread in Italy but you do have to search and if you happen to be in Tuscany you may as well give up before you start (they don’t salt their bread). The French baguette is famous worldwide and can have such a healthy crust on it that the top of the inside of your mouth gets sore if you overindulge. Nowadays I tend to order other types like a flute with figs for breakfast or a multigrain loaf with my savory meals.

Doesn't get much more French than this

Pizza – I live in the Nice area in the south of France. The hero Garibaldi, who fought to unite Italy in 1860, was born here (although he did not get his birthplace to be in the new nation) and it borders Italy, so there is plenty of pizza served up and perhaps it is the best in France. But pizza all over Italy is wonderful and better than in France (yes it originated in Naples but I know great pizzeria from north to south). The main difference is that the Italians use mozzarella (mostly from cow but also buffalo) rather than a yellowish cheese that adorns the French pie. That is the main issue I have. Next is the crust, which I find has far more flavor in Italy, with a chewy but crusty bite and is hard to leave uneaten as much as you start off the meal piling up the crusts to be more healthy. I love pizza so will crave it and eat it in France but I approach it as an ok meal that satisfies the melted cheese yearning but not the pizza craving.

the classic pizza Margherita
Salads and their vinaigrette – We all eat lots of salads nowadays to be healthy or when we are just not craving a pizza! You can find great salads all over the world. But I am gong to stick to the classic ones found in each country. I think the French have mastered the salad and the vinaigrette and being served a dressed salad (France) beats adding olive oil and vinegar at the table (Italy). Plus the French add some mustard and it gives that little punch without being overpowering. As for the classic salad choices, in France there is a great selection with interesting lettuces, green beans, potatoes, walnuts, Roquefort cheese, lardon (bacon chunks), endive, olives, tuna, eggs plus more (not all in the same salad of course). We all know the salad Niçoise but my favourite is a salad served with warm chicken livers (okay, not everyone loves liver but having a warm ingredient in your salad is a great touch). Where Italy does well serving salads is in Milan, where they cater to the fashion world. But that is something that is more of a reaction to modern times rather than being part of their culinary tradition.

Niçoise salad courtesy of
pistacchio granita from Sicily

Fortunately, there is great cuisine in both countries so, as a foodie, I consider myself to be lucky. Plus when I really need a good dose of Italian food I hardly have to drive far to satisfy that request! And I love that each EU country has generally kept to its own food traditions? 

Now I think I might just have a granita (and yes, Italy does better gelato).

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