Italian cuisine: an unsung hero

Crave_Sydney_gala_dinner

Italian cuisine was celebrated at Crave Sydney’s gala dinner

What’s your favourite cuisine? When you’re considered a foodie (whether you like the term or not) you get asked that question a lot.

A friend asked me this very thing a few days ago. “Thai,” i replied without hesitation. “Then probably Indian.” We started discussing the merits of various cuisines — Vietnamese, Peruvian, Ethiopian. About 10 minutes into the conversation Italian food was mentioned.

We paused for thought, then agreed that Italian was actually one of our favourites, though we had overlooked it in our enthusiasm over the plethora of cuisines available on our Australian doorstep.

Italian is rarely my cuisine of choice when choosing a dining destination. Thai, Laotian, Afghan, Chinese, and Korean restaurants have all enticed me in their doors in recent weeks. The only look-in Italian got was when we ordered a take-away pizza from the family-run pizzeria at the top of our street. It was the closest, quickest, easiest means of dinner that night.

Well, let’s just say my (too big for my belly) eyes have been opened. The Crave Sydney International Food Festival held it’s gala dinner on Sunday night. The theme was Italian. The food was outstanding.

Nine Italian chefs, including six based in Australia – Eugenio Riva, Karen Martini, Alessandro Pavoni, Nino Zoccali, Giovanni Pilu and Alfie Spina – laboured over an amazing five-course, 10-dish Italian feast.

For me, Pavoni’s aged carnaroli risotto with scampi bottarga and mandarin, Zoccali’s sweet pea ravioli with gorgonzola cream and burnt butter, and Pilu’s roast suckling pig were the standout dishes of the night. Of those three chefs, i’ve only eaten at Zoccali’s Pendolino restaurant, once, and then it was for a work lunch.

Well, boys guess what? I’m booking in. You’ve sold me on the finer qualities of Italian cuisine.

Does Italian cuisine rate as one of your favourites?

READ MORE CRAVE SYDNEY NEWS:

The Food Sage attended the Showcase Gala Dinner as a guest of Crave Sydney.

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24 Comments

Filed under Cuisines, Reflections

24 responses to “Italian cuisine: an unsung hero

  1. Wayne heeley

    Well you’ve had a busy, and fun, weekend. Actually, I’d probably put Italian at the top of my list most of the time – it has the sophistication of French food but isn’t as fussy to prepare.
    I’d guess the reason it doesn’t rate highly for many – and perhaps you – is we take it for granted and our attention is always caught by the latest’trend’ food.

    • Yes, busy and tiring weekend! Ready for a rest, but have to get ready for work instead! Good comments regarding the sophistication of Italian food, but it being less fussy than French. I think we just have too much great choice in Sydney, so we’re constantly distracted by new restaurants and different cuisines. I am going to make up for lost time on the Italian food front!

  2. You’ve been a total blogging machine lately, woman! Italian cuisine is fantastic, but so are many others; I can’t imagine having to choose a favourite cuisine.

    • Yes, it’s a busy blogging month so far! I usually cringe when asked what my favourite cuisine is. It changes, often, depending on my mood and what i’ve been eating recently. Thai is definitely always near the top. But i’m always exploring.

  3. I agree. I think that people do tend to overlook Italian cuisine, but then you’ll also find people rarely nominate Chinese as their favourite either — usually people mistakenly label it as ‘too greasy’, yet will regularly dig into yum cha with glee. Like so many questions we’re asked, I think there’s a perception of being judged by our responses, which is why our answers are often aspirational or used to demonstrate how ‘worldly’ or ‘adventurous’ we are with our palates.

    • You’re right Helen. There are so many great Italian restaurants on our doorstep, i’m actually ashamed to say i haven’t tried them. I am going to make up for lost time, though. Mark my words!

  4. Eha

    I am inevitably thinking of ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow’! I am N European-born, so Italian deliciously fits the bill. I am also very much a part of Australia of today with our ability to buy the most beautiful produce in the world and our position in the W Pacific Basin. For me: Vietnamese so fulfils the premise of ‘y’day’ etc with its fusional geographic position, its French + heritage etc. Chinese, to me, on its own, is not a choice: the regional cuisine presents such a differential picture. . . .

  5. I tend to say Vietnamese although if you consider Seafood a cuisine then I’d pick that for the oysters, prawns and lobster. Whenever I go to the buffet the first thing I look for is the oysters and prawns so I guess this is my favourite. Thai rates second after Vietnamese although it would be hard to find anyone that doesn’t like a good Italian pizza.

  6. MelleeMoo

    I love eating out as you know, and most often my pick will be as you say one of the myriad of great Asian restaurants in sydney, or even i am thouroughly enjoying middle eastern/turkish at the moment. However when people ask me my favourite restaurants or places to check out – Rosso Pomodoro (amazing pizza), A Tavola (really graet atmosphere with gorgeous hand made pasta to boot), Ormeggio (for an outstanding risotto – nearly as good as mine1) and Pilu at Freshwater (for beautiful passionate food!).. and making pasta at home i find very soothing, rolling and cutting! So yes without thinking Italian is up there on my list, even if it isn’t where i would normally opt to eat – it is also the cuisine i am fussiest about!

    • Well, hopefully i will be checking those three Italian restaurants off my list, soon! Thanks for the recommendations. And i think you should start giving pasta making classes … i’ll be a guinea pig!

  7. Perhaps it is the dining scene in Australia which makes you feel that Italian is not often an obvious choice? In Switzerland, there are fabulous Italian restaurants everywhere, naturally because Italy is only next door! You have some which do the everyday pizza and pasta option, but many of them offer more regional specialties which are really special.

    I’m not sure I could pick a favourite cuisine … probably Vietnamese but there would be other cuisines which would come very, very close.

  8. Rachel, you have posed an interesting question here. For me, in recent times, Vietnamese is the drawcard and I’m cooking a lot of it at home. I love the freshness and ‘lightness’ of Vietnamese food. Indeed, we popped up the street and met my daughter and her beau for a bowl of Pho yesterday at lunchtime. Having said that, Thai follows closely, but then good old Italian, well it’s just wonderful, isn’t it! Seriously envious of your Crave festival. Wish I could have made it!

    • After my food tastings at Crave, Italian may seriously be my number one!.
      You will just have to factor Crave into next year’s food diary, Lizzy. You’d love it, and it would be great to meet you.

  9. As usual, you’ve raised an interesting question, Rachel – why do Australian food adventurers overlook Italian when considering our favourite cuisines? I think you and others here have already expressed it – it’s about familiarity and the extent to which Australians have embraced Italian as part of our culinary heritage, so it doesn’t seem as distinctive as others. That leads to the further point already made above too about how exotic a cuisine seems, and how much the eater may know about another cuisine – there’s more cultural capital in accruing knowledge around Ethiopian cuisine as a relative newcomer to our multicultural dining scene than the old standby Italian. Interesting that Vietnamese still gets such a mention, in that regard, considering we’re up to third-generation Vietnamese Australians now. I’m interested in how much ethnicity still plays a part in how exotic a cuisine is perceived to be – how much it is ‘claimed’ as ‘Australian’ (such as spag bol), versus still ‘foreign’.

    All of that said, I hate that question! Depends on my mood, the climate, the company and my general well being, as well as the company I’m in and why. So many delicious culinary traditions, so little time. :-)

    • Yes, I totally agree Tammi. I hate to be pinned down on that topic. And i think you are right about familiarity. Like many Australians, i’m sure, i associate Italian with spag bol it’s too much same-old, same-old to be a favourite cuisine. The chefs cooking at the Crave dinner really blew me away. I have been far too narrow minded for too long. I am off out for an Italian lunch tomorrow! Shame on me …

  10. Interesting isn’t it? Yes, I agree, Italian has become so mainstream we don’t even think of it. Problem is, especially in places other than Sydney and Melbourne, Italian restaurants in Oz are in a rut, serving the same old cliche dishes of our childhoods. If they really put some effort into the variety of regional dishes and put the emphasis on good quality seasonal ingredients, they may win us back. Italian and Sons in Canberra has finally opened Canberra’s eyes I’m glad to say… but I still see most Canberrans going in droves to the lazy old favourites to order the same old crap. This will take time.

    • Good points. Maybe many Italian restaurants are stuck in a rut, maybe we as the diner are stuck in the rut – assuming it’s all going to be spag bol and carbonara. The dishes i ate at the Crave dinner were stunning, simple and extremely well made. But not your bog-standard fare either. Basically, i need to get out to Italian restaurants more. Other than Bala – at the Star casino in Sydney – i haven’t gone out for Italian for years. I’m glad you have found a reliable Italian restaurant in Canberra. Thanks for dropping by the blog.

  11. what bliss – i am supremely envious. that pea ravioli sounds delicious.
    italian is my absolute favourite way to cook and eat. the philosophy of good quality ingredients (often seasonal), respectfully and simply treated, resounds with me (and many of your readers too – i fear i’m adding nothing new). give me a simple pasta of tomato sauce with fresh vegies and a gelato – or tiramisu! – any day, every day!

    • Yes, there are so many wonderful things about Italian food that i really am quite ashamed that i don’t eat it out more often. I do cook it at home a lot, which i think is part of the problem: i equate it with home, & after work meals & stocking up the freezer! Lovely to hear from you again – thanks for dropping by.

  12. Ah I have been away and returned to some awesome posts of yours to devour with my cup of tea! Italian is definitely a favourite – especially coming in to warmer months when I can start adding tomatoes and basil to everything.

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