Comparing French and Italian Food

 Food Fight! French vs. Italian Cuisine

Rustic Italian Food

According to a very unscientific poll we did on Facebook, the winner for favorite European cuisine by a landslide was Italian. This may be due in part to its popularity in America – after all, entire aisles of supermarkets are dedicated to pasta and sauce.

There’s the simplicity of the dishes too – as opposed to French cooking, which to many appears “frou frou” and complex, in taste and preparation. Italian food is more focused on the ingredients rather than the technique, and tastes lighter thanks to prodigious use of olive oil. French cuisine relies heavily on butter (hence, those divine cream sauces.)

But don’t be fooled into thinking just “one way” about each of these cuisines. There’s no singular type of Italian or French food, but rather hundreds of local cuisines that are influenced by towns and even bordering countries. In fact – food from the south of France can taste more traditionally Italian than food from northeast Italy, which has more German flavors. There’s much more to these foods than spaghetti and meatballs and escargot.

France and Italy are countries of massive diversity – in dialects, topography and certainly food. These differences influence local dishes.

Italy is a peninsula separated from the rest of the continent by the highest chain of mountains in Europe. In addition, a long spine of mountains runs down north to south through this boot creating fertile valleys, mountainous forests, cool foothills, Mediterranean coastlines and arid plains. But these geographic differences still can’t explain why pizza originated in Naples, tortellini came from Bologna and Sicily is home to North African influences.

The explanation lies in the past. Italy didn’t have political unification until 1861. Many populations have occupied Italian territory, most notably the Greeks and Etruscans, contributing to both food and traditions.

New high speed trains in Italy begin running at the end of the year – quickly getting you to risotto in Milan and fresh fish in Ravello. This next generation of speedy trains can cover distances of 600 miles in about three hours. Sleek and stylish (as is most in Italy) these are true ergonomic machines: with train floors four inclues lower than on traditional trains and a reduction in traveling noise. Not to mention Wi-Fi and a cinema carriage for movie watching.

So put down that box of mass produced pasta. Step away from the Italian chain restaurant known for unlimited breadsticks. And come taste the true flavors of Italy.

Of course, if already in Italy, You have easy access to France with the Thello overnight train, which is covered by the Eurail France-Italy Pass.  The Thello overnight train gives the ability to depart from Milan or Venice at night and be in Paris in the morning for French cuisine — which is more than wine, cheese, bread and bouillabaisse. French cuisine is incredibly diverse, thanks in part to the passion of the people for good food in all forms.

This passion is sometimes misconstrued as “snobby” in French restaurants outside of France. This is a mistake. Just like Italy, there’s an extraordinary range of geographies and climates which support the local production of incredibly fresh ingredients which make for simple preparation of dishes.

French Food

Brittany and Normandy on the northwest coast of France favors fresh-from-the-sea favorites, while the Alsace region has food similar to Germany – thanks in part to an everchanging border over many years of history. Provence features fragrant herbs and olive oil. The Alps excel in firm cheeses, and Burgundians are known for raising cattle for rich meat dishes. And what started as regional gems – Coq au Vin and foie gras – are now found all over France.

For those who favor one cuisine over the other – there’s a real preference. One of our employees so adored French food she ran off for two weeks to eat her way through the country and blogged about it for us. The love for Italian food has spawned movies, books and lifestyle changes (you know, like buying villas in Tuscany.)

Whichever you prefer, there’s no substitute for trying the authentic version. If all you know about French food is fries and toast, maybe it’s time for a visit. Come for the croissants, stay for the history, the art, the beauty.

Get traveling….it’s the ultimate taste test.

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This entry was posted on Friday, April 22nd, 2011 at 5:54 pm and is filed under Food in Europe. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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  • Bozzy Lewis

    So true ! Don’t forget, the Italians actually taught the French how to cook ! During the middle-ages, the wealthy and regal sent chefs from France to Northern Italy to learn how to cook and prepare food for the high courts and royal families and then took the recipes back to France and tweaked them, if you will. Both cuisines are world-class and can be very similar. France and Italy are neighbors, have similar climates and ingredients grown naturally. Southern France is very Mediterranean, while Northern France can have German and Dutch influences in cuisine. Northern Italy on the West side borders France and many Italian dishes have French influences, too. Southern Italian food is more robust and purely Mediterranean in character-very fresh, simple and healthy ! In the 1950′s and 1960′s, the only true elegant and first-class cuisine in America was considered to be French. Little was known about true Italian cuisine, and most thought of it as a cheap pizza for lunch or spaghetti and meatballs made with a prepared jarred sauce. Even Italian-Americans were clueless to the true foods, preparations and diversity of Italian cuisine in Italy. That all began to change in the mid 1980′s. Restaurants began to import quality ingredients from Italy and feature authentic recipes from every region in Italy. French cuisine fell out of favor. Considered too stuffy, rich, pretentious, hard to prepare and complicated. Today, it is hard to even difficult to find a good French restaurant in most major U.S. cities. 4 and 5 star Italian ones are everywhere ! This is sad, because French cuisine can be fabulous ! They have tried to simplify their repertoire and emulate the Italians here. Simple, fresh ingredients, easy preparations with elegant presentation. This seems to be the key to success. These days, for sure, Italian cuisine is by far the most popular and sought after foreign cuisine from Europe. Even Italian culinary words and phrases have replace the French ones from the “Venti” in Star Buck’s (a 20 oz. coffee) to the “Ciabata” (a type of bread roll) in Wendy’s fast-food to Focaccia for a simple pizza-like flat bread in popular American culture. Buon Appetito !

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