Every once in a while I stumble across discussions about food and cuisine on the internet. It's remarkable to read so many differing opinions about so many culinary societies.
I tend to steer clear of the "which are the best cuisines" debate since they're intensely personal. In any event, they rarely set a strict criteria to determine, if they must, what is the "best." I thoroughly enjoy Chinese and Lebanese food.
All I will say is when it comes to sheer breadth of products and ingredients Italy offers a staggering array.
I learned that by visiting a couple of SIAL's (international food exposition).
I attended my first SIAL in 2004 in Paris when I explored the possibilty of getting into food importing. My cousins own restaurants in France and visit the SIAL to see what's "out there" and got me a pass. Roaming around the corridors, what became immediately apprarent was, A) how many interesting products are out there - I spent quite a bit of time in the Turkish, Chinese and America's sections - and B) how Italy on its own was the single largest entity present. I'm talking massive.
Not even its main Latin rival France's exposition was as big.
That's why it always elicits a chuckle or two whenever I hear someone claim Italy's cuisine "begins and ends with tomato sauces." In particular in trying to distinguish it from French cuisine. Personally, it's a rather puerile position to present. Perhaps here in North America, thanks to the "Americanization" of food, we get that impression but the reality mocks this assertion.
Nothing can be further from the truth and quite frankly it baffles me; especially coming from people who claim to know food. The beauty of Italian food is rooted in its sophisticated simplicity. It's an exact science they've mastered over time and it includes quite a variety of food and recipes.
In fact, it's that similar reasoning that led me to starting this blog. I was a little tired of the perception that somehow Italy didn't possess a world class industrial, manufacturing and scientific base.
The other thing I've observed and was anectodaly confirmed in conversations with natives is that the French don't cook at home like the Italians do. There's still a very traditional and family oriented aspect to Italian culinary life.
It's much easier, to me anyway, to find a trattoria, gelatoria, or bar and be served memorable food in Italy. Heck, you can drive into a small town, as we did in Lucca in 1990, and be served a charming and exquisite meal that remain with you for the rest of your life.
Finally, the other thing I learned was that Italy is the biggest producer of organic foods.