Today’s article it’s about something really crucial in the italian cuisine: bread.
I want to say something about that because it’s the base of the italian diet and sometimes it’s a little underrated food.
When my guests reach my culinary school, they find a little aperitif before starting a cooking class with me and I usually do a kind of focaccia, wich we romans call Pizza Bianca (white pizza), but I noticed that my american friends call that just “Bread”.
Sometimes it’s a overused or misused word, especially if related to italian bakery; first time I went to London I used to eat in a fast-food widespread all over the Europe and Usa but totally absent in Rome: Subway, yes there were no Subways in Rome in 2004 and just one nowadays, in wich I could create my sandwich by choosing the ingredients… starting by bread.
One of those was the “Italian bread” but it had nothing of italian: taste, shape or texture; it was something you just can’t find in Italy.
I was wondering why and I thought that there is not an “italian” bread indeed!!!
We classificate bread by the city we live in or by the original place it is from.
Italy has always been divided, it’s a very young nation, for a lot of centuries our territory was divided into little reigns; so our cuisine and bakery it’s very different from place to place even in the same area!
That’s the reason why we don’t go to the bakery asking for an “Italian Loaf”, there are hundreds of different traditional breads in Italy; we ask for Rosette or Genzano in Rome, Sciocco in Tuscany or Altamura in Puglia…
To understand the importance of things I relate to the words we use to talk about them because our language can influence how we refer to the world and that’s the reason why I love to find out the origin of the words used in the kitchen and I explain those in my cooking classes.
For example in ancient italian slang they used 2 words to divide food in the simplest way possible: “pane” and “companatico”, so literally “bread” and “anything else that you can eat with bread”.
The first category indicates just one aliment (yes different taste from city to city, but the same kind of food) and the second one indicates a lot of different things: ham, cold cuts, cheese, vegetables, meat, fish, sauces and so on.
I think this can be considered the highest way to respect and appreciate something: to create a category of words just for it, among a lot of food, one for Pane and everything else is undifferentiated companatico.
The guests of my cooking classes and tour operator I collaborate with know how much I love american sports and I like to take examples from that, in this case it’s like if we talk about NBA greatest players and we consider just two categories: “Michael Jordan” and “anyone else to be compared to MJ”; he is not considered “just” a champion, is considered so much more for how he changed the game and sport in general, is the center of our thoughts when we talk about basketball as Pane is the center our thoughts when we talk about food and everything else is just related to it.
Another example, to understand how much this kind of food has always been significant, is the word “Compagno” wich has several meaning in italian: companion, mate, fellow or partner and comes from a Latin words “cum pane” wich literally mean “with bread” because a companion was someone who they used to eat and divide bread with, a person deserving to share food with you in wich you really trust and have a nice feeling.
Nowadays it doesn’t mean a lot to us but imagine if you had just bread to eat, it would be very precious, with who you’d like to share? Maybe someone that share with you the best moment of life: a partner, a teammate ecc…
I’m going to end this list of examples with a roman slang sentence: “Bono come er pane” wich literally means “Good as bread” and indicates the maximum level of goodness metaphorically.
It can be refered to a very polite person with a kind heart, also in a different version as “to be a piece of bread” or to a very positive situation, especially if unexpected.
Chef Matteo Ferroni