The Italian Connection

Growing up, I wanted to be Italian. I still do in some respect.

My dad worked at an architectural firm in Leichhardt and he’d always come home with boxes of cannoli, packets of prosciutto, olives marinated in oil…Whatever it was, Italian food kind of found its way of integrating into our predominately Chinese diet of pork bone soup, noodles and odd sweets.

Now that I’m older and know a little more about food, the similarities between Italian cuisine and Chinese cuisine seem far more relatable than you’d think. Both are culinary traditions born from poverty and necessity…and from those humble origins, truly distinct and delicious foods were born.

For almost every Italian dish, there is a Chinese counterpart: Pork bone soup? Bollito misto. Noodles? Pasta.

And just like the arguments I’d hear between aunties as to whether the Shanghainese or Catonese version of this dish or that dish was superior, the Italians love to argue over whose ragu is supreme, or whether it’s oil, butter, or both… that should soften the sofritto.

In the pasta couple of weeks (sorry, couldn’t help it), I’ve had the fortune of spending a few minutes in the kitchen with a couple of Sydney’s greatest Italian chefs. Inner West local Stefano Manfredi schooled me on the subtle arts of minestrone…one of the true heroes of cucina povera (poor cooking) – a vegetarian or omnivore’s delight no matter which way you spill the sauce.

And Giovanni Pilu was polite enough not to kick me out of his house when I asked him to make spaghetti Bolognese… a dish that is more Australian than Italian.

This sense of generosity and celebration of all things authentic, honest and nourishing is what makes Italian cuisine great, and we are so fortunate in the Inner West, to host so many purveyors of one of the world’s greatest foods, beverages and traditions.

So whether it’s a few aperitivo over a little antipasti, or a bowl of warming ragu while the weather is still chilly enough to indulge, buon appetito, I say!

Words: Melissa Leong,