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  • Italians and Their Delicate Stomachs
    Learn how digestion has become the dictator of Italy
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    Italians – especially in the south – revolve their day around food. An Italian mamma in an apron wielding a wooden spoon may as well be emblazoned on the flag. We all know the value of homemade spaghetti and meatballs, and the integral role they play in the Italian way of life.

    What most people outside Italy do not realize is the cultural tradition of lamenting how much you ate after the meal. You probably never knew how much the possibility of indigestion (or the hysteria that you have it) weighs into the culture and habits of the people. Here are 5 facts about Italians and indigestion that will make you laugh and cry (sometimes both at the same time):

    1. The cook is always at fault (unless she's your mamma, of course).
    You could be a Michelin-star chef. If you serve dinner to your friends – especially at the 9 or 10 o'clock in the evening hour, which is typical in Italy – they will go home and say, "Everything was delicious ma troppo pesante (but too heavy)." Of course, they'll rub their swollen belly and wrinkle their brow when they make the proclamation. You could serve them lettuce with extra-virgin olive oil and nothing else, and it still would be too heavy. It's never their fault for eating too much, by the way. Oh and wives of Italian husbands can expect to get this complaint every night for the rest of their lives because it's just another way to remind them that they don't measure up to mamma. Quit trying to and serve him vino and nothing else – and a double for you.

    2. Garlic and onions are the enemy.
    Here in the United States garlic and onions, especially garlic, are staples whenever reproducing an Italian recipe. Americans use lots of both ingredients in their cooking. Italians use much, much less. The garlic and onion they use is almost never raw or minced. Usually, it's big enough for the chef to see it and remove it before serving the dish. Although some Italians I know have gained an appreciation for roasted garlic spread on toasted, crunchy bread, French onion soup (despite its Frenchness), and Genovese (an onion-based pasta sauce), they will tell you that they like garlic and onions but can't digest them. Always. I've learned to refrain from listing them in the ingredients, like when I make Caesar salad (with its minced garlic) for my Italians relatives, and they are rarely the wiser. If they catch on, they will blame me for their indigestion from now until the end of all eternity. I'm okay with this, mostly because I'll return the favor. Only, I'll be telling the truth; they really will give me agita forever.

    3. Brioschi may as well be on menus at Italian restaurants.
    Every Italian I know has a jar of Brioschi, a digestive aid akin to Alka-Seltzer, in his bathroom or right in the kitchen. They melt the stuff in water to make it fizzy and down it like a religion. No matter the similarity or effectiveness, no other product the world over will compare. My Italian American uncle doles out the stuff like candy to his colleagues, and swears there's something about it that makes his stomach feel better just by looking at the jar.

    4. Every Italian is a drama queen, especially when it comes to their stomachs.
    Food is really important to Italians, so any minor setback that could keep them from tasting, savoring, and enjoying a bite is the end of the world. These are not quiet people. They're going to let you know that a subtle imbalance, such as some flatulence, is causing everything around them to go dark. They will go as far as describing their gas in this way. And they'll probably clutch their stomach and fall onto the bed while saying it. They'd fall right to the ground, but then they might really hurt themselves.

    5. They will survive to eat again.
    You will get the pretty obvious hint that your Italian experienced a serious bout of indigestion. You'll wonder how long before he makes up with food and takes another bite. You'll think it will be days or months because of the extreme reaction to this last meal. Then, 20 minutes later – not even long enough for the Brioschi to kick in – he'll be ready for a cannoli and espresso. Miracolo!

    Di Meglio is the Newlyweds Expert for About.com and you can follow her life and work at the Two Worlds Web site.


    Article Published 3/10/2014

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