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MY ITALY - PUGLIA

EXPAT

‘Italians welcome you with open arms’

Amy Lucinda Jones moved from Worcestershire, in the UK, to Puglia to teach English. Having studied German at university, she didn't speak the language but says the local community, and their food and festivals, made her feel at home.

'Italians welcome you with open arms'
Amy Lucinda Jones teaches English in Puglia.

Having studied German at university and lived there for a year, how does Italy compare in terms of expat life?

Italy is definitely more relaxed and laid back, but I did like the punctuality and efficiency that you can find in Germany. Trains that ran on time were fantastic! In terms of communicating, living in Germany could be said to be a little easier, especially at the beginning, as in general Germans speak very good English. But both Germans and Italians seem to appreciate it if you have a go and speak to them in the local lingo.

I personally prefer Italian food, but German bread is exceptional. With both Italian and German locals, I found it a little difficult at first, as neither nationality opens up to you immediately. But once you get to know the people, they are very accommodating. In southern Italy there is also a very strong sense of family; less so in Germany.

What do you miss most about life in the UK?

Well, I can safely say that I don’t miss the weather… I have to say that, apart from my family and friends, there are few things that I really miss. Although when I’m occasionally back in the UK, I do a big shop at all the great high street shops because where I live in Italy, there aren’t that many. Secretly I also miss food such as pork pie and crumpets too!

Are you learning much about the Italian cuisine of the region? 

I am definitely learning through eating, yes! Down here in Puglia the food is fresh and simple, and it’s absolutely delicious. Specialities include orecchiette (ear shaped) pasta, ridiculously good olive oil, tasty tomatoes, potato pizza and torcinello, which is a special sausage made from all sorts of lamb innards!

Have you experienced any local traditions or festivals specific to southern Italy?

Each town here has their own patron saint festival, and in this part of the country, people celebrate by eating, listening to live music, holding processions and perhaps most importantly, setting off fireworks.

I don’t live far from San Severo, which has its festival during May. The fireworks here are nothing short of incredible…but also incredibly dangerous! Aside from the danger of being hit by a passing banger, these festivals are great because the whole town comes together and there is a real sense of community. 

What is southern Italy like in the winter?

Quite cold actually. It’s a few degrees warmer than the UK during the winter, and doesn’t get too much rain, but it’s still rather chilly. People don’t tend to go out so much, preferring to stay at home in the evening, or head out to a nice cosy restaurant. As soon as the Spring hits however, everyone comes to life again!

And what is it like coping with the hot summers?

I’m actually starting to get used to the hotter weather during the summer. If it’s between about 28 and 35 degrees C, I’m fine. When the temperature starts creeping up towards 40 however, I seek out the nearest place with air conditioning. Some nights it’s almost impossible to sleep; I think that’s the worst thing about the really hot periods.

The evenings can be wonderful though, as everyone sits outside at bars and restaurants or takes an evening stroll through the park or town centre. 

Southern Italy is traditionally seen as more family and community orientated than the north, so what are your tips for settling in and winning over the locals?

Just get involved. There is definitely a huge sense of community here, and while people may be wary of you at first, seeing as you are an ‘outsider’, if you demonstrate that you are willing to become part of the community they will welcome you with open arms.

People here only speak a little English, so it’s wise to get to know some of the language before you arrive. If you can communicate, you can get to know people, and experience real southern Italian hospitality. 

Do you think foreigners have misconceptions about life in Italy? Did any aspects surprise you when you arrived?

People say that the food is great…and this is definitely true. They also claim that Italians aren’t punctual and don’t know how to queue…also true! But for anyone who thinks that the only language that people speak is Italian, unfortunately this isn’t the case. Every town, even ones that are only 10km apart, has its own dialect. It’s often similar to Italian, but not always. I didn’t have a clue about this when I arrived, so I did get a little confused! 

Do you plan to stay in Italy long-term, or move on somewhere else? 

Currently, I think I can see myself living here for a while yet. I love the lifestyle, the weather and the food, and my Italian is gradually getting better. But I’ve always been a keen traveller and often experience a great deal of wanderlust, so who knows!

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FOOD & DRINK

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.

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