Don't be put off by their names - these Italian foods are actually delicious

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Don't be put off by their names - these Italian foods are actually delicious
Mule testicles, anyone? Photo: Umbria Lovers/Flickr

What's in a name? From 'mule testicles' to 'priest-stranglers', Italy is full of tasty foods with confusingly off-putting names. Here are ten of the most revolting-sounding dishes which we promise are nicer than the names suggest.


1. Little worms

Measuring between 2.08 and 2.14 millimetres in diameter - only slightly wider than spaghetti - the name of Vermicelli pasta means "little worms" in Italian. You don't really need to use your imagination to figure out why: perhaps this is where children's author Roald Dahl got inspiration for the scene in The Twits where an old woman substitutes her grumpy husband's spaghetti for worms dug up from the garden...But don't let the name put you off. Vermicelli are delicious, especially when served in a whoreish sauce (see below).

Photo: judywitts/Flickr

2. Whoreish spaghetti

The 'spaghetti alla puttanesca' pasta dish consists of anchovies, olives and tomatoes, and its name translates literally as "spaghetti in whore's style". What on earth does it have to do with prostitutes, you ask. There are several stories about how the dish got its saucy name - some tales state that prostitutes used to make it to lure in clients with the smell, or because the bright tomato-red colour was similar to the clothes prostitutes would typically wear. The only thing that is certain is that its origins are fairly recent - and that it tastes far better than it sounds.

Photo: nishidaryuichi/Wikicommons

3. Priest stranglers

Another pasta shape with an odd name is strozzapreti, which translates as “priest stranglers”. Several tales account for the etymology of the pasta, the most enjoyable being that gluttonous priests used to gorge themselves on it until some of them, quite literally, choked to death. A more prosaic legend suggests that the twisted shape simply resembles a priest's collar. Either way, we recommend serving up some of these at your next dinner party - they go great with pesto.

Photo: fugzu/Flickr

4. Cat salami

No need to panic, cat lovers. Yes, the name of 'Salame di Felino' technically this does mean "feline salami" and might startle you on your first visit to the butcher's, but Felino also happens to be a charming town in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna where they make excellent salami. 

Photo: Basilicofresco/Wikicommons

5. Trouser leg

These spherical folded pizza slices are popular around the world, but did you know what the word 'calzone' means in Italian? In Italian a calzone means a "stocking" or a "trouser leg". Still hungry? The dish got its name because of how it is 'hemmed' around the edge, and another point to remember in Italy is that the final 'e' is pronounced like a 'y' in English; it's not silent.

Photo: I, Calcagnile Floriano/Wikicommons

6. Little tongues

A steaming dish of "little tongues"? Mmm, yes please. Linguine, the odd, flatter cousin of spaghetti, gets its name from its elliptical shape that supposedly resembles a tongue. Originally from the port city of Genoa, the pasta is great with pesto or seafood.

Photo: Michele Ursino/Flickr

7. Grandpa's balls

The name of the Umbrian salami 'palle di nonno', which translates literally as "grandpa's balls", doesn't exactly set one's mouth watering. Fortunately, no grandfathers were harmed in the making of the salami and it's made from 100 percent pork. The unique texture (see below) gives it its name.   

Photo: Umbria Lovers/Flickr

8. Mule's balls

Noticing a theme here? This salami goes by the name of 'coglioni di muli' (mule's balls) owing to it's slightly scrotum-esque shape that is somewhere between a cylinder and an orb. This time the name is not only off-putting but misleading too: much like grandpa's balls, mule's balls are made entirely of pork.

Photo: Florixc/Wikicommons

9. Friar's beard

'Barba di frate' or 'friar's beard' is another name for agretti, a wiry Italian green that is all the rage among top chefs. The reason for its popularity is simple: tossed in a pan with some butter, salt, pepper and lemon juice the stringy veg is way more succulent than its name suggests. The wispy shape was the inspiration for the name.

Photo: F Ceragioli/Wikicommons

10. Little ears

Yes, it's another pasta variety which sounds a bit gross in English. Fancy a plate of "little ears"? That's what 'orrecchiette', the name of this flat disk-shaped pasta from the southern region of Puglia means. You can sort of see the resemblance, although you might be a bit worried if your ears actually looked like this. 

Photo: Foodista/Wikicommons

A version of this article was first published in August 2015.


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