Pastry or pudding?
Sometimes, in all my pseudo Italiano bravado, I forget just how passionate proper Italian people are about food and then someone or something crops up to remind me. Nipping down to the backer for some bread this morning I found myself behind a lovely lady who seemed to be in the middle of buying the entire shop. She apologised for taking so much time and polite conversation began. She said she had come a long way “from Heathrow” to stock up on goodies for Christmas. And they do have some lovely goodies at Newens. This lady was from Italy and was very proud that she had ‘discovered’ the little bakery when none of her English friends new about it.
She told me about her friend who has a pasticceria in Turin. “The most lovely bite sized pastries (she demonstrated with her hands) – there is nothing like it in London,” she extolled. When I said I was impressed with the pasty I had sampled in Naples this year, in true Italian style, she rolled her eyes and said it was nothing like they have in the north.
You see Italians are passionate not about food, but their food. Their particular way of preparing it. Nothing else lives up to it and nothing else will do.
My experience of the Neapolitan pastry was of a delicious ricotta-filled shell, Sfogliatelle or the fluffy but rum-drunken Babà (which isn’t strictly Italian but they are passionate about all the same). There is also the Neapolitan version of the cream-filled donut, a Zeppola. All as decedent and indulgent as good pastry should be and all made with care and passion. But this is it, the Neapolitans will tell you their pastry is the best in the country. And when you try some I god help you if you disagree with them – you wouldn’t anyway. Then you would speak to the Venetians or the Sicilians and it would be the same story and the same delicious regional speciality. My questions is where is that pride, that competitive spirit that bravado in English cuisine?
The Italian lady did tell me that she sends a Christmas pudding to her baker friend in Turin every year “as she can’t get anything like it in Italy.” So maybe the English do have something to be proud of.