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Aug 30, 2000 03:29 PM

Italian Food--Northern vs. Southern

  • j

I was wondering if anybody could describe to me what are the major differences between these two styles of Italian cookng or where I could find a book or a website that might describe them?

As always, thanks for the info! I know I can always rely on everyone here.

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  1. I'd say the major difference is that Northern Italian is, in general, lighter than Southern -- more French-influenced maybe? Southern sauces are usually red, tomato-based, and heavy on the garlic, in my experience. And Northern cuisine seem to be a little bit more subtle. Then, again, I'm basing this solely on US restaurant meals, never having been to Italy.

    Gee, perhaps I'm not the person to answer this question...

    4 Replies
    1. re: Dena
      Jessica Nemeroff Ritz

      My experiences in Italy have actually been the opposite. In the north, where I've spent time in Parma and some in Milan, traditional dishes are much more dairy-oriented, with butter being a frequent ingredient. I haven't been to Sicily mainland and haven't spent as much time in the south, but south of the Mezzogiorno the cuisines generally don't contain butter and rely even more on the tomato. A major exception are the incredible, rich Neapolitan and Sicilian desserts. But keep in mind that the regional differences are SO amazingly vast and vary town to town. In fact, the village where I visited my friend and her family in Liguria was directly inland from San Remo and the sea by only about 15 miles, but they cooked fish differently due to the availability of river vs. sea fish. An always reliable resource is Marcella Hazan. Happy researching!

      1. re: Jessica Nemeroff Ritz

        This fallacious nonsense has been foisted on the restaurant-going public. There is no such thing as "Southern" or "Northern" Italian cuisine. At best there is the cuisine of a particular Region in Italy (of which there are 20). In fact many so-called cuisines of Italy may be--and probably are--Province related--or even small areas of a particular Province.

        The cuisine of Valle d'Aosta Region, in the northwest area of Italy, is significantly different than the cuisine of Trentino-Alto Adige, which is in the northeast area of Italy, even though these Regions are quite mountainous. Piemonte is also a northern Region and its cuisine is different than the Region of Fruili-Venezia Giulia which is directly east from Piemonte and in the northern part of Italy. Campanian cuisine is different than the Region of Basilicata which are adjacent to each other in the south of Italy.

        It is the local produce which is the principal and probable defining difference of the multitude cuisines found in each area Italy. Again there is no such thing as "northern" or "southern" cuisine. Since I am going on about geography, I might as mention that Toscany (Toscana) is not a Region considered in the "north", it is in "central" Italy even though many restaurants suggest that they are serving "Northern" Italian cuisine instead of the frugal cuisine of Toscana.

        There are several cookbooks that specialize in the cuisine of particular Regions which go a long way in helping one understand the differences of Regional Cuisines.

        I particularly like Arthur Schwartz's book on the cuisine of Campania entitled "Naples at Table". Then there is Plotkin's book on the cuisine of Liguria, "Recipes from Paradise". I also like Matt Kramer's "A Passion for Piedmont, Italy's Most Glorious Table". Too, take a look at "Pomp and Circumstance", a cookbook of Sicilian cuisine. I shouldn't leave out Plotkin's "Italy for the Gourmet Traveler" in which he covers each of the Region's cuisines very well. There are several more that are very good but need not be mentioned here.

        The preponderance of "Italian" cuisine we find in NYC, even the best, can be described the cuisine of the "21st" Region, "NewYorkevese" :-). What I have noticed more and more is the labeling of a restaurant sign's stating that it is now serving "Fine" Italian Cuisine. So called "Northern" Italian Cuisine, which I guess is supposed to imply a quality difference, is on the way out I guess.

        1. re: Peter

          I actually have a close friend that I am ashamed to say only eats at Italian restaurants that bill themselves as Northern Italian, as if you cant have stellar Southern Italian food. It frustrates the hell out of me when we double date with our spouses for dinner, and when I make a suggestion about an Italian restaurant, and if it has ONE dish with a red sauce on the menu, he freaks out and refuses to go, making the rationalization that its not good enough for us if it serves a variant of a dish that some local pizza parlor might put out. What the hell is wrong with having a good pasta in marinara on the menu? Beats me.

          Italy's cuisine is so totally regionalized its not even funny. Even adjoining regions can be totally polar opposites of each other.

          1. re: Peter

            Thank you so much for the info Jessica!

            I am definitely one of the "restaurant-going public" that this myth has been foisted on. This question started when I would be told by many different people that "this Northern Italian restaurant" was better than "that other Northern Italian restaurant, but not nearly as good as this Southern one." Blah, blah, blah.

            When I questioned them as to some definitive differences between the two, I couldn't get as straight (or as opiniated) an answer as when they'd talk about the restaurants themselves. Now I have a better idea why!

            Thank you all so much again for the info and the resources!