ebook: Pasta, pizza, and Pinocchio: Questions and answers about the Church of the Nazarene in Italy (Part 6)

Missions in Italy

5. Marco Polo and Ronald McDonald

In this ebook, Pasta, pizza and Pinocchio, Howard Culbertson answers questions he has been asked about missionary work in Italy. Originally published in the NMI mission book series by what is now The Foudry, this book carried ISBN number 0-8341-0612-4. Some material has been updated for this ebook edition.

Do the Italians really eat a lot of spaghetti?
Yes, they do. There are over 60 different shapes and sizes of what is called pasta, including spaghetti, tortellini, macaroni, lasagna, ravioli, and fettuccine. Almost every meal will include at least one pasta dish, the "first course." Then on comes the meat, vegetables, and salad.
Didn't Marco Polo bring back spaghetti to Italy from China?
Italian spaghetti is similar to Chinese noodles, giving rise to the theory that Marco Polo did indeed bring back the art of pasta-making from China in the 13th century. However, another story has it that pasta was imported to Italy in the fifth century by fierce Germanic barbarians. And there are other legends of how pasta reached Italy and captured the imagination of the Italians. However it happened, though, the Italians took this potentially drab noodle and transformed it into a culinary art form that today enjoys an international reputation.
How do the Italians fix their pasta?
Books have been written on the many ways to fix pasta. It may be served steaming hot with butter and garlic. It may have a tomato sauce on it ... a sauce that's been simmered for hours. It may have a sauce containing tiny little clams. It may have a white sauce with peas on it. It could be fixed in a broth as a kind of soup ... and it's all good.

True Italian-style spaghetti is put unbroken into already boiling water for five minutes or so. It is eaten al dente, which means it is still slightly firm.
Pizza isn't really Italian, is it? Didn't it originate here in the U.S.?
Pizza is very much Italian. In fact, we've eaten pizza in the little pizzeria in Naples where it supposedly originated years ago.
Do Italian ladies make lots of pies?
No. Whatever pastries are consumed in Italy are nearly always purchased from the neighborhood bakery. As a rule, Italians do not bake things at home. They are great cooks, but not bakers.

As for pies, that kind of pastry is non-existent in Italy. The closest thing to it is a pie-type crust topped with a thin jelly-like topping.
With all that rich food, aren't there a lot of fat Italians?
No. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that an average Italian consumes 20 calories less each day than does an American. Italians don't eat the rich desserts that we do. They eat very little breakfast. And they rarely snack throughout the day.
Is food expensive?
Sometime ago, the Union Bank of Switzerland calculated that a shopping cart containing common food and beverage items that would cost $178.50 in Los Angeles would run $184.23 in Milan, Italy. So food is probably a little more expensive in Italy than it is in the U.S.
Do Italians eat out a lot?
No, not even for lunch. Almost everybody goes home for lunch or "brown-bags" it. Of course, they brown-bag it in style. A stonemason doing some work on the Florence church would spend the first part of his lunch break (an hour and a half) gathering twigs and pieces of wood and building a fire. Then he would put his little container of spaghetti or ravioli on the fire and eat it piping hot.

Restaurants prefer to serve only the lengthy multicourse meals for which Italians are famous. Eating out is usually an expensive proposition and is done only on very special occasions.
You do have a McDonald's in Italy, don't you?
There are a handful of McDonald's restaurants in large tourist centers like Rome. You'll find more American fast-food franchises in countries like Germany, France, and even Japan than you will in Italy.
Can you buy a lot of what we call "convenience foods" like Hamburger Helper or TV dinners?
No, much to some missionaries' dismay. Convenience foods and even frozen foods are not all that plentiful in Italy as well as a lot of what we term "junk foods." The Italians cook almost everything, including their spaghetti sauce, from "scratch."

Supermarkets that would carry and promote this kind of food are still a novelty. When we lived in Italy, there are only six supermarkets open in Florence, just two more than we had had in Uvalde, TX, a town of 10,000 people. And Florence is a city of half a million!
What other kinds of foods do you miss in Italy?
Marshmallows, Jell-O, tacos, Kool-Aid, and Tang ... to name a few.
What kinds of fruits and vegetables can you buy?
Generally, about the same kinds of fruits and vegetables will be found in Italian markets as in American food stores. However, in Italy, almost everything is very seasonal, generally fresh. We rarely buy canned foods.

Two of the major American vegetables missing from Italian stores are iceberg lettuce and sweet corn. Field corn is grown to be used as animal food or to be ground into cornmeal.

On one of his trips to the General Assembly our district superintendent, Salvatore Scognamiglio, fell in love with corn on the cob, so he took a package of seeds back to Italy to raise his own sweet corn.
Do you use real wine in serving Communion?
No, we do not. General Assembly action is very specific about the type of grape juice and the type of bread to be used in the Churches of the Nazarene worldwide.

Though unfermented grape juice is sold in Germany, it is sometimes hard to find in Italy. However, our district superintendent keeps a stock on hand for those churches unable to purchase it locally.
Wine is such a cultural thing in Italy. What should the church's stand there be? I've heard that the total abstinence rule doesn't apply to Italian Nazarenes.
Our statements of belief and practice are clear and are to be universally applied. Until the 1800s, drinking was a "cultural thing" with American Christians too. In an article titled "America's Battle Against the Bottle" (January 19, 1979, issue of Christianity Today magazine), Mark Noll points out that it was the coming of, among other things, the Methodist revival with its emphasis on perfection that turned the tide of evangelical opinion against drinking by born-again believers. Italy has yet to experience that kind of sweeping holiness revival in modern times, but this is what we long to see. [ more in alcohol in Italy ]
But don't Italians drink so much wine because the water isn't safe to drink?
No, although most Americans seem to think so. Tap water is safe in all but perhaps a few isolated Italian villages. Some Italians do drink water, but they usually prefer bottled mineral water to the taste of tap water. In fact, they'll often dilute their wine at the table with up to 50 percent mineral water. Whatever the gastronomical and historical factors, Italy is today the number one wine-drinking country in the world: 110 liters of wine are consumed per capita annually in Italy, followed by France with 103 liters per capita annually.
Aren't you expected to drink wine when you visit people's homes? How do you get by without hurting their feelings?
I explain that I don't care for wine and would prefer something else. It has never become a real issue, although at times I have had to insist that I wasn't just being polite, but that I really didn't care for anything alcoholic. . . . [ more ]

  Page:   ←Prev    |    Introduction   |    1. The Leaning Tower, the Lira, and  Women's Lib   |    2. Italian, Illegal Drugs, and Insulated Buildings   |    3. Fiats, Florence, and  Furloughs   |    4. The Military, Missionari es, and the  Mafia   |   5. Marco Polo and Ronald McDonald   |    6. The Cerratos,  Alabaster Churches, and Work Crews    |    7. Communism, Catholicism,  and the Charismatics   |    8. Sincerity, Self-support,  and  Sowing the Seed   |    9. Books, Broadcasting, and the Bible College   |    10. Culture Shock  and Carpeting   |    11. A Word from My Heart   |    Next→  

The Cerratos, Alabaster churches, and work crews

Next chapterWhy do so many missionaries leave when the nationals take over the work? . . . Is the Church of the Nazarene really an international church or is it an American one imposed on other cultures?. . . Do we have any "Alabaster" churches in Italy? . . . [ more ]

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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