Lockdown cooking: ITALY vs U.K.
Everyone knows Italy is quite a traditional country. Some values, beliefs and assumptions cannot be challenged. These include family, by which I mean extended family and relatives, the love of football and cars – mostly for guys – and cooking at home. The latter is a duty performed mostly by loving mothers doting on their lifelong children, as well as wives busy with running the household and working full time. Men might occasionally enjoy cooking a fish meal, but this happens rarely, however they will usually spend way too much money on the fish and leave the kitchen in a terrible mess.
The U.K. has its own proud traditions too. The name Britain itself is traditional and conservative. Life in the countryside as opposed to the city, has also been idealised. There are black taxi-cabs and double decker busses. The list goes on. But when it comes to cooking, spending long hours in the kitchen, calling it the best room of the house, slaving over stoves, I strongly suspect the British don’t feel the same way as the Italians do. After all, last time I checked, the favourite outing was going to the PUB for drinks, not going for a pizza or to the restaurant.
That being said, Italian cuisine has a huge regional variety and is very conservative. Most Italians are distrustful of other cuisines and would choose an Italian restaurant over Thai food or Japanese Sushi, except for the occasional ‘whimsical desire’ of their partner. Whereas the U.K. has developed a much more multi-cultural approach.
So I figured that during this extensive and strict Lockdown, which has deprived most of us of our personal freedoms, and made going out to the restaurant or pub impossible, the Italians would put most of their creative energy into cooking at home. I doubted that the British would do the same, or at any rate reach the same level of dedication of the average Italian housewife and mother, who have had decades of practice, fuelled by the voracious appetites of their families.
Was I right in my assumption? The Short interviews below will tell the story better than I possibly could. Please notice: similar questions asked to different people will not be repeated throughout.
Question. What do you do?
Answer. I’m an architect.
Q. Are you married?
A. No, but I have a long-term relationship and I enjoy cooking for my partner. My mother is a good cook and my grandmother lives in a rural village, from where I can source excellent ingredients.
I have two jobs. I work as a lecturer at University, and as a tour guide at the Globe theatre. I am married to a lovely man. We are forming a family, I am currently expecting twins. We love travelling and we visited Italy just before Lockdown.
I am currently a housewife. I used to work in an office, but I had to quit my job due to health issues. I enjoy cooking for my family and I have occasionally catered for friends and private events.
I am a young wife with two toddlers that absorb most of my energy, but reward me every day with smiles and the joys of childhood. I grew up in South Africa and this, together with my travels has helped shape my taste and broaden the scope of my cooking.
I am also an architect and I am developing my career in different directions, working within University but also for architecture firms. Yet sometimes I dream of starting my own restaurant…
I have cooked all my life, for my husband and family as well as for large numbers of workers we hosted on our farm over the years. I also ran a BnB for a few years and prepared breakfast for my guests.
Cookind during the Lockdown
Question. What did you cook during Lockdown? Did you try any new recipes?
Answer. I cooked many different dishes and meals. Sometimes my partner helped me source ingredients. We tried fillet with green pepper last week. The fun part is when the brandy catches fire.
Then I made pizza once a week, with dough levitated 24 hours.
I also learned to make cookies and Scottish shortbread fingers and biscuits.
I usually cook for the family every day. This time my daughter was back from Milan, so with everyone here I made a special effort. I tried dishes from all over Italy. Including ‘Risotto alla Milanese’, ‘Pasta alla Siciliana’. Traditional Neapolitan Easter cakes like Pastiera or Tortano, the savoury pie.
I also did a recipe from my grandmother: ‘Bucatini sciuè sciuè’ with pancetta, basil, Pecorino Cheese and red chilly pepper.
Question. How did you entertain yourself during Lockdown?
I love experimenting and learning new stuff.
I live with my grandmother, who is quite frail, so I had to be extra careful the whole time, not going out or meeting anyone.
Cooking was one way to stay sane and poised.
I improved on my bread-making technique, kneading the dough, trying out new kinds of flour.
I took my sourdough bread to the next level. I am quite proud of it.
I also learned how to make Chinese dumplings. I got the quantities wrong the first time. I made 35 dumplings for two people, but we ate all of them!
I made Baos, the Japanese steam buns, too.
Yoga also helped me along the way…
Question. What did you miss most?
The sea. This is a connection I have always had, as I was born in Naples…
Question. Have you ever prompted to do something to help other people in need during Lockdown?
Answer. Yes I have. My friend Debora and I discovered this Facebook group called ‘Responsabilità Popolare’ coordinated by a photographer by the name of Mario Spada.
They asked for volunteers to cook for homeless people during Lockdown.
So we prepared meals for 25 people once a week and Mario came to pick up the meals and distribute them.
They asked us to cook simple things like pasta with peas or other pulses. I was careful to choose the best ingredients, include spoons and napkins, and the first time we even weighed each portion to make sure everyone would get enough food. We really enjoyed doing it.
Most people felt quite helpless during Lockdown, so it was nice to feel useful for a change!
Question. What is the most fun thing you can do during lockdown?
Answer. One thing I really enjoy is doing face masks, pamper myself a little, you know? And then go for walks in the park where we have a rare breed of black squirrels. Chat to my friends through video calls…
Q. What do you miss most?
A. Drinking Gin! I haven’t had any these past eight months due to my pregnancy. And I have a burning desire to be in a crowded place with lots of strangers, like at the Pub or at a music festival.
Question. How have you been entertaining yourselves during Lockdown?
Answer. I’ll answer for myself and also what I’ve seen and heard. Meals have become a key highlight of the day and we now always eat as a family and we tend to have dinner early on with Luca.
Shopping for our fish & meat is something we do locally rather than buying from a supermarket plus our fruit and veg if we can. I’ve done lots of baking and also trying to make sourdough and make my own starter. I think this is something many English people have been doing cooking and baking a lot more.
This means we’ve been spending a lot more money on high quality locally sourced ingredients which is great.
I must admit I haven’t been entirely successful with my sourdough, so I have someone deliver it, then make my own bread.
Question. Have you missed drinks, pubs and festivals, like my friend Kaja (who lives near London)?
Answer. I’ve missed not being able to see friends and family. Going out for a meal and not being able to go to playgrounds / softplay and pubs.
I have been home in lockdown for 8 weeks now. You know my immune system is quite weak.
I have my shopping delivered once a week and my daughter has been getting me stuff.
Everyone here is busy cooking, that’s when you can get flour, still a shortage of quite a few things.
People are also doing their gardens, putting in a special effort for growing their own vegetables, besides flowers.
I really miss going out with my friends to the Pub. However, there has been a change in recent times (before Lockdown). So many Pubs are closing because going out for a meal has become so expensive! It is now seen as a luxury or a special treat. Most ladies I know say the most important room in the house is the kitchen!
Forgot to say many men now cooking and bread making too (not my husband of course).
I must admit I was quite surprised at the answers I got from the U.K., as it seems more and more people are rediscovering the joy of cooking at home. Never before had I ever heard anyone say the kitchen is the most important room in the house.
What surprised me about Italy is that people are more open to foreign cuisine and are developing more adventurous tastes.
Take your time to view the picture gallery to appreciate the extent of the dedication all these fantastic women gave to cooking and making their families happy during challenging times.
Sean Grant Altamura
Redazione La Buona Tavola
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