Italians first began migrating to Australia in the 1950s and brought with them their culinary traditions. At their first taste of pizza and pasta, Australians were hooked and Australia’s love affair with Italian food began. One dish, in particular, spaghetti bolognese, is so popular that it’s practically considered a national dish. Yet the Italians were also among the very first people to introduce Australians to good coffee, to cultivate Australian appreciation for accompanying meals with wine and to teach Australians to use olive oil and garlic in cooking.
The secret to the widespread appeal of Italian cuisine is its use of simple, fresh, seasonal ingredients to produce an authentic, satisfying food experience. For Italians, cooking and feeding others is a way of life, and as with all aspects of life, they carefully select a few ingredients from what they have on hand to create their dishes. That is why Italian food varies widely across Italy- dishes are creating using seasonal ingredients readily available in the given region. For example, in northern Italy, butter is the main fat used and key ingredients include cheese (especially parmigiano), potatoes, meat and pork. But in the south, olive oil is the fat of choice, and dishes focus on tomatoes, eggplant, capers and fish.
Another Italian tradition is adaption and home cooking. Historically, the country was occupied and colonised by groups such as the Arabs, Greeks, and Spanish, and Italians chose to integrate ingredients brought by conquerors into Italian dishes. One example of food introduced by foreign invaders is actually most Italian of foods- pasta, while another is a second popular staple, rice. Adaption is also the reason why food has developed in a unique way in Italy. As opposed to other countries, which have separate traditions for the rich and poor, Italians of every stratum eat home cooking.
When eating out or shopping for ingredients, this tradition remains a guiding principle. In Italy, eating out means eating inexpensive, regional food, and grocery shopping occur not at groceries but at farmers markets. This focus on purchasing farmer fresh ingredients and other quality products with which to construct meals at home or in homey restaurants is the essence of Italian cuisine.
The food that Australians fell in love with has continued to evolve, and nowadays, pizzerias adhere to the requirements set out by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), while patrons can choose pasta with black squid ink, not just bolognese sauce. Groceries throughout the country, meanwhile, feature Italian staples like balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, cheese (parmesan, ricotta and mozzarella) and pasta (fresh/frozen/dry). And Australians of Italian heritage have continued the family tradition of growing food in home gardens in order to create homemade pickles, wine, cold cuts and tomato pasta.
Another reason why Italian food is so popular is because it is an example of the “Mediterranean diet”. This healthy diet’s hallmark is that it makes eating the right balance of foods, i.e. eating small amounts of meat and good fats (olive oil), favouring lean proteins like seafood and pulses and loading up on whole grains and vegetables. Heart-healthy red wine is the drink of choice to sip during meals.
The authenticity of Italian food and the philosophy of home cooking that spawns it are especially appealing in the modern world. As a society, Australia is moving further away from eating meals at home and is instead focusing on grabbing a quick bite on the go. This shift is soothed by the Italian meal, which requires time and care to achieve the end product. A taste of home cooking is the soul of Italian cuisine.
Australia has been in love with healthy, tasty, comforting Italian food for almost 75 years, and with so much to praise about that northern country’s food tradition, that love affair is set to continue for years to come.