A Mixed up Brunch

Photo: Creative Commons

It didn’t take long living in Rome for me to develop a giant cooking complex. Cooking is not my forte and I soon realized that every time I cooked Italian food for a dinner party I got something terribly wrong (see post Amatriciana in the Blender). Italians love Italian food and are not particularly adventurous when it comes to trying ethnic foods. Mention the word “curry” and Italians panic. I have even heard of Italian tourists in Thailand hunting down Italian pizzerias and restaurants serving Italian pasta rather than eating delicious Thai food. Still, many Italians are intrigued by the idea of an American Brunch. So, shortly after moving to Rome, I decided to wow my husband’s friends with a stupendous brunch. I prepared a menu with all my best brunch items –homemade cream scones with strawberry jam and butter on the side, fresh fruit salad, pancakes with real maple syrup, scrambled eggs with bacon and cheese, and smoked salmon with cream cheese.

When the first guests I arrived, I had already placed the scones and the fruit salad (Macedonia in Italian) on the dining-room table. As they took off their coats, I cheerfully said, “anyone for a cup of coffee?” Gustavo’s dear friend Gianluca burst out in a warm, friendly laugh and said, “Treeesha, but we have coffee once we are finished our meal, not before we start.”

“Ok,” I answered, “well, help yourself to some fruit salad and scones and I will go work on the pancakes,” I said, and rushed back the the kitchen. I could hear the guests chatting in the living room as I poured three round circles of batter into the frying pan. I popped out for a moment to find the guests all standing around chatting, not eating anything. “Please, go ahead and begin,” I urged. At that point someone kindly pointed out that fruit comes near the end of an Italian meal, before the coffee.

I went back on into the kitchen hoping that at least my pancakes would appeal. After a few minutes a red-faced Gustavo appeared and asked me if I wouldn’t mind putting off the pancakes and cooking the eggs first, serving the salmon second, then pancakes and scones, followed by the fruit and then the coffee.

“I don’t get it,” I said, flipping a pancake.

“Please don’t get angry,” he said, “but Italians like to have their primo first – say a pasta course, but the scrambled eggs are fine for a primo, at least they are salty, followed by a secondo, which is the meat course, and the salmon will be ok for that, followed by a contorno, which is a vegetable, I guess we can skip that, followed by a dessert, which will be pancakes and scones, followed by fruit, so then we can eat the fruit salad, and caffe’ at the end.”

I took a deep breath and put down my spatula and was about to get MAD.

Gustavo looked at me and said, “PLEASE, ti prego (I beg you) try to be culturally sensitive, Italians are not used to American brunches. Just serve the food in that order for today. Please!”

So I did.

(Note: 18 years and a few brunches later, my technique is to put everything out on the table at the beginning and anyone can eat what they want in the order they want to eat it in. I also serve wine with brunch. It puts everyone in a better mood and helps me get over my cultural insensitivity)

For places to brunch in Rome see Tavole Romane’s “Brunch in Rome Roundup.”


6 thoughts on “A Mixed up Brunch”

  1. When my Italian in-laws first visited my very Australian Mum they were offended almost immeadiately when she asked them if they’d like coffee almost as soon as they walked in the door. To them this meant she wanted them to leave as coffee comes last. We have had multiple mix ups like this through the years, very funny about your pancakes and love that you had the grace to work out another option! ciao lisa

  2. I have to admit every Sunday I have spent in Rome I’ve had brunch! Incredible, no? I go to the Hassler and have an insanely good brunch with an even better view (and plenty of prosecco). Another offering of scrummy brunch? Margutta Vegetariano RistorArte has a delicious brunch (yes, it’s a vegetarian restaurant but I’m telling you, it’s delicious and has vegan and dairy choices (lots of delicious Italian milk products) and it’s on pretty Via Margutta (I still pretend I’m Audrey Hepburn to his Gregory Peck) on the charming sunset (dinner) or afternoon walk (for Sunday brunch) and it’s less expensive than the Hassler.

    Now, I love doing things the Italian way when I can. (I LOVE SALAD after the entree), fruit next, finish with espresso . BUT it seems since you were making an American brunch THEY were being the culturally insensitive ones! This MUST come before that or the world will crumble! Wow. I worship at the altar of most things Italian but I have to say I wouldn’t trade my “American” sense of ‘adventureness’ for a neurotic devotion to ALWAYS bowing to one system of eating or customs.

    But then we wouldn’t have your charming story! The foibles of the life of an American-Italian Mozzarella Mamma!

    Oh and I still enjoy the Bavarian custom of cappuccino after breakfast (quelle horreur, sometimes for a night cap even)!!! OMG! (only if I’ve eaten lightly that day, I admit. And because I have a LOT of capps in Italy whilst I can… on each trip! Get ’em while you can)!

  3. This makes me so angry on your behalf!! I would not have been nearly as gracious as you were. Instead I would have bellowed that everyone was taking part in an American meal and they had better be content to eat it in the American way.

    Italians are so narrow-minded when it comes to food, and they are not always right! I won’t suggest Americans have got it figured out (far from it) but here is a good example: Scientifically, fruit should never be eated at the end of a meal. We digest raw fruit faster than about any other food. Eat it at the end of your meal, and it gets literally stuck behind the other slower-to-digest foods and creates acid and other unpleasantness. But they will insist they know best!

    PS Your bruch sounds a-mazing. Cream scones? Yes, please!

    1. Hi Tiffany — great to hear from you. You are probably right, I should have made a big scene. In the end I tried to be accomodating and flexible… but that doesn’t always pay off. I am also sometimes amazed at the rigidity of certain rules– especially related to food- in Italian society. Your fruit example is pretty funny. We eat fruit every night in our home after dinner, because that is the way my husband was raised. In my family, we usually had fruit for breakfast. Oh well.

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