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.”