Growing up, I always thought we lived an Italian lifestyle. We had a big family and ate spaghetti with meatballs. We put emphasis on both family and food. These were my thoughts of ‘Italian values’ before arriving in Italy. Here, I have discovered that food is a huge part of the culture and families are close. However, there are huge differences from my initial thoughts. For example, I have discovered spaghetti with meatballs is NOT a dish found on the menu. Also, when you think of a ‘close family’, it does not necessarily mean ‘big’. Most Italian families have no more than two kids. When I talk about close families, it is in proximity. Many times families live in the same building on different floors or on the same street. What I thought made me Italian, in reality was was nowhere near the authentic Italian life.
This past weekend, I decided to retrace my roots. I traveled to Sicily where my grandpa’s family is from to meet my relatives and truly experience the authentic Italian lifestyle.
Before I go into any details, here are a few lessons I learned…
1. ‘Mangia!’ means eat in Italian
2. Thou must not refuse to eat food
3. Thou must eat all of the food on your plate
4. Thou must pace yourself when eating
5. Life revolves around food
It was a wonderful experience to meet all of my other family, I had always dreamed of doing this and now I cannot believed it happened.
Flying was gorgeous, we flew from Torino to Trapani on an hour and half flight, the entire way had blue skies. Looking down on Sicily we could see the mountains and countryside farms. Some of my family picked us up from the airport and drove us into the city center to have espresso and a quick bite for lunch. My family kept saying ‘mangia mangia!’ but I had just ate on the airplane so I opted for a light meringue cookie. They interrogated me to know exactly when and what I last ate before letting me off of the hook!
Expecting them to just drop us off at the Airbnb and meeting up later for dinner, they came with us to check into the room and befriended the front desk man. To my surprise, they paraded behind us to the room and made themselves at home. They told us we must join them at their house. So we dropped our bags and went to their house in a tiny Fiat. Their house was conveniently located right next to their brother and sister. After entering any of these houses, they would immediately give us a tour… even showing us the closets! Keep in mind, none of these people spoke English. I believe they did not even speak Italian, they spoke the Sicilian dialect with their hands constantly moving. I only understood 30% of what they said but I used google translate and hand motions communicate.
The next day, we went to their house for a big lunch with appetizers, first, second, third courses and dessert with espresso. I honestly would have stopped eating after the first course but I was encouraged to ‘mangia mangia!’. After the second course, I thought I could not possibly eat more. I left the rest of the food on my plate but received a very negative response from my family. I have no idea what they were saying but she said ‘bravo’ to everyone with clean plates, then turned to me with a stern look saying, ‘mangia mangia!’. Although I felt like I was going to explode, I kept eating. The food was wonderful but I am a tiny person and probably ate my weight in potatoes, lasagna, artichokes, olives, beef patties, salad, cake, and cookies. It was insane!
Every meal after this was the same, but I learned I must always have food on my plate or else I would have to eat more!
My favorite part of the weekend was visiting the little house my great grandpa was actually born in. We also got to walk through his 200 olive trees. One of my great grandpa’s brother’s sons still makes olive oil and tends a beautiful garden with pomegranate, persimmon, cauliflower, tons of artichokes, garlic, peas, tomatoes, pears, lemons, oranges, and so many more crops. My family picked a five gallon bucket full of lemons and gave it to us to take home but I had only brought my backpack and was afraid I could not take all of them. (What would I do with five gallons of lemons!) I mean I really love lemons, I even enjoy eating them (yeah I know it’s weird but they are really good) but I was much happier when they transferred about 4 kilos to a bag. My family told me as I was leaving, “A lemon a day keeps the doctor away.” So that is my plan and I could not be more proud to eat lemons from my great grandpa’s trees. After this experience, I have the goal of having a lemon tree when I am older. If I live in an area that is too cold, I will have to build a greenhouse! This experience was priceless and I plan on staying in touch with them so they can one day visit me in America!