It’s a fact of life: we Italians love to eat!
Although actress and national icon Sabrina Ferilli, in a well-known TV ad for sofas (and I must be honest, I just cannot remember the brand name), said “oh, don’t we just love to chat”, in truth I have come to believe that we Italians, first and foremost, but also second, and third as well, absolutely adore eating. With everything that goes along with it.
Should we deny the fact that when we come back from our holidays/stays in Italy our luggage is filled up with more food than clothing? Or that our guests must pay the price of our hospitality by bringing over food and other edible items that we cannot buy over here? Every time I head for customs after landing at Dubai airport I panic at the thought that I will be stopped, and the slab of ham that I so carefully hid in the woolen jumper will be impounded.
What truly upsets me is the fact that my “non-Italian” friends feel no need to fill up their cupboards with food that is not available here. One of them actually asked me if Italians use all this food as a means of exchange, as in barter. He was laughing about it… little did he know that most of the time, it’s actually true. Facebook posts asking for food and where to find it have been going on for months, if not years, and when they go unanswered I have seen people give up to melancholia and, as consolation, eat their way through the last pack of Pan di Stelle biscuits (and in case you just arrived here: I can tell you with absolute certainty that you cannot buy Mulino Bianco products in Dubai).
But there is also some good news. An announcement so important that all the Italian community is buzzing about it. Fanfare please: Coop products are here!
So off we go, stacking our cupboards as if in preparation for World War III. There is nothing that we Italians can do about it, when it comes to food we are in the front lines, and we simply cannot miss out on such “social events”. So my friends’ Facebook pages all lit up with pictures of purchases made at the Union Coop in Al Wasl Road (I got so many requests for the location that my sat nav now refuses to share it). As if we ever went hungry in our lives.
And if, on the one hand, I have seen/read how some people consider this event as momentous as the signature of an international treaty on the safeguard of human rights (if you ask me, I am quite certain that many people back in Italy never bought Coop-branded products, but over here you must go with the flow), many others have taken part in one of our favorite national pastimes: complaining. “It’s too expensive”, “Coop products are low quality”, “right, but it’s not Mulino Biano (again!)”, “they probably have only two weeks’ worth in stock, and then they will run out, as always here in Dubai”, and so on…
We can never be happy… never, that is, until we are finally able to buy Pan di Stelle.
But even overlooking the fact that I can now drink a fresh pear juice, no small feat for a passionate lover of this drink, Dubai has a wide selection of Italian restaurants and pizzerie (admittedly, sometimes self-styled) that can satisfy the instant craving for “grandma’s cooking” which hits you after some time over here: we cannot deny having left Italy vowing “I will never set foot in an Italian restaurant, only local or international cuisine for me!”, only to surrender unceremoniously the first time someone takes us out for a pizza.
But sadly, I also know people who have never “set tongue” outside of an Italian restaurant, and steadfastly refuse to try anything else: let me tell you, you are truly missing out on something. You will never experience the thrill of Indian or Pakistani food (and its “devastating” effect on body odor), you will not take your chances with spicy Mexican or Eritrean cooking, you will not savor the refined delicacies of French cuisine (can you truly tell me that onion soup served on freshly baked bread does not tempt you?), you will not share the boundless joy in front of a Peruvian ceviche. I will be the first to admit that when I eat US food I do find myself disgusting, but as a visiting friend once told me “how can you go through life without ever trying proper cheesecake?”
And if you actually have visiting guests, you cannot imagine the stress in finding a place suitable for their Made in Italy taste buds. They will never be satisfied with a good Lebanese restaurant, nor with sushi.
But then again I am rather “annoyed” by those who have seen it all, done it all, eaten it all, and therefore will never join in to an evening in the latest super-popular pizzeria: I am not suggesting a carbonara (oh, why can’t they invent a shiny, sparkling character font?) in Deira, but a pizza once in a while never hurt anyone.
So, whether you like to live dangerously (and I am not kidding: my first meal at Ravi was very nearly the end of me), and therefore you like to try out new things, or whether you like something a little more easy-going, there is no escaping it: in Dubai we all put on weight at first (and some of us never really stop, to be perfectly honest). Maybe it’s the sea breeze that makes you hungry, maybe it’s the water low in sodium (and yes, I have actually heard someone state this, just like my grandfather would complain that he put on weight because of the stock that my grandmother bought at the supermarket to make broth), or maybe it’s just the incredible variety of food over here, but when the swimsuit exams come along (seven months a year), you either go on a crash diet, or you accept the fact that Mac and Cheese is the path to happiness.
Translation courtesy of Dubaitaly.