Every major culture has left its mark on the American culinary landscape since the first explorers landed on the shores. There is perhaps no other place that has accepted and adapted more styles of cuisines and led the way for culinary innovation than the United States. Being the land of opportunity, many of the most popular cuisines from around the world made their way to the United States through the immigrant populations. With all the types of cuisines that have had a powerful impact on shaping American cuisine, Italian food may hold the top spot. The way that food travels and changes from culture to culture is truly fascinating and the course that Italian cuisine has taken to earn its place in the American eating scene is one of the best.
History of Italian Cuisine in America
Before the development of many of the authentic Italian meals we have come to know and love, it took some American influence on Italy to spark the ideas. American crops such as corn, tomatoes, peppers, cactus fruit and zucchini made their way to the Italian culture during the late eighteenth century. These crops started out in small botanicals gardens that were grown as “new world” oddities until their popularity spread across the country. With the acceptance of these American crops, the variety of the Italian cuisine increased.
By the 1880s, Sicily and Naples were heavily known for their citrus production, began finding new ways to cultivate and process tomatoes. The demand for pasta caused many factories to open and begin producing using wheat from Sicily. Even the government promoted the expansion of the olive industry in anticipation for the growing demand from around the world.
Between 1870 and 1920, millions of Italian immigrants immigrated to America in search of the American dream, leaving behind a country that had been impacted greatly by the WWI. Journeying through Ellis Island, NY, many Italian immigrants set up their homes on the East Coast. Cities with large Italian populations include Boston, Philadelphia, and NYC. These new Italians brought their regional cooking differences with them and soon found that they were living amongst immigrants from all different regions of Italy. Soon the culinary influences began to blend together. Immigrants from Naples were adapting recipes from Florence; people from Rome were cooking with people from Sicily, and thus started the revolution of Italian-American cuisine.
While still not heavily demanded by the American people, the Italian cuisine did not reach full popularity until the American soldiers returned home from World War II with a new hunger for real Italian food. This prompted many Italian-Americans to open up restaurants and Italian-inspired delis to help feed the new hunger for Italian food. As the food and recipes continued to change, one of the biggest changes was the use of meat on a regular basis instead of just for special occasions. This increase in demand caused the importation of pasta, cheeses, olives and oils to increase in order to provide the American people with the food they demanded.
While most of the Italian dishes many Americans love today are not necessarily considered “authentic” Italian but the roots are as traditional as they come. The staples of every good Italian dish are olive oil, garlic, and herbs. Whatever the recipe may be or where it came from, the foundation of these ingredients makes it Italian at heart.
It is hard to label a specific dish as coming from one country of origin, especially with the history of exchanging recipes, ideas and the movement of crops. There are so many factors that can be used to determine the authentic origin and makes it hard to agree on the labels. But one thing is for sure, authentic or not, Italian food holds a special place in the American food scene. Come visit us at Toscana Divino if you are looking for the best Italian restaurant in Miami.