Italian Cuisine. Who Needs It?

Isn’t this exactly how you imagine a typical Deli looks like in Italy. And probably like me, you’re wishing your corner shop was like this as well. Those Italians, eh!

Well I hate to shatter your illusions but this is the only Deli like this in the whole of Verona. The actual Alimentari I use down the road from my friends house in this northern Italian city is like your corner shop – a bit of a mess but really practical.

It got me thinking about how we British are always so down on ourselves and our cuisine; how we always look so longingly at Italy and its wonderful food culture.

And it’s true. When you spend time in Italy, it’s hard not to write clichéd observations about its cuisine. They care about provenance, they protect and preserve recipes, and they cherish good ingredients. And then there’s all that stuff about the welcoming restaurants, the tolerance of kids and dogs, the Prosecco before you even sit down, the insistence on a Grappa before you leave and the glorious pasta.

But wait a minute. We could see our food culture in a more positive way. Yes, we don’t respect our food heritage. Yes, we don’t do much cooking anymore. And yes, zapping is our default mode. But what Britain does do brilliantly is steal, adapt and reinvent. It’s the nation, above all others, that fuses cooking, exploring new ways of delivering meals to the average family.

Don’t believe me? Next time you’re in London, spend some time in the M&S Baker Street food Hall. Listen and look. You’ll see buyers from supermarkets all over the world nicking ideas. And not just in M&S – foreign store chains are rushing out of Heathrow heading for Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury, anxious to observe our British experiment in 21st century convenience foods.

I reckon Britain sits alongside California as the two places to look for how the rest of the world will be eating in ten or twenty years time.