The hot, humid, stickiness of the summer here in Emilia has the effect of making one feel like a big, sweaty whale. When I say “one”, of course, I mean me. In fact, I’ve recently solicited the help of my readers via Facebook and Twitter (#fitaly) in my quest to try to get back to a state I would consider ‘fit’, all the while remaining here in Italy, land of constant temptation.
So I thought I’d take a moment to look at what “fit” means to the locals, in an attempt to attack this problem from an insider’s point of view.
Didn’t take long to identify exactly where the local custom and my body type are at odds with each other…
“Pan, parsùt, figa, e lambrùsc.”
For my non-Italian-speaking readers (and for emphasis with those of you who did understand that already), let me break that down for you:
Bread, pork, p*ssy, and lambrusco wine.
So let’s just address these one at a time, shall we?
As background, it’s important to understand the history of Emilia. Until only relatively recent decades, this area was a poor, rural, agricultural community. Post-war industrialization brought the manufacturing industry wealth that we now see throughout the Po River valley. However, the traditions and customs date from a time of hard working, scrappy, and stubborn farm folk. Naturally, the local food and wine reflected this, manifesting itself in dishes and varietals that would put hair on your chest so you could go out and plough the fields.
“pan”, “pane”, or bread
Bread was and is a mainstay, meant to sop up the remaining sauce in pasta dishes, accompany the various forms of pork, and add more body to soups. Of course, olive oil was not the traditional fat that was used to cook with here until it was brought up from the south. This region, famous for its prosciutto, has always used pork lard instead. So the traditional farmer bread of the Po Valley is hard crusted, but doughy white on the interior from the lard. No seeds, no grains, no color… and usually twisted into fun shapes (“crocetta”, “cornino”, and “baffo”) to get more crust per dough ball.
You will find it strewn about the table at any meal, with the expectation that you break a chunk off over the table cloth and leave the rest for someone else. At the end of the meal, the table is covered in crumbs, which mamma then rolls up in the table cloth to go shake outside. Although, I suspect at one time even these crumbs were reused in the fillings for one of the many stuffed pasta dishes.
“parsùt”, “prosciutto”, pork, or ham
The pig rules all in Emilia. If you haven’t understood this by now, there’s not much I can do for you.
For a better understanding of what I mean, please refer to my explanation and photos of the annual Maialata – a traditional pork fest held every January to celebrate the slaughter of the pigs.
It’s important to understand that, historically, ham (any meat for that matter) was a rich man’s luxury. The farmers working the fields would not have been able to eat it as frequently as we do now. That’s why there was this annual festival – getting to eat pork was a pretty special thing. Hence, the belief that it is good for you.
“figa” or p*ssy
I don’t know why that little asterisk for the ‘u’ makes me feel better, but it does.
For a complete history of the use of this word in slang phrases of all kinds, please see my article on the subject of female genitalia in Italian slang.
I’m not sure I need to go into detail about the history of why this is an important thing to an Italian farmer. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are probably aware of Berlusconi’s one-man attempt to teach the world about the Italian fascination with p*ssy. (For those of you under the rock, please refer to my favorites: ‘Berlusconi’s women‘ by the Telegraph and ‘Berlusconi: in his own words‘ by BBC).
Interestingly, this may be the only one of the four that, in fact, is healthy for you.
“lambrùsc” or Lambrusco wine
The local go-to wine is a delightful, fizzy, refreshing red called ‘Lambrusco’, which is actually now making a comeback in the US after decades of misrepresentation by industrial versions that made your teeth hurt.
Aside from the world-wide theories on red wine being good for your heart, etc, the locals seem to use it as medicine for more immediate ailments… Like if you have a cold or if your muscles ache. Just pour a bit into your broth, and you’re good to go.
You may think that I am pulling from too many stereotypes in assembling this wealth of information, but I can only report on what has been my own experience here.
I remember the first time I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my husband’s Italian family, I made this huge meal for everyone – turkey, stuffing, corn, mashed potatoes, the whole nine yards – only to find out that the patriarch of the family, the nonno, would not be trying any of it.
He wasn’t feeling well, and they were afraid he wouldn’t be able to digest it… (turkey and stuffing)… instead, he would be having some prosciutto and lambrusco. Much easier on his tummy!
Allora, adesso avete capito? Pan, parsùt, figa, e lambrùsc. E’ così.
- Winter is coming. Arm yourselves against Emilia’s arsenal of food.
- Fuori come un balcone (and other ways to call Italians crazy)
- “Pan, parsùt, figa, e lambrùsc.” – Reggiano dialect phrase for the recipe to health and a long life.
- Italian marketing mistake #1: ‘Gis Baby’
- 6 reasons why Lambrusco of Emilia, Italy, will be the next trendy wine
- How to porcini like a pro.
- From ‘cool’ to ‘c***’ : 50 shades of genitaliano slang.
- Itanglish: “stop romping my palles”