In the cultural mosaic that is life in Ottawa, you can sample the tastes of a thousand dishes from a hundred different countries. From donair and shawarma to sushi and udon soup, there is literally a world of flavour to be explored in this city. Sometimes it can be both a little confusing and a little frustrating to discover just how difficult it is to find the authentic flavours of Italy.
While many restaurants offer dishes labelled as Italian food, many of these are in fact actually North American dishes, or Italian-American dishes. Even when it comes to pizza, Ottawa residents are most likely familiar with the fast-food variety that bears little resemblance to its Italian ancestors.
So how do you tell if a dish is the real deal versus an imitation? This can be tricky, as many authentic dishes are regional and not national, meaning there are so many different kinds of Italian food! But there are a few general indicators you can look out for to help you tell the taste of Italy from its imitators.
Fresh, fresh, fresh ingredients
A genuine cookbook from Italy will never call for the use of canned or frozen vegetables. Even dried or powdered herbs or seasoning are mostly frowned upon. Whether at home or at a restaurant, the real deal is always made with fresh vegetables and whole herbs. Sauces are made by hand, and even pasta and bread are prepared from scratch, never from a bag. When it comes to pizza, Ottawa restaurants serving the genuine article make the crust from scratch, hand-rolling dough with expert precision.
People love flavour, but the assumption that more ingredients equal more taste is not always true. Genuine Italian cuisine is based on the idea that combining the right ingredients will bring out the best in all of them, meaning you don’t need many. Take for example a basic salmon picatta dish. Centred around a salmon filet, this dish manages to be mouth-watering with nothing more than capers, tomato concasse, white wine, and a hint of lemon. So if a dish has more than a handful of ingredients, there’s a good chance that it’s not authentic Italian food. Another good warning sign is the mixing of spices and herbs – most dishes rely on a single spice or two to add a subtle but unforgettable flavour.
Beware clichés and labels
Let’s clear one thing up – spaghetti and meatballs is not an Italian dish (though many a restauranteur may serve it to please their customers). Also be wary of Italian dressing (which was invented in the United States), pre-mixed seasonings, or any pizza in Ottawa that comes in a box.
If you want to experience the real taste of Italy, visit a restaurant that uses fresh ingredients and straightforward recipes to craft authentic culinary delights!