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Delizia!: The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food Hardcover – January 8, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1st edition (January 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743277996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743277990
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #892,612 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this revelatory history of gourmet Italy from antiquity to today, Dickie (Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia), examines the centuries of religious, political and sociological events that effectively thrust Italian food into today's global limelight. Though it begins with the requisite gnocchi, lasagna, tagliatelle and tortellini, this bittersweet historical narrative quickly dispels the romantic notion that contemporary Italian fare has been the prideful plate of the rural peninsula and peasants throughout the ages. Dickie tracks the country's culinary saga to medieval times, during which the impoverished would have been less likely to eat bistecca alla fiorentina or risotto alla milanese (had either existed), as they were to subsist on banal fare like turnips and polenta, with little concept of epicurean taste or pride. He notes that it was the urban areas, replete with food markets and money, that enabled foods like Parmigiano-Reggiano and mortadella to become Italian staples. As Dickie shows, the mainstream American concept of Italian food is a modern-day notion developed as a mixture of the multiple identities of the country's cities. Boisterous, gluttonous stories—some verging on salacious—are balanced by accounts of paucity in this look into Italian history and its edibles. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

'Wide-ranging ... Dickie writes interestingly about the twists and contradictions of Italian food' -- Times Literary Supplement 'Full of fascinating detail' -- Independent 'Much profitable reading is in store. A clever and provoking account of Italy's history ... informs as well as enlightens' -- Guardian 'Important' -- Observer 'Lots of books are written with passion about Italian food, precious few backed up with the deep historical background here presented in allegro con brio style by a clear-headed historian who rubbishes some too persistent myths and replaces them factual narratives no less fascinating.' -- The Times --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

This kindle didn't have page numbering to change.
karina
This is one of those books that is ideally read when you need a break from heavy thinking, but still want to feel that you are not reading junk.
frumiousb
The tales range from really crucial--especially the tale of how Pellegrino Artusi created the Great Italian Cookbook--to fascinating byways.
E. N. Anderson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By E. Halpern on January 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a splendid book that surveys a big, broad sweep of culinary history. It's eminently readable. Dickie employs an interesting device in this regard: each of the chronologicall ordered chapters is set in a particular place at a particular time. The most compelling sections, for me, were those that dealt with the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when nationalist projects impacted heavily on Italian foodways. An essential book to be placed alongside such classics as Waverly Root's The Food of Italy and Marlena De Blasi's volumes on regional Italian cuisine.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By frumiousb VINE VOICE on July 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of those books that is ideally read when you need a break from heavy thinking, but still want to feel that you are not reading junk. It would probably be a perfect introduction to a trip to Italy (or a book to bring with you on the same trip).

First things first, although you will find a number of fun historical facts and myth-busting nuggets regarding Italian food, this is not really a history of the food itself. You will not find recipes or useful tips to use in your own kitchen. Dickie is a historian, among other talents, and approaches this book from the point of view of the relationship of the country to their food.

The book moves from the Medieval Table to The Land of Plenty (modern Italy) as chapter organization. If there is a unifying theme or point, it is that Dickie makes it clear that food in Italy has been an urban and not a peasant business, directly intertwined with currents in culture and politics.

The book is readable, if perhaps not as lively as it could have been. I enjoyed the book, and am planning to lend this copy to a good friend later today. I would recommend it to most people. Great for the armchair historian who also happens to be fond of eating.

(I really appreciated the list of sources that Dickie appended to the book. It provided a rich source for future reading on the topic.)
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By E. N. Anderson VINE VOICE on December 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a delightful and excellently written book, essential if you want to probe into Italian food. It is not a history, though, epic or otherwise; it's a series of stories that bring out key moments in Italian food history. Dickie is a superb storyteller. The tales range from really crucial--especially the tale of how Pellegrino Artusi created the Great Italian Cookbook--to fascinating byways.
There are almost no recipes, and the most ambitious one is wildly impractical: how to make 100 pounds of baloney (correctly "mortadelle"). Not what I will do this weekend.
A few random notes: p. 48, on Marco Polo: "Why does he never mention the Great Wall or acupuncture?" Well, maybe because the Great Wall wasn't built till about 200 years after his time, and acupuncture didn't reach its modern form and popularity for even longer. On p. 227 Dickie gives one of the fictional origin points of the modern and ridiculous story that Marco introduced pasta to Italy. 53 and later: "heavily spiced" medieval food: Probably it's just because Dickie is British, but maybe he never tried the recipes. Medieval food in Italy and elsewhere (it was pretty similar all round the Mediterranean then, as Dickie points out) was not heavily spiced. Many recipes survive and give quantities. The spices spark up the flavors and are not terribly obtrusive. The modern pumpkin pie is a completely medieval recipe (except the pumpkin wasn't known till the 16th century); its spicing is the standard mix and quantity used in countless dishes back then. You judge whether that's "heavy spicing." 163: "pungent rue"--same story. The rank scent of rue cooks out when you use it as a cooking herb, and it gives a surprisingly mild flavor to the dish.
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Format: Paperback
Not the book -- medieval Italian cuisine. Not only was the spice palate more like that of India than the modern Mediterranean, it was covered with sugar. Which may be one reason the food was also so soft. In medieval meal after meal, the meat is pulverized and pureed, turned into sauce poured over meat that has been turned into goo. In other words, all that sugar coupled to poor dental care probably meant the upper classes (the peasants ate subsistence diets) had terrible teeth (something argued convincingly in Sugar Blues).

This early section helps debunk the idea that Italian food as we know it today has been eaten for centuries. The tomato was a new world crop that did not catch on until late 19th century canneries made paste easy and cheap to obtain. Olive oil and fresh vegetables were largely ushered in on the back of the fabled "Mediterranean diet", which was created by a researcher in the latter half of the 20th century and pitched to Italians by savvy marketers as traditional. As for pasta, the myth that it was brought from China by Marco Polo was created by an Italian American entrepreneur in post-war American trying to create a story to move noodles.

But the book is more a celebration than myth busting. Yes food on tables in the middle ages and served to Popes during the Renaissance is barely recognizable today, but it is still fascinating. I loved learning that Italian food innovation was urban rather than rural, the Lazzari (lazy) of Naples actually wielded political power symbolized by macaroni, and that the brutality of the Italian army in WWI and the even more brutal prison camps led to the creation of a national cookbook.

The only shortcoming is a lack of a larger argument.
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