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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2008
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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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 19, 2008
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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 10, 2008
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.
189ff, a long and superb account of cholera in Naples includes everything except one point: The main reason Naples is so cursed is that the Bay of Naples has the right mix of salt and fresh water and warmth to maximize the success of the cholera bacillus.
All of which trivial points detract none at all from a thoroughly enjoyable book. I once heard a Roman waiter say to an Italian-American man who had had a bit too much wine and protested at the long wait while his food was cooked to order, "You must respect the pasta!!" Right.
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on October 11, 2013
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. Make no mistake, the history is interesting, the writing is lively and inviting, and the anecdotes memorable. The extended section on the cookbook that wound up in every Italian kitchen is a good story of publishing success. But after reading books like Sugar Blues, Omnivore's Dilemma, and the End of Food, I wanted it all to add up to a stronger message or statement on food and its production, Italian history, or both.

In this respect, it is more a refreshing salad than a deeply satisfying meal. Still very much worth the time, but I was still a bit hungry.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2011
John Dickey's Delizia is an interesting read, but it contains a very significant omission. On page 96, second paragraph, the author states that "(A much repeated story has it that these
international marriages, between Caterina de`Medici and Henry II of France in 1533, brought about the export of Italian culinary expertise to France. Thus it is claimed, the Italians
taught the French to cook. The story has no basis in fact)". I don't understand how the author can in one sentence dismiss what does have "a basis in fact". Let me begin by quoting
the French themselves, on the subject of the "contribution of Italians" to the art of dining well. Let us keep in mind that the French, are not known for giving others credit for contributing
to their cuisine. the quote (which comes from the French Encyclopedie, vol.4 (1754) is as follows: "The Italians... made the French acquainted with the art of dining well, the excesses
of which so many of our kings tried to suppress. But finally it triumphed in the reign of Henry II, when the cooks from beyond the mountains came and settled in France, and that is one of
the least debts we owe to that crowd of corrupt Italians who served the court of Catherine de`Medici." This quote appears in Peter D'Epiro and Mary Desmond Pinkowish's book entitled
50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World (2001). Other authors have alluded to Italian influence on French cuisine during the reign of Caterina de`Medici. Some of these authors are
Ballerini, Luigi, "Catherine de` Medici, La Cucina Italiana (1999), Mennell, Stephen, "All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present" (1985)
Wheaton, Barbara Ketchum, "Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300-1789 (1983).

When Caterina de`Medici arrived in France, its cuisine consisted primarily of thick heavily spiced meat stews. Caterina's dowry when she got to Paris included Florentine chefs, beans,and vegetables not seen or used in France. Specifically such items as broccoli,savoy cabbage, and of course the exotic artichoke to name but a few. Over three decades, Caterina's cooks
also introduced other items and delicacies such as liver crepitnettes, quenelles, aspics, veal, sweetbreads and Truffles, which became a French favorite. The Medici queen also made
ice cream popular at the French court, along with iced apertifs. How then, can Mr.Dickie maintain incredibly, that there is "no basis in fact" for Italian contribution to the development
of French cuisine. Either the author is misinformed, or chooses to ignore the facts stated above. Are all the other authors wrong, and is the French Encyclopedie also in error? Whatever
the case may be, in the interest of historical accuracy, and perspective one needs to give credit where credit is due. Professor Louis R. Leonini
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on April 2, 2010
The book shows in a very detailed way how traditional italian cuisine has been inspired by city life - and not countryside- through the ages, how it was influenced by bourgeoisie, clergy as much as people surviving on their culinary imagination during famine eras and , how it evolved from some "sweet and sour mix it all and cover the taste with sugar and spices" concept to something closer to what it is today - and in this inspired by the french - letting each ingredient express its own singular taste...
The construction of the recent concept of Italian cuisine is also widely discussed, something we took for granted today but took forever to define due to the complex political and geographical history of the country. From the first written cook book ever written in italian to the latest AOC crisis of the 21st century, a very good introduction to it all. Tonight homemade pesto genovese, 4th italian dinner this week. I guess the book worked on me.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2008
If you think history is more than what leaders and statesmen did or do, John Dickie proves that you are right!
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on January 11, 2015
Rich history of Italy told through food. Better understand Italians through food. Fun well written read.
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on April 26, 2015
Great history, great food stuff... all around great read.
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on August 16, 2015
Fantastic read!!
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