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Why Italians Love to Talk About Food Hardcover – October 13, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Kostioukovitch, Umberto Eco's Russian translator, seems an unlikely source for a volume that feels like an instant Italian food and food history classic, but she's lived in Italy for 20 years and brings a nonnative's eye and taste to a fairly comprehensive gastronomical project. Structured as an imaginary journey from region to region, north to south, the book opens with a chapter on Friuli Venezia Giulia and proceeds down the peninsula from one region to the next. Each chapter takes a more or less similar approach, leisurely discussing the respective region in a variety of terms from history to geography and culture; sooner, as with the chapter on Puglia, or later, as with Lazio/Rome, food becomes the paramount topic. Though the book is absolutely not about wine, the author deftly touches on matters like the history of Campari and Frascati. Though there are no recipes, there are helpful sidebars that list dishes, products and beverages typical of each region, and in between are chapters on subjects pertinent to Italy's food and identity. Some, such as olive oil and pasta, are to be expected, while others are organized around topics like pilgrims, joy or larger themes like the impact of the Americas or totalitarianism; all are full of the sort of well-researched literary arcana and cross-cultural connections that enrich the entire book. (Oct.)
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Review

'Every decade or so I discover a book that makes me feel I've been waiting for it all my life. Elena Kostioukovitch's "Why Italians Love to Talk About Food" is one of these books' - Annie Proulx. 'Delightful culinary wanderings - mouth-watering descriptions. Why do Italians love to talk about food? The reasons, Kostioukovitch shows, are endless' - LA Times. 'Charming' - New York Times. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374289948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374289942
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #766,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael A. Duvernois VINE VOICE on November 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Kostioukovitch is Umberto Eco's Russian language translator, and has lived in Italy for the past twenty years. This book is about half pensive reflection on topics of (presumably common Italian) conversation such as totalitarianism, "Joy," pilgrims, and America, and half discussions of the foods and wines of Italy as she takes an imaginary trip around the country. A lot of food is described, quite lovingly, but there aren't really any recipes. It's an odd book, a Russian writing about Italian food and food traditions for Italian readers and then the book is translated into English and brought to the States.

I'm predicting wildly mixed reviews. It's a cookbook in the sense that MFK Fisher's books are cookbooks. It's a travelogue in the sense that Paul Theroux's books are. It's a fun, literate look at Italian food and conversations. But no recipes, and with her Russian background there's a suspicion of inauthenticity around the whole project.

In 2006 Kostioukovitch published this work in Italian as "Perche agli Italiani piaci parlare del cibo." Since then it's been a bestseller in both Russia and Italy and the winner of both culinary and literary prizes in Italy.
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Format: Hardcover
WHY ITALIANS LOVE TO TALK ABOUT FOOD is published in English for the first time and provides a fine food and culinary survey of Italy's major regions. From how popular dishes emerged to specialty tastes, eating habits, and even the Church's influence on Roman foods, this is an outstanding survey of Italian regional food developments, and is a top pick for libraries who have Italian recipe collections but want to achieve cultural depth and insight.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's true that Italians like to talk about food. Living here, I've discovered that every conversation will gravitate to cuisine in some form or another, and that the subtlties of the language include double meanings that involve foods. While this book gives a healthy amount of information, it didn't really explain the 'why' behind so much emphasis placed on food in daily interactions. But more disappointingly, it paid little attention to regions beyond the "tourist" centers. My region of Basilicata garnered a whole 4 pages, despite Italians declaring it one of the most "authentic" regions for culinary traditions being maintained, and then some of the information given was incorrect or misunderstood. Take it with a grain of salt, so to speak. Overall, I was disappointed.
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Format: Hardcover
The book is a very unusual one. I think the title is misleading. I did not learn "why" Italians love to talk about food. There is little in the book that tells you that. The book is still worthwhile but unusual.

First, note that there are no recipes and few photos. There are no cute or funny anecdotes. It is a pretty serious book.

Overall, it is a work of cultural anthropology, more than anything, although it is not academic or rigorous. Yet it is focused on the history and geography of food, food as a signifier, food as a political issue, and the cultural significance of food. Often the author uses the phrase "the culinary code" and that tells you in brief what the theme of the book is. There are chapter titled "Jews" and "Totalitarianism" that are among the best in the book but the fact that they are tells you what kind of book this is. There were a number of interesting passages about how certain dishes, such as stuffed zucchini flowers or eggplant, came to be "Italian" that are worth the price of purchase. Several I wound up reading out loud to my family and they are pretty memorable. But they are serious not funny as the title might lead you to believe. And there are many chapters that do not rise to that level. Sometimes the anthropological perspective overwhelms, such as in the chapter "Restaurants" when the author finds it worth writing down that the waiter asks the people at the table whether they like still or sparkling water, "thus bringing out affinities or differences among those gathered". That is an extreme example yet indicative of the book's perspective. I would also note that the author has a generally dull style, with too many sentences governed by "is", "are" and the passive voice; also I found the font a little difficult to read.

Overall, I recommend this for those who have a serious interest in Italian culture but not for anyone who has a lighter interest simply in Italian food.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Loved this book, received it as a gift and can't put it down, so I decided to buy several to give as gifts. Anyone who has an Italian Cultural background will enjoy this walk through Italy's History by way of food! written by a Russian immigrant, tastefully written.
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Format: Hardcover
A wonderful tome. Might be smaller in English than in Russian - after all, Russian is not one of the most economic languages around - and impossible to put down.

Not a cook book at all - Kostiukovitch talks about historic facts and anecdotes, mentions some names, famous and not so, recommends some wine from a particular area. It is written with love and wit, the language is beautiful - one can hear a very attractive author's voice sounding from the pages.

If you need receipies, this is definitely not what you want. But for an imaginative journey around gastronomic Italy, its history, traditions, little peculiarities, funny and unknown facts - if is the loveliest book possible. I learned about several interesting cheeses and some wines that I now buy all the time - all thanks to that book.

I first bought it in Moscow in Russian and then a friend who is a good cook and fascinated with food, borrowed it. With an obivous lack of any intention to ever return it :) As it became an immediate rarity in Russian and is impossible to buy now, English version is going to be a great help.
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