Comment: Montanari on primi and secondi   Leave a comment

Massimo Montanari, an ever-observant food scholar, made an interesting guess at the “family history” of the current Italian trend of separating the seemingly inseparable primo and secondo dishes. The typical Italian menu, and indeed (supposedly) Italian lunch or dinner, consists of an antipasto (appetizer), a primo (usually a pasta dish) followed by a secondo (meat or fish), then dessert and coffee. Recently the primo and secondo have been increasingly distant, with the former served at lunch and the latter at dinner. The separation of these formerly (again, according to commentators, not food historians) perfectly-wed dishes is yet another sign of the decline of the Italian family.

Montanari has another take. Historically, he points out, meat was the main element of a meal, with pasta the side dish. As the majority of Italians could no longer afford meat, pasta came to take a more central role: meat, when present, was a condiment, for example a meat sauce over pasta or polenta. Only with the post-WWII abundance could Italians put them back together at the same table simultaneously. Their divorce (Montanari’s metaphor) is logical, more in line with the modern European dish that has only one main course, not two. Decadence? Montanari says it’s simply a reasonable separation.  ZN

(See Montanari’s Il riposo della polpetta e altre storie intorno al cibo. Laterza, 2009)


Posted November 14, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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