Italy: Bacon’ me crazy


Good luck finding lean bacon in Italy.

By Elisa Scarton Detti/The American in Italia

Why can’t you find real bacon in Italy? This is the salumi capital of the world. There must be 500 different kinds of prosciutto at my local supermarket. The Italians even mash bunches of offal and fat into what they seductively call soppressata. If that’s not the Italian word for suppressed then, 1. I’ve been using it incorrectly for years, and 2. It should be because that’s how I feel when I eat the stuff.

But I still hallucinate about bacon. Everyone misses something from home. My husband complains about bad coffee in Australia. My American friends miss Hershey’s. But coffee and chocolate can be shipped. I once tried bringing bacon back from Australia in a suitcase. I’m not sure what the criminal penalty is for smuggling a kilo of dead pig across a transatlantic border. But it didn’t work. The bacon went a little bad (I ate it anyway). Making it all worse, I just saw the saddest commercial for a new bacon and chicken burger at MacDonald’s. The bacon was a thin, limp and shiny thing that didn’t deserve the name.

I admit Italy has changed in leaps and bounds in the years I’ve lived here. I’ve come to measure them in how many kilometers I have to travel to buy ginger and soy sauce. It has dropped to three.

Still, the Italian imagination is intriguing, if not perplexing. Overseas, the country is famous for its fashion and furniture. But I can’t think of a local furniture or clothing store that stocks Made in Italy products. Poltrone e Sofa and Oviesse are both hideous and neither has the mass appeal of Zara or Ikea.

Though Ikea recently closed a bunch of Australian stores owing to what I assume were poor sales, the Swedish chain thrives in Italy, with 21 stores. Locals love them. In fact, I’m headed to one next weekend. Watch out hip jean-and-scarf-wearing senior citizens, that €12 LACK lamp is mine.

Every kind of cured meat, but no crispy bacon.

Ironically, it’s the Italian products that can vanish, or never even appear. A couple of years back, I had trouble finding Savoiardi biscuits and fresh chillies in my local supermarket — two ingredients you’d think were quintessentially Italian (certainly far more Italian than lime, which my horse and cartfruttivendolo sells because so many locals are desperate to make mojitos).

Some Italian products you know and love aren’t even on sale here. Like Frangelico, the hazelnut liquor, or Riccadonna, the spumante, or Maximini, the chocolate-dipped sponge cake treats my nonnaserved with a cup of black tea every afternoon of my childhood.

To my utter surprise, these and thousands of other Italian products are made for export only. Italians are far too sophisticated to drink Riccadonna (next time you pick up a bottle to take to Rick and Stacy’s housewarming best not to mention how very European you’re being).

Expats admittedly never get completely comfortable shopping in their adopted countries. Friends imagine me living in a gorgeous country Tuscan villa eating seasonally fresh vegetables on my all Italian-made furniture. I don’t have the heart to tell them I live in a flat the size of their garage or that Italians aren’t any more stylish or sophisticated than your average Australian bogan.

They love processed food as much as we do — unless it’s KFC. If there are any KFC executives reading this, please open a KFC in Italy. Don’t discriminate when it comes to fried chicken. I’m feverish from KFC withdrawal, and smuggling a family bucket into my next suitcase seems no more likely to succeed than my bacon caper. Don’t think I haven’t considered it. (You can keep your chips. No one likes your chips.)

I’m ashamed to list the things I want to buy when I’m back in Australia. It’s not Vegemite or stuffed kangaroos but banalities, like that product that removes sticky labels and mosaic tiles. Things I don’t know where to buy in a country that doesn’t have a Target or any similar department store.

I’m not being materialistic and this isn’t about convenience. It’s about how you assert your individualism. Your style is part of you and part of what makes home, home. Like most Melbournians, I’m eccentric with my fashion. My home is contemporary and minimalist and my culinary taste is decidedly Asian fusion. How do you recreate that in small town Tuscany?

Short answer, you don’t. You either become another pasta-obsessed outsider or you accept that you’ll never completely fit in. You understand you’ll always be considered a little weird and you master DIY, which is why I’m planning to make my own bacon this weekend. God, I hope it works.

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