Critique to a critique

I wonder if a critique can be criticized… This one time I feel obliged to do so, because I believe the critic who wrote it, Mr Giles Coren, doesn’t seem to know much about what he wrote.

The critique am talking about is an article appeared on the December Issue of Traveller, Lonely Planet magazine.

“I’ve never had a decent meal in Italy” is the title of this ensemble of silliness.

Anyway, the author opens the article saying “The best Italian food I’ve eaten has been anywhere but Italy. I have a sense when I’m there and see a big table of Italians having a lovely time in a restaurant that either they have palates like a fireman’s glove, or they’re being served different food from us. It’s a great irony that these days you can walk into almost any London pub and you’ll eat better than you will in Italy.”

Now, Italian palates are quite good as far as I know, they invented some of the most loved dishes around the world and am not talking about pizza and pasta, but lasagne, ravioli and a whole range of food that gets everyone to lick their chops. More than that, for Italians eating is a ceremony, a celebration of life and pleasure and if you don’t get that, you certainly cannot understand how Italians look so jolly and amused when sitting around a table all together enjoying their meal. About London pubs…. Fish and chips and Sunday Roast are good, but do you really want to compare that with a plate of linguine alle vongole (linguine with clams) or deer stew with polenta?

Anyway, Mr Coren continues writing: “The problem is mainly one of expectation. […] You’ve heard the stories of driving past a ruined abbey in Umbria or somewhere and spotting a simple hole in the wall that doesn’t even have a sign. A man with a moustache comes up and says, ‘Ahh, you must come in’, and there, among the ruins, are tables carved out of an old oak tree, and you eat a simple goat-filled ravioli dish served by his two beautiful daughters who pour you wine made from grapes that they have trodden with their own feet. And at the end: ‘No, you don’t pay signore!’. “

Now, starting from the end… how many restaurants in London or UK give you food for free? That said, these places do exist, they probably have some sort of sign and tables and they do serve their own wine, am thinking of places in Tuscany or Puglia for example. SOrry to inform you that Italy has had its own industrial revolution, and they probably have better machines than Uk to tread the grapes, oh wait a minute, UK doesn’t even produce wine, not famous wine at least. But Italians love to keep their traditions alive, so to celebrate the beginning of the hardest, the vendemmia as they call it, they have festivals and historic commemorations where they actually tread the first grapes with their own feet. It’s definitely not to amuse tourists, but to show the younger generations what their grandparents use to do and live with. A man of your calibre should also avoid stereotypes, I know you tried to be sarcastic but fashion has evolved, not every Italian man has a moustache!

“These places don’t exist. You go to Italy and walk in through a hole in the wall and you’ll get a shotgun pointed at you. And when you do find one, they’re just tourist rip-offs. Most Italians don’t really eat out in restaurants. They’re always at home. Italian men, with all respect, live at home until they’re 50, wearing string vests and eating spaghetti meatballs on their laps in front of the telly. And their poor old mums do the cooking for them.”

Now, in these few sentences it’s quite evident your lack of knowledge about Italian culture, current affairs, traditions, economics. Let me tell you why… you start saying that you walk in and you get a shotgun pointed at you. Italy is not the one depicted in ‘The Godfather’, where everyone has a gun or a rifle and they are just waiting to use them. Mafia exists, but it does certainly not attack tourists or random Italian people. Small criminality is certainly widespread, but 1) they don’t use guns 2) they would never threaten you in a restaurant! You continue saying  “they’re just tourist rip-offs”. Well, if you decide to eat in front of the Colosseum, or in Piazza San Marco, or near the Pisa tower, of course they rip you off, just as much as they do in Trafalgar Square or Leicester Square! “Most Italians don’t really eat out in restaurants” Are you kidding me? Most Italian families eat out at least once a week – it might have dropped now because of the financial crisis, but I doubt that any of them would give up their weekly dinner out with family or friends.

What you said afterwards, does not show any respect or understanding. Italian men, most of them, don’t choose to stay home until they’re 50, believe me. The current unemployment rate is 12%, those who are employed are for the most part on temporary contracts and get an average of 800-900€ per month. Now, in cities like Rome, Florence, Milan the cost of a single room in a shared house is about 500€ without taking into consideration transports and living costs. So now you see why they have to live at home. Some of them were married and had their own houses, but they went through divorce which left them with nothing and they had to go back and live with their parents. If you bothered talking with these men, you would see how unhappy and ashamed they are of not being able to afford their own apartment. Unfortunately reckless politicians and entrepreneurs have ripped them off of their own dignity, with irregular contracts and salaries. As far as their mums are concerned, I wouldn’t call them poor. They’re more than happy to cook for their ‘kids’, we have a deep sense of family that you probably just dream about. And by the way, Italian people never eat on the couch. Never. They love nothing more than sitting around a table to sip their wine and enjoy their meals. I wonder if you actually ever met ortalked with Italian people.

“[…] In Rome I had such bad food that I ended up in McDonald’s. As I came out, a Brit siad, ‘It’s that food bloke off the telly – what are you doing in Rome eating a Big Mac?’. And I said it’s the best thing i’d had in days – and at least I wasn’t ripped off. That’s inauthentic and wrong. I should be out looking for the perfect bollito misto or something I remember trying to find one in Florence, and walking and walking. Every single place was a tourist joint full of English people. I eventually found the dish and it was basically a big bowl of hot water with a load of of bollock and gristle in it. And I thought: is there something wrong with it – or something wrong with me?”.

Well Mr Coren, I know the answer to your question. There’s certainly something wrong with you. You can’t expect to eat the best food if you don’t wal around. Restaurants located by the most famous attractions are certainly full of tourists and I must admit, the quality of the food is not always god. But walk around a bit more nd you find some real gems – the holes in the wall you were talking about before. I was in Rome recently and I ate some of the best food of my whole life, but that meant walking away from the main sites and take the small roads, where you find top rated TripAdvisor restaurants like Non c’è trippa pe gatti, where you can eat a main dish and a second dish with side for 10€ – e.g. pasta alla carbonara, saltimbocca alla Romana with potatoes, and if you prefer fish you can get a main and a second dish with ide for 15€. Now, that’s not a rip-off. And you eat well. Not only you eat well, but the service is great too. The owners there are the real Romans, those famous for their sympathy and sense of humour and kindness. And this is just one of the many restaurants I’ve tried. I ate out every lunch and every dinner and I never spent more than 20/25€ including drinks! At Pastarito, not too far from the Altare della Patria, you can eat a huge bowl of pasta (about 250gr.) choosing the type of pasta (linguine, spaghetti, maccheroni, penne, fusilli, cellentani and many more) and the sauce/seasoning (with gorgonzola and walnuts, with ragu, alla carbonara, with clams and all sort of stuff) for the reasonable price of 10-12€. Come on, going to McDonald’s in Rome…. I can’t even comment on that.

[…] The journey to the restaurant will always be delightful and they’ll be terribly nice to you – but they should, since they’re just about to charge you 90£ for a bowl of pasta.” 

Mr Coren, where did you eat to pay 90£ for a bowl of pasta? Inside the Colosseum or maybe inside San Marco cathedral. You are a fool if you think you can pay less than that two steps away from the main attractions and I still think that the prices are not that high! Walk away, one of two steps more will just increase your appetite and leave some money in your wallet!

“Harry’s Bar in Venice served the worst meal I’ve ever had in my life. A rich friend with his own plane flew me to the city for the day. I had never been and it was amazing to be there – so beautiful. He scored a table at Harry’s Bar, and we zoomed in on a vaporetto. I had this soggy, flabby gnocchi and overdone veal. It was the shittest thing I’ve ever had. Everyone subsequently told me that you don’t go to Harry’s Bar for the food. I think you could say the same about the whole of Italy.”

That’s how you conclude your ridiculour article. Now, Harry’s Bar, as far as I know, is more of an institution than a proper restaurant. Created in 1931 and nominated in 2001 a national landmark by the Italian Ministry for Cultural Affairs, it offers food but is not the main reason to go there. If I could afford it, I don’t have friends with private planes unfortunately, I would go there for the atmosphere, for the clientele, and to drink a Bellini, a cocktail invented by the creator of Harry’s Bar, Mr Cipriani. Italy has such a variety of plates and flavours that only a crazy and tasteless person could not appreciate it. Every region has its own specialties, from North to South you find delicious dishes, from appetizers to desserts, from bruschetta to cassata, from ravioli, to grilled fish and you can go on and on….Mr Coren, if you go to Italy and don’t try its food you’re missing out a lot. I can just say am really sorry for you.

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14 responses to “Critique to a critique

  1. What an excellent critique of a critique, Elisa! I’ve never been to Italy but I but I’ve heard of its amazing food. This guy sounds like a snob of the worst kind. Bravo to you!

  2. Pingback: Italian Food… a pleasure for your eyes and palate! | Eat, travel, photograph·

  3. Excellent job Elisa!
    Just read a translated version (in Chinese) of Mr. Coren’s article and found quite annoyed. I live in Italy for some years now and love almost every bit of this land, especially the food and the enormous culinary culture behind!
    I’m definitely not sorry for Mr. Coren who ended up eating big Mac; in my opinion, he probably deserved that. :p

  4. What a moron this Coren fellow is, and what an imbecile the editor of the magazine is for allowing his article to be published.

    I’m sure he wrote it with the intention of being controversial, but it’s contents are so absurd it pisses me off.

    Well done on critiquing the critic, although douchebag would be a more accurate job description.

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