Italian Language Blog

Domina L’Angolo Cucina Posted by on Oct 25, 2009 in Culture

It seems that the good old Italian kitchen, quel locale per antonomasia (that quintessential room) which was once the traditional focal point of the home, is slowly but surely being ousted by l’angolo cucina (the corner kitchen). In Italy the kitchen once represented il focolare e il cuore della casa (the hearth, and the heart of the house), and for many, particularly those who live in the older houses in rural areas, it still does. In our village, for example, to be invited into someone’s home is synonymous with being invited into their kitchen, where we inevitably end up sitting a fare due chiacchiere (chatting), a bere un caffè (drinking a coffee), o forse un bicchiere di vino (or maybe a glass of wine). In the winter particularly, little groups of neighbors will gather at each others houses and sit around la stufa (the stove) or il forno a legna (the wood fired oven) in the kitchen, passing the time of day.

Here in Lunigiana we also have il gradile (more commonly known as il seccatoio), a small building in which le castagne (the chestnuts) would be dried ready for grinding into farina di castagne (chestnut flour). Il gradile was also once used as a primitive kitchen, with an open fire in the middle of the room over which, supported by un paio di alari (a pair of firedogs), was placed il testo (a heavy iron skillet). This was the preferred method for cooking such traditional recipes as la pattona, la torta d’erbe, and il testarolo. These days the use of il gradile as a kitchen is increasingly rare, but we have been lucky enough to sample these dishes cooked in the traditional manner and I can testify, non c’è paragone! (there’s nothing like it!)

However, whether we like it or not, social trends change, and with the migration of young people to larger towns and cities, where they tend to live in un appartamento (an apartment) as a much smaller family unit, the kitchen seems to have lost its relevance.  A recent survey of 30,000 newly constructed habitations shows that the presence of a separate room for the preparation of food is becoming increasingly rare. In northern Italy for example, only 9% of bilocali (two room apartments) have a separate kitchen. The figure goes up to 10% for central Italy, and even in the more traditional south barely reaches 12%. Trilocali (three room apartments) don’t fare much better, with only roughly a quarter possessing una cucina tradizionale (a traditional kitchen). Only when we look at quadrilocale (four room apartments) and larger does the presence of a kitchen reach 70%.

In Italy, when we talk about the number of rooms an apartment has we do not usually include the locali di sevizio (service rooms, such as the kitchen, bathroom, or storage room), therefore an apartment described as a bilocale may in reality consist of more than two rooms. However, for the majority of people these days, the use of an angolo cucina incorporated into il soggiorno (the living room) is more efficient and allows the creation of a smaller, more economical apartment which serves the same function as the traditional home.

Another factor which has no doubt contributed to the decline of the kitchen is the change in our eating habits. Whereas in the past the family would riunirsi (get together) around the kitchen table three times a day it seems that these days us Italians like to eat out much more frequently. A recent survey has shown that 80% of Italians regularly eat meals outside the home, and of these 44%  do so at least once a day!

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  1. Jan:

    Your column was great! Recently, when I was fortunate enough to meet my Italian relatives for the first time, I was surprised at the difference in the home layout. It consisted of 3 bedrooms, a bathroom, a large dining room, and a kitchen with both a gas stove and a wood stove. The kitchen is where we sat much of the time to talk and get to know each other as there was no living room in the house. Yes, it was in a very old small village on the top of a mountain in Liguria!! It was one of the most delightful experiences I’ve ever had in all my travels!

  2. Nathan:

    Molto interessante! I’ve always read that in Italia the family sits down to dinner each night “al tavolo” without the TV on. I know here in America dinners tend to be eaten by each family member separately and often in front of the TV or worse yet in the car from McDonalds. “Fame, Fede, e Famiglia” (translated as “Food, Faith, and Family although I always understood ‘fame’ to mean ‘hunger’) is what you hear are the backbone of Italian society. Is this changing too in these modern times?

  3. Kavita:

    A topic close to my heart. I’m not through the first para yet & must return to savour your post at leisure, Serena. “….hearth, heart..”, may I add ‘health’ of the house? In Milan I had a long conversation with a young lady from Calabria about TV dinners catching up in Italy too & the ramifications. A dopo per favore.

  4. Ted Taormina:

    Serena, I have a question. Here in the States there is a popular Italian cooking show called “Lidia’s Italy.” It runs daily and is hosted by Lidia herself. At the end of each show after she has prepared the meals for that day she has a signature sign-off. She says “tutti a tavola, a mangiare” I’ve listened to her very carefully every time and she always says “tavola.” Also, I have a Pimsleur Italian language CD and they use “tavola” repeatedly to mean the dining table. Now my question is do Italians use “tavola” and “tavolo” interchangeably? Even my Italian-English dictionary gives the second definition of “tavola” as table. So now I’m confused. Are these people in error? I sure would appreciate some clarification. Thank you, Ted Taormina

  5. Serena:

    Salve Ted, That’s an interesting question, and I think it merits a blog in itself, so thanks for the idea and look out for a ‘Tavolo vs Tavola’ blog coming soon!

    A presto, Serena

  6. Gabi:

    Cara Serena, grazie per il tuo blog!!! Ogni giorno guardo impazientemente quando arriva il nuovo articolo da te. Io imparo la lingua italiana da due anni e mi fa il grande piacere e anche aiuto che tu scrivi per noi stranieri e spiegi tutto in modo facile.Grazie per il tuo tempo e il grande lavoro!Tanti saluti da Londra,Gabi

  7. Serena:

    Salve Nathan! I’m not sure about Italian families sitting down to dinner each night “a tavola” without the TV on. Traditionally dinner time in Italy is at 8 o’clock, when the TV news is starting, and traditionally the TV is in a corner of the dining room. I can always remember watching the news while eating dinner “fin da bambina”.

    Cordiali saluti da Serena

  8. Serena:

    Salve Kavita, thank you for your compliments. I believe that TV dinners have been common in Italy for a long time. In fact the main news is on at 8 o’clock when most Italian families are having their evening meal.

    Cordiali saqluti da Serena

  9. kevin:

    Growing up in Maryland, USA, we had plenty of second generation Italians living around us and they would frequently invite me over for dinner. I don’t remember an TV dinners being served, nor any TV in the dining area. The food was always great and they even let the teenagers sample a little Italian Wine. The conversations were always lively and after we all finished eating, the hosts would usually bring out pictures of their old homes and friends and relatives in Italy. It was great contemporary history and it was always a pleasure for me to experience their loving hospitality. I developed a great understanding of the Italian culture, enough so that it prompted me to study the history of Italy which I still read about today.

    • serena:

      @kevin Salve Kevin, benvenuto nel mio blog e grazie per il tuo contributo.

      Saluti da Serena

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