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Italian Language Blog

La Polenta Posted by on Oct 17, 2011 in Culture, Food

La polenta (also known as polenda or pulenda) is an ancient dish made from cereal flour which is the traditional staple diet of the contadino (peasant farmer) especially in the northern Italian regions of  Veneto, Lombardia, Trentino, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

The name polenta comes from the Latin word ‘puls’, a type of polenta di farina = polenta made with flour, which formed the basis of the diet of the antique peoples of the Italian peninsula. Before the discovery of America, and the subsequent introduction of granturco (maize) into Europe, polenta was made using flour produced from cereals such as barley, spelt, rye, millet, buckwheat and wheat. Nowadays, however, polenta is made almost exclusively from farina di granturco = maize flour.

Although in recent years polenta has become a gourmet food, it was for centuries the basic subsidence diet of the poor. A northern Italian proverb tells us:

Loda la polenta e mangia il pane =  Praise polenta and eat bread (meaning that although polenta is a life saver for the poor and hungry it is less healthy and nutritious than bread).

I bet you think I’m going to give you the recipe? No, I just wanted to share this little barzelletta (joke) that my uncle Luciano, who has a great sense of humour, told us yesterday:


Una ricercatrice universitaria faceva un’indagine sulla dieta regionale italiana.

A university researcher was doing an investigation into the Italian regional diet

Ha deciso di cominciare nel nord est del paese

She decided to begin in the north east of the country

Arrivata ad una fattoria nella campagna Veneta vede un vecchio contadino seduto sotto un albero che faceva colazione

Having arrived at a farm in the Veneto countryside she saw an old peasant sitting under a tree eating his breakfast

Mi scusi signore, sto facendo una ricerca sulla dieta Italiana. Le potrei fare qualche domanda, per cortesia?

Excuse me sir, I’m researching the Italian diet. Could I ask you a few questions please?

Certo, risponde il contadino

Of course, replied the peasant

Ecco, lei che cosa mangia di solito per colazione?

O.K., what do you eat for breakfast?

Polenta, risponde il contadino

Polenta, replied the peasant

E cosa mangia per pranzo?

And what do you eat for lunch?

Polenta, risponde il contadino

Polenta, replied the peasant

E invece per cena?

and for dinner?

Polenta, risponde il contadino

Polenta, replied the peasant

Mi scusi, chiede la ricercatrice, ma mangiando tutta questa polenta com’è la digestione?

Excuse me, asked the researcher, but with eating all that polenta how is your digestion?

Po’ lenta, risponde il contadino

A bit slow, replied the peasant (polenta becomes po’ = a bit, and lenta = slow)

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  1. Giulia:

    Polenta goes round the world.
    I sent this story to my cousin in Idaho (we are both descendants of immigrants from Trentino), and he sent it to one of our distant relatives in Val di Non. Here’s the response from Italy:
    “Very nice this story. Strange, yesterday I cooked polenta with cheese over the polenta, mackerek etc. The polenta was very speedy to cook — only 5 minutes — it is a “polenta precotta” (precooked), special flour of valsugana. And so my polenta is not “lenta” but velocissima….ha ha ha.”

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