Wednesday 19 March 2008

Southern Italian Etiquette Part 2

Bread – a staple item that can be found in most, if not all foreign kitchens. From the rich to the poor, throughout history and in current days bread is prevalent in all our lives. Carrying on from yesterdays post (where you saw me create brutta figura) I never realised how important bread actually is for Italians.

We all know that the Italians are a superstitious bunch, in particular those from the south – and when it comes to bread – well..! there are a whole set of rules that I (the ignorant foreigner) was blind to. That is until now. Whilst creating brutta figura the other night, I asked bel ragazzo and my colleague to tell me of some more dos and don’ts so that I can be bella figura all the way.

My colleague told me a tale from when she was staying with friends in Napoli. She was at the families home and they had just finished a sumptuous feast. Being the polite guests (and a clean freak) she started to clear the table. There was a little scrap of bread, no bigger then a one euro coin on the table, and she picked it up, ready to throw it away with the other rubbish…when the mother leaped up from the table and gasped. “Che cosa stai facendo Lumbarda!” My colleague is from the north you see, and was not aware that in the south you NEVER throw away a piece of bread, and if you have to throw it away, and I mean if you have no other resort, then you have to kiss the piece of bread before it is goes in the bin.

Bread is sacred. Bread is the body of Christ. Bread was the last meal the Jesus ate before he left this earth. Respect for bread is also having respect for those less fortunate then you. You cannot just throw away a good piece (or scrap) of bread, as there are many people who would give a lot to have that scrap.

My colleague had come very close to making a brutta figura, but she was saved in the end and learnt the error of her way. Whilst she was telling the story, bel ragazzo was sitting there nodding saying ‘si, si.’

“I have never seen you kiss bread before!” I accused him.

“That is because I never throw bread away.” Bel ragazzo says matter of factly.

As mentioned above you only throw the bread away (after kissing it) as an absolute last resort. In these self sufficient villages you use the left over bread to make bruschetta, breadcrumbs, soups, salads and when the bread really is inedible you give it to the farm animals to eat. Thinking back, when I lived in the village at the start of the year, we never did throw any bread away.

The more well known Italian bread superstition is that you must never place bread upside down. This is bad luck and above all disrespectful! I find superstitions fascinating and did a little research on the web to find out the following bread related superstitions:

If you put a piece of bread in a baby's cradle, it will keep away disease.

Scandinavian traditions hold that if a boy and girl eat from the same loaf, they are bound to fall in love.

In Britain, the ceremony of First Footing is traditionally observed in the early hours of New Year's Day. A piece of bread is left outside a door, with a piece of coal and a silver coin, and is supposed to bring you food, warmth and riches in the year ahead.

In Russia, bread (and salt) are symbols of welcome.

Superstition says it is bad luck to cut an unbaked loaf.

Legend has it that whoever eats the last piece of bread has to kiss the cook.

(I kind of like that last one!)


Piccola said...

Hmm, this is interesting. My boyfriends family is from Bari (although they live in Milan now) and when he was here in the states with me last summer, if the bread got hard, we just threw it away and he never said a word. Now I'll have to ask him about it. Maybe since he's been in Milan all of his life, he has adjusted to the Northern ways. No, he is pretty Southern traditional. He's never even brought a woman home to meet his parents yet!

Delina said...

I started to kiss the bread before throwing it away after coming to Italy.

Leanne was in Italy now in Australia said...

Piccola, you must ask your boyfriend but most probably it is because he grew up in the North.

Delina - I knew you would be a bread kisser by now since you live in Naples and all!

Kim B. said...

My husband TOTALLY kisses the bread if it has to be thrown away!! He grew up in Torino, but papa is from Puglia and Mamma from Messina, so you see . . . this was a cool post -- you wrote the anecdote so well, and the history you looked up was totally fun!

Leanne was in Italy now in Australia said...

Hi KimB,
So your hubby is a bread kisser too! I must say I had to throw away a little bit of bread the other day, but still could not make myself kiss it so I just threw it in the bin when no one was looking!