by Enzo Coccia
“Hello, what is for dinner tonight?” The question is always the same even if it is asked by three different voices and receives three different answers: “pasta al sugo” (pasta with tomato sauce), “tomatoes and mozzarella”, “minestra maritata” (married soup). Among the three couples of speakers on the phone there are over a thousand kilometers and more than one hour flight, but the only thought of a good dish to taste reduces the distance between Munich and Naples.
My dear internet friends I’d like to share with you a reflection on our culinary tradition, on Italy, Naples and why food is important for us.
A German, a Chinese, an English can be happy with a burger eaten at McDonald’s or a coffee drunk at Starbucks, but an Italian – a Neapolitan even more so – no, absolutely not! Better to dine at home, even if you go back home at 11pm or midnight!
It is January 21, 9pm, I am at Munich’s airport Terminal 2, gate 30. I am coming back to Naples from Kiev after a week of work. My flight stops over in Munich and so I spend some time at the German airport reflecting on these places or rather “non-places” as the anthropologist Marc Augé called them and on their homogenization according to the sociologist George Ritzer‘s theories: they all seem exactly alike, the same fast food, the same brand, the same gate, so everything is the same everywhere, with no identity.
Maybe because of the late hour or because of I am tired and I am looking forward to coming back home, I can’t tolerate the wait. I go quickly to the gate 30 from which my plane to Naples takes off. I don’t want to work, nor to read: I am tired and sitting idly eavesdropping on my fellow citizens’ conversations waiting to return home, like me. Hearing a familiar accent comforts me and makes me feel already a little at home.
There is the classic manager in front of me: collar and tie, two cell phones in his hands. He’s talking to his boss and telling him about the business meeting in Brussels. After a while the other phone is ringing: it’s his wife, they speak about their children, he asks her if they’re already sleeping and, before ending their chat, he asks: “What have you prepared for dinner?”. I understand that he is going to eat some tomatoes with mozzarella.
On my left there is a lady about 35 years old: a laptop on her knees, she is working while talking with her husband on the phone. She asks about her children too and then the same question: “What is there to eat when I get to Naples? Today I had chicken for lunch with my foreign colleagues in a Thai restaurant… what are you cooking for me?”. Continuing her phone call I realize that she is going to reheat the pasta al sugo, once at home.
At this point, I also phone my house number. My wife talks about the kids, I tell her it was very cold in Ukraine, she replies that in Naples, as usual, there was the sun and then I conclude: “What have you made for dinner?” She answers: “A minestra maritata (married soup), but a light one with the chicken”. I hang up the phone, smile and the good humor has returned.
I think that the Neapolitan, wherever he is, wants to eat “well” and there is no people in the world as tied to food, as well as to the family, as the Neapolitans. In other words, our food determines in some way our identity, the Neapolitans are a “food community”. Do you agree with me or not?