- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 24, 2002

Beware the pasta police.
Alarmed that their national cuisine has been sullied by aberrant imitations, the Italian government has created an agency to monitor the stiffness of pasta and the tang of cheese around the world.
Essentially, the Italians are piqued that imposters in America and elsewhere are cashing in on Italian cachet with marginal mimics.
"Hundreds of such restaurants are springing up every day, in every corner of the earth. But most have nothing to do with Italy apart from their names, or the Italian flag outside," said Italy's agriculture minister, Giovanni Alemanno, on Wednesday.
"We are dealing with very dirty competition," he said.
Some things, indeed, get lost in the translation.
The British, for example, are known for making a spaghetti sandwich just pale, bare spaghetti on bread.
The classic Italian pizza is now topped with squid ink, mayonnaise and scallop balls in Japan; corn kernels in Taiwan; green peas in Brazil; sauerkraut in Germany; peanut butter and jelly in Los Angeles; crayfish in Louisiana; and cream cheese in one pizzeria out in Manhattan, Kan.
Not to be outdone, Oregon-based Gardenburger introduced meatless, pizza-flavored rice "nuggets" this week that the company claims are based on "the Sicilian rice ball snack, Arancini di Riso."
With 496 restaurants, the Orlando, Fla.-based Olive Garden chain describes itself as "obsessed with Italian life," and is geared to casual America.
"We try to offer a genuine Italian dining experience," explained spokeswoman Mara Fayerman on Thursday. "We just redecorated 407 of our restaurants, stressing either a Tuscan farmhouse or modern Milan atmosphere. And we do have some roots in Italy."
The franchise partnered with one Italian town and opened an "institute" last year to develop new recipes and school managers. Do typical Americans appreciate such things?
"That we cannot say," Miss Fayerman said.
Meanwhile, Italian cuisine continues to be the nation's top ethnic food, according to the National Restaurant Association. Pizza is outranked only by french fries as the nation's most popular menu item, and Americans spend $32 billion on it annually.
None of this is sitting very well with the Italian government, which will soon issue a new "seal of approval" to those who properly honor Italian ingredients and preparation. Officials hope to trademark and protect such traditional national food as Parmesan cheese and Parma ham, Mr. Alemanno said.
Limp noodles are also at issue.
The new agency will introduce "a system of quality control" covering the finer points of pasta cookery and the disastrous effect of soggy spaghetti on an unwitting diner.
"This is not about chauvinism," Mr. Alemanno said. "What is important is that when there is an Italian flag displayed, the food be Italian."
The new culinary nationalism has not gone unnoticed.
"The fact is that most of the Italian food served abroad has always been appalling," noted an editorial in Thursday's London Guardian newspaper. It cited Pizza Hut as one of the offending parties, along with "thousands of Da Ginos, Da Marios, Amalfis, Bella Venezias, Borga this and Trattoria that."
"You wonder why it's taken Italian politicians so long to wake up to the irreparable damage these fifth columns of fifth-rate food have done to the reputations of one of the world's most exported cooking cultures," the editorial noted. "The real irony is that the qualities of Italian food and cooking have never been more highly appreciated abroad."

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