Cuccina povera: From ‘pauper’s food’ to global fame

Text: Žikica Milošević

Italians are not at all naive when it comes to food – their cuisine is generally considered one of the best in the world, while many actually deem it the best. Luckily, Italy has created some of the best dishes ever, such as various types of pasta, lasagna or pizza, out of necessity.


To clarify… La Cuccina Povera is an Italian term for “impoverished cuisine” where the cook is improvising with what they have. For instance, if you have spaghetti and you happen to catch some clams, you are going to make spaghetti with clams, with added spices. That’s one recipe. If you have tomatoes to add, there’s another recipe. If you have a piece of round dough and you spread tomato sauce all over it, and then top it off with cheese, there’s the first ever pizza. If the Italians didn’t have to wing it, and if the destiny did not cruelly demote them from being the biggest empire in the world to, at one point, the least developed part of Europe, maybe we would have never had the opportunity to enjoy such good and imaginative recipes.


We should not underestimate the fact that Italy is right in the centre of the Mediterranean – at the intersection of Africa, Asia, and Eastern and Western Europe, with the country’s north embedded deep in Central Europe and the fertile plains of the Po river, while the South mostly oriented towards fishing and trading with the Orient. Rome was the epicentre where culinary ideas of the entire empire met. Perhaps the biggest boom was the one that happened after the discovery of America, and the reason for it was tomatoes, as well as potatoes and other groceries such as peppers and maize, which did not exist in the Old World, and also in Italy, until the 18th century. Considering the enormity of the Italian diaspora, as well as the cultural and imperial influence of Venice and Genoa, the Italian cuisine has influenced a huge number of other cuisines, and above all the Brazilian, Argentine, American, and all Balkan cuisines. The main elements of the ever so popular Italian cuisine are wine and cheese. The Italians differ from all these similar cuisines because they consume a huge amount of different types of pasta, which have different names depending on the shape.


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