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ON THE LONG shot that you might be dining (likely these days outdoors) at an Italian restaurant, here are culinary translational tidbits gleaned from a little guidebook. It’s more than 100 years old, but I suspect the lingo hasn’t changed.
The Customs. “On arriving at the frontier a custom’s examination is made, and passengers will find that it is stricter than is usual in France, Germany, Holland, or Belgium; care should be taken not to carry cigars or spirits.”
“Sono foriestiero qui. Soh’-noh foh-rais-tee-ai’roh koo-ee’. I am a stranger here.”
Meals. Rees warns that “English people should avoid asking for beef-steaks or roast-beef, as these delicacies are of very inferior quality. Veal is the best meat to ask for. The full menu will be found in the subsequent pages of this guide, illustrated, and with correct pronunciation, enabling anyone to make his demands understood.”
Easy First Phrases. “Questo è troppo caro. Koo-ais’toh ai trohp’poh kah’roh. That is too dear.”
“Più svelto! Pee-oo’ svail-toh! Make haste!”
“Portatemi un cucchiaio. Pohr-tah’tai-mee oon koo-kee-ah’ee-oh. Bring me a spoon. ”
There. That should get matters off on the piede corretto/pee’d koh’r-ai’toh/right foot.
Pranzo. Prahnts’-soh. Dinner. “Cameriere, un pranzo per due. Kah-mair-ee-air’ai, oon prahnts’-soh pair doo’ai. Waiter, dinner for two. ”
Inexplicably, our due appears to have picked up una terza persona/oo-nah tairts’-ai pair-soh’nah/a third person.
“Nessun problema. Nai’-soon pro-ble’-mah. No problem.” The more, the merrier.
La Carta del Giorno. Lah Kahr’-tah dail Djee-ohr’-noh. The Bill of Fare. “Che cosa mi consigliate per il seguito? Kai koh-sah mee kohn-see-lee-ah’tai pair eel sai’goo-ee-toh? What meat do you recommend?”
Literally this means “what second course?” Ordinarily, this would be meat.
Ah, but the cameriere sees us coming, because he responds, “Il roastbeef è molto buono. Eel rohs’beef ai mohl’toh boo-oh’-noh. The roast beef is very good. ”
Ha. D. J. Rees (London University) already warned us about Manzo arrosto Mahnts’-soh ahr-rohs’-toh (which isn’t even numbered below).
I’d have the Rombo Rohm’-boh Turbot, pass on the meat course, and double up on the veggies. The Carciofi Kahr-chee-oh’-fee (36) sound good. And please do keep the Bottiglie Boht-tee’lee (58) coming. Not the Mezzas Maits’sahs (59), per favore. Grazie molto.
Ciao. Chee’-a-oh. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021
Grazie, Dennis. Today’s column strikes a personal chord for me.
On my dining room wall, hangs a framed and treasured restaurant menu written in Sicilian. I was gifted this poster a very long time ago, when some friends and I had a wonderful dinner at a brand new trattoria in eastern Sicily. I brought the menu to my office the next morning, and my mainland Italian coworkers gathered around it and tried to make heads or tails of the items offered in the local dialect. The second course Carni section began with the selections, “Custati da vitidduzza zingara” and “Filettu a carrittera”. Chew on that, Google Translate!
I only bring this up because you’d love the name of this former restaurant — the “Cavalleria Rusticana”. 😉
A wonderful family story, Andrew. Of course, my guidebook is “The American in Italy,” not Sicily. Sicilian history is fascinating (King Roger II, etc.). Its cuisine and dialect reflect this.
Looks like a wonderful book!