While Italian breakfasts of pancetta and cappuccino might sound luxurious, American visitors may still get homesick for greasy bacon.
My name is Libby Peck, and I have a problem with addiction.
The first step to recovery is admitting I have a problem, right? Well, it kind of poses a problem when I’m addicted to everything. I’ve come to realize in the past year that I have a highly addictive personality; in my mind, moderation doesn’t exist, and “use sparingly” is a phrase only heard in my worst nightmares.
My addictions didn’t start with Starbucks nonfat iced white mochas, nor did they begin with the first boy whose lips touched mine. Oh no, it started back in the gene pool, where the egg of a woman raised on an Angus farm met the sperm of a man growing up around the meatpacking industry of Chicago.
It’s kind of obvious now why I would be born with an addiction to food. I was fed my first steak (well, pieces of one, at least) as soon as I had enough teeth to chew, and during one of my earlier Thanksgivings, I was found with my entire head inside the tub of Cool Whip post-dinner. Around Christmastime when I was six, my grandma took me out to eat at the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Building and told me to order whatever I wanted. I promptly asked our waiter for a Shirley Temple and the lobster tail.
Needless to say, the prospect of eating all Italian, all the time, during my stay here in Rome was alluring. Tortellini, risotto, ravioli, mozzarella, lasagna…mama mia! I was convinced I’d have to buy an entire new wardrobe to accommodate the gut I’d grow from eating so many delicious carbs.
Boy, was I wrong. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss American food. There’s just something about chicken wings in buffalo sauce with a beer on a Sunday afternoon watching the Eagles play, grilling salmon on a gas grill in Lancaster County sunshine, and even making scrambled eggs on a hazy Friday morning for your best friends that’s lost here.
The first problem I have with Italian cuisine? They don’t believe in breakfast. Coming from a breakfast-obsessed society, I hate that the only choice of breakfast food I have here is between a croissant and an ultra-sugary pastry. No bacon? Sorry, that’s called pancetta, and it’s usually served in a non-fried form on your daily panino.
Even if they knew what pancakes were (I’m pretty sure if I tried communicating that at a bakery they would literally give me a cake made in a frying pan), it’s not like I would eat them: the Italians don’t use peanut butter. How are they not the most depressed culture on Earth? A spoonful of peanut butter is full of healthy fats, protein, and happiness! As for syrup? Apparently, it’s a rich person’s food. My friends found a bottle for six euro, about nine American dollars.
Is God punishing me for my gluttonous life?
All I eat here is pizza, pasta, and paninos (the Italian term for “sandwiches”). And I’m beyond sick of all three. My best friend at Temple tells me I’m crazy for hating my diet here, but then again, she’s the carb queen to my meat-and-potatoes mentality. At least they have potatoes here — shockingly, they have French fries at some restaurants! How cultural.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have a great appreciation for Italian food: the Italian food that, as a typical college student, I don’t have the money to eat. I’m sure ordering a twenty euro steak would be fully satisfying, and a forty euro bottle of wine on the side would complement the cow just perfectly! But I’ve been living off of 33 euro cent bags of pasta and pieces of day-old pizza served ‘caldo’ since I arrived, and I’ve had enough.
Last weekend, I gave in and went to an American restaurant serving nachos with jalapeños, sour cream, cheddar cheese and a cheeseburger with real fried American bacon on top. It was one of the most satisfying meals of my entire life — even though after a month without meat, my body kind of forgot how to digest it.
I miss my diner breakfasts, sushi lunches and German-inspired dinners more than I thought, but for now a simple all-American cheeseburger is going to have to suffice. I might even have to suck up my embarrassment at the stereotype and force myself to eat at McDonald’s to fill my food cravings.
Now if only I could find a café with to-go coffee.
Libby Peck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.