Thanks to the affordability of dried pasta and the Italian tradition of simple dishes distinguished by fresh ingredients, you can find Italian restaurants anywhere in the world you happen to be. No matter where in the world I am, though, I will always want to eat Italian food.
When I was young, it was always a special treat going to Little Italy with its Italian delis, bakeries, and importers. There were little plastic tubs you could fill with many varieties of olives and sundried tomatoes, all kinds of grated cheese, and a fresh pasta maker that was always on. If I had been good, I could point to the cylindrical cannoli shells sitting in the pastry case, and the man behind the counter would pipe one full of sweet ricotta just for me.
Since the UK is a part of Europe, it’s much easier to get authentic Italian food here, made by actual Italians. Italy itself is only a few hours’ flight away. With cheap airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet, it’s doable even on a budget. No matter how long I live here, there is something ineffably cool about traveling for just a couple hours and finding yourself in a completely different country, with its own language, cuisine and distinct cultural heritage.
Even though my town has somewhere in the neighborhood of forty Italian restaurants (probably more, if you count the pubs that serve Italian food) and a couple of Italian bakeries, there are still a lot of things I miss about Italian-American food. The assumption that, no matter which pizza place you walk into, the table will always have a bottle of olive oil, a bottle of chili oil, a shaker of Parmesan, and a shaker of red pepper flakes. The belief that real water ice only comes in two flavors: lemon and cherry (although there are the serious traditionalists who think cherry water ice is too extreme). All-you-can-eat pasta nights. Giant meatballs the size of your face. Not being charged for the basket of bread and breadsticks on your table. The murals of Italy painted on the walls, clashing comfortably with the red and white-checked vinyl tablecloths.
Although, most mornings here the Sicilian bakery sells these giant doughnuts filled with delicately spiced ricotta and coated with cinnamon sugar. So it’s not all bad.