Growing up Calabrese, means a few things when it comes to food. The style of cooking is referred to, mainly by northerners, as “la cucina povera”, which translates to “cooking of the poor” or “peasant food”. Calabria makes the best out of cheap and widely available ingredients, highlighting the ingenuity of the poor Italian cooks who create the dishes. And while “peasant food” can be a common theme throughout all Italian cuisine, in Calabria, it’s accompanied by a carefree, anything goes attitude. On the table most nights were a small jar of home grown “peperoncino” that my brother, Gianni, and I were told to “be careful” with. The generous use of spices, accompanied with the lack of butter, truly makes southern Italian food stand out from the rest.
Some of our more famous contributions to the culinary world include, ‘Nduja —pronounced “en-DOO-ya”—is a spreadable fermented salume, made of ground pork parts, such as belly and jowls, and spiked with Calabrian chilies. Caciocavallo Silano and Pecorino Crotonese were also prevalent in our diet. The final part of our family dinners most nights consisted of a salad w/oil and balsamic vinegar, a rustic loaf of bread and a cheese from Calabria.
The region is rich in olives and olive oil, sweet red onions of Tropea, red hot chili peppers, (omnipresent in the local dishes), wild mushrooms, (of abundance in the forests of La Sila), eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, and fruits like figs and citrus fruits. I have, on many occasions, ordered french fries in Calabria, even if it doesn’t fit with the meal in the slightest, just because the potatoes grown in Calabria are extremely good.
To sum it, Calabrian food is simple, fresh, and good for the soul. It is the “Soul Food” of Italian cuisine. Devoid of pretense, expensive unobtainable ingredients, and pretentious presentation.