As a typical Italian, I need a fix of my childhood food on a regular basis. Even better if it comes with a proper setting, proper accents and proper faces. That’s why every Wednesday I meet with a fellow Italian-expat-who-married-out-of-the-tribe and we treat our pale, half-blooded children to a real pizzeria for lunch.
Everything looks right there: the staff speak with a southern Italian accent, they run around with more plates than any human being could keep on two arms and affectionately scold the kids when they become too loud. The pizza is the right balance of crisp and fluffy, the tomato sauce yummy and they happen to have very-close-to-the-real-thing cannoli, filled with sweet ricotta and topped with a tear of chocolate fudge.
I look forward to going there every week with the same enthusiasm and it’s become for the kids too a special moment of Italianness. “You know, papa – they tell their father – we go to this restaurant with mummy where everybody speaks Italian. You can’t come, though. It’s only for Italians like us”.
Last Wednesday, unfortunately, they didn’t have a table for us, a merry little crowd needing buggy space close to the table. We waited a little bit, hoping for someone to ask the check and go but no one was moving. So we decided to take the offspring to the pizzeria next door, where we had never been before.
We had just closed the door behind us when something looked, sounded and smelled clearly wrong. We were welcomed by a woman with a Snow White-meets-Sophia-Loren look (chalk white skin, ultra-black hair and red lipstick) who at the sight of the three boys and the baby girl in the pushchair shrilled: “OOOOOOOH, ‘a famiiiiya” with an accent and intonation that reminded me more of a background actor in a third-class American movie than of an authentic southern mamma.
A look at the tables confirmed my worst doubts: little roses as centerpieces, fake-chic setting, even faker pictures of famous Italian places all around and not a single Italian among the patrons.
I looked at my friend hoping for her to read my mind, which was shouting: “RUN! I am not having fake pizzas!”. Luckily they didn’t have a highchair for the baby and we had the perfect excuse to get away. The counterfeited Sophia Loren proposed us even take away pizzas but no, no, we forgot something and have to go.
And then I thought of all the times I have been naively eating at a fake Japanese restaurant, run by smart Chinese who understood quickly that Europeans weren’t so keen anymore on greasy Peking duck.
How do you spot a fake Italian restaurant?
1. There are no Italians inside
2. If it looks too authentic to be true it probably is. (beware especially of too many Godfather’s references in the decor or on the walls)
3. If the owner greets you speaking Italian, he probably isn’t. (He would do so only to a known patron)
4. If the menu contains too many variations to the “spaghetti with meatballs” theme, run away.
5. If the decor looks more French than Italian (brocade tablecloths, stiff chairs, elaborated centerpieces) it’s never a good sign.
What are your tips to spot “fake” restaurants all over the world?