Food and Literature: When Flavor Becomes Poetic

Food and Literature: When Flavor Becomes Poetic

Feb 06, 2020Donatella Mulvoni

Discover with us how the apparently distant worlds of words and taste express Italy’s love for beauty and flavor.



Taste is the most formidable of the four senses because it can evoke happiness and pleasure. A dish cooked with exceptional mastery can also stimulate the other senses. According to many experts, food is a powerful allegory for our existence. This is the reason why food plays a prominent role in Italian poetry and literature. A famous Italian chef and restaurateur, Claudio Gargioli (owner of the celebrated “Armando al Pantheon” in Rome) says that “food is the history of a nation, because it mirrors the spirit of the times." we want to introduce you to two great writers and food lovers from Sicily. One comes from the past; the other is contemporary world. The first one is Giuseppe Tomasi, Prince of Lampedusa. He wrote only one novel, a masterpiece set during the Italian Risorgimento, which also became a celebrated film directed by Luchino Visconti. The other writer is Andrea Camilleri, one of Italy’s most popular and prolific authors, who died last year.



Among the most famed literary dish is the “timballo”. This plate is described in Tomasi di Lampedusa’s modern literary masterpiece Il Gattopardo (The Leopard, 1958). It is considered one of the most important novels of the 20th century. The story – set in Sicily – describes the epochal changes in the aristocratic Salina family. One chapter describes a sumptuous dinner featuring a timballo di maccheroni, a maccheroni pasta timbale with chicken, chicken liver, ham, sausage, peas, eggs, mushrooms, Parmigiano, cinnamon, and other spices. In the novel, the dish becomes a powerful symbol of the old, noble classes’ struggle against the new, rising middle class.



In contemporary literature, the author Andrea Camilleri – “the inventor of Italy’s most famous detective, Commissario Montalbano – often indulges in the description of foods and flavors, and his readers adore it. His culinary descriptions are delightful: amazing dishes, robust wines, and peculiar specialties all feature prominently. Camilleri mentions a specific restaurant, Peppucciu ’u piscaturi, the capital of Sicilian food.


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