From Panino and Olive Oil to White Bread, Peanut Butter

By Sotiriadis, Caterina | Winnipeg Free Press, August 25, 2012 | Go to article overview

From Panino and Olive Oil to White Bread, Peanut Butter


Sotiriadis, Caterina, Winnipeg Free Press


You would be surprised how much Italian you know. You can thank the Italian language for cameo, replica, volcano, scenario, vista, malaria, casino and much more. If we enter the world of song, opera and operetta, orchestra, cello, soprano, piano, forte, adagio, allegro and fortissimo have all struck a tune. Then when we enter the culinary world of spaghetti Bolognese, macaroni, lasagne, pizza marinara, salami calabrese, pasta e faggioli, cappuccino, espresso, zucchini, risotto in a lovely ristorante, you know you are speaking Italian.

Not many realize that when most Italians arrived in Canada after the Second World War, they had the culinary awakening I had -- no sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella or prosciutto, nor eggplant in olive oil on multi-grain bread. After 11 days of crossing the Atlantic by ship, the five-day journey by train from Pier 21 to the CN Rail station in Winnipeg, my mother, brother and I were introduced to the Canadian culinary extravaganza of white, stick-to-your-palate, spongy bread covered with an even stickier concoction called peanut butter. My mother saved our tastebuds from extinction by breaking out the capocollo and biscotto bread she had lovingly brought over upon her husband's request for savoury food.

When you make your delectable gastronomic purchases at De Luca's, Di Nardi's or the Calabrese Market, as you chomp into a panino stuffed with roasted red peppers and Italian sausage, do you think back to the Winnipeg of the late 1950s and '60s where little to none of this existed for you and me?

I lived in two culinary worlds as a young girl in Manitoba. We ate Italian at home and I ate "Canadian" outside. This dichotomy existed for many of us not only in our selection of foods as newly arrived immigrants. We spoke Italian and/or a Calabrese dialect in our home and English outside. We frequented an Italian church to hear our language and meet other immigrants like ourselves. We needed the reassurance a language and its culture can bring. Linguistic transition is not pleasant when you do not know what a person is mumbling or shouting or simply saying to you when it is not in your language. It at times sounds like gibberish with a tone or attitude. Turn the radio on to a foreign station, try listening to another language and tell me what they are saying the first time you hear it.

My father, who came to Canada as an adult to work, once told me he felt like "a leaf in a tornado of sounds" sometimes when people spoke to him in a language of which he knew barely a word. How demoralizing it is for an adult to take orders from a person who sometimes knows less about the job than you do but who dominates the situation by the sounds that are emitted from his or her lips.

Have you noticed that if someone says something to you and you do not understand, they automatically repeat exactly the same statement? Not changing a word or providing any gestures for some comprehension, they just speak the words louder, two, three times -- as if you had a hearing problem. Brain research and master teachers will confirm gestures, facial expressions and body language speak loudly and cross any language barrier. …

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From Panino and Olive Oil to White Bread, Peanut Butter
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