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Food and music, on the same plate

Italian music often chants about food and does so by tracing a faithful portrait of the habits, gastronomic passions and loves of an entire people

Indeed, if there is one theme that recurs frequently in Italian music, it is certainly that of food, which is closely linked to love. There is no decade that has not produced at least one iconic song, which has become famous, with notes on the plate.

We begin with the invitation to sit at the table, of course. The musical Aggiungi un posto a tavola (Set another place at the table), written by Garinei and Giovannini in 1974 and inspired by the novel ‘After Me, The Deluge’ by David Forrest, is a clear invitation to solidarity, brotherly love and sharing: having escaped the universal flood, humanity will meet at the table to celebrate survival.

Italian singer-songwriters and singers have often chosen the conviviality of the set table to stage their stories in music and tell of the heartaches, joys, and sorrows of a diverse humanity.

Viva la pappa col pomodoro, sung by Rita Pavone and written by Lina Wertmüller, was first released in 1965 and became an instant success in Italy. The lyrics remind us that revolutions always break out when the people are hungry. Not by chance, the title and refrain are an ode to the ‘pappa col pomodoro’, a typical Tuscan peasant dish.

Just two years later, it is the turn of Fred Bongusto with his Spaghetti in Detroit, a song that tells of the heartbreak at the end of an American love affair, that takes away the singer’s appetite, allowing him to swallow only ‘spaghetti, chicken, salad and a cup of coffee’.

Drinks feature in many a song. One of the most famous, still hummed today especially in the city of Milan, birthplace of its author Giorgio Gaber, is Barbera & Champagne. The year is 1970 and two men are sitting at a bar trying to forget – as it happens – their heartaches. They have different social backgrounds, and, because of this, they have different spirits in their glasses: one has Barbera wine while the other, dressed in an evening attire, drinks Champagne. The two end up at the same table, to comfort ‘our sad love with our wines‘.

The Sanremo Festival, Italy’s greatest singing contest, has often witnessed food between the lyrics of the event’s most famous songs over the years. The year was 1982 when Al Bano and Romina Power consecrated their success as an artistic couple with Felicità, that went gold in Italy and platinum in France. The song is a hymn to simple love, sealed with ‘a glass of wine and a sandwich’, the epitome of happiness. 

The following year, 1983, once again on the stage of the Festival della Canzone Italiana came Toto Cutugno, who with L’italiano described the customs, vices and virtues of our people and pointed out two great passions: spaghetti al dente and ristretto coffee. Over the decades, the song sold more than a hundred million copies worldwide and has been translated into many languages, including Finnish and Chinese.

In 2007, more recently, the Sanremo Festival stage gave voice to singer-songwriter Daniele Silvestri, who, in a climate of greater self-criticism, with La paranza – a title referring to the typical fried fish eaten all over the Italian coast – depicted a more sadly ironic picture of the news events of the time.

Out of competition but all over the radio, Italy listened to Freak by Samuele Bersani in 1995, an ironic and shrewd singer-songwriter, who in the song asks his interlocutor, ‘Have you ever thought about exporting piadina romagnola?’ A prophetic question, so much so that the Ministry of Agricultural Policies started the procedures to assign the PGI mark of origin precisely to the piadina romagnola in 2014. 

Italian food is loved and not forgotten, even when you must leave Italy: this is the case of a song that is known throughout the world. In fact, That’s Amore, one of the songs that wherever you go represents Italianness, was published in 1954. Sung by Dean Martin, pseudonym of Dino Paolo Martino Crocetti, born in the United States to parents of Italian origin. This is a declaration of devotion to Naples and its irresistible gastronomic specialities, stating that ‘when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore’.

It’s ready, come on!

The Sanremo Festival is televised worldwide every year in February. Streaming is available live and on demand on raiplay.it or the on the relevant app. Here are some typical and tasty recipes to enjoy with Italian auteur songs, to make at home, while singing along, of course:

Bruschetta with Romanesco cauliflower, anchovies and smoked provola cheese
Riso al salto
Garlic, oil, and chilli spaghetti
Veal saltimbocca with mashed potatoes
Tiramisù
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