Moving to Italy I knew there would be some things I would miss. Like speaking English. Then there is sushi. Or should I say my sushi habit. For nearly 20 years sushi and a glass of white wine were my monthly treat. Between COVID lockdowns, moving to Italy and my current location in the Italian Alps, I won’t be pulling chop sticks apart anytime soon.
While I find myself gleefully sharing many stories of moving to Italy, this one is about letting go. Moving to a new country means letting go of old routines, habits and comforts like foods. After posting a “Now craving sushi and dill pickles” comment to a ‘Living in Italy’ Facebook group, over 150 expats weighted in almost instantly.
13 Foods American Expats Miss in Italy
Expats shared tales of crying when friends brought or shipped them Reeses and not having “good Mexican food for 20 years!” An expat from Finland professed cravings for reindeer. The list below includes the top 26 foods myself and my fellow American expats living in Italy miss. Little guilty pleasures to be craved forever more.
Yes, you can find sushi in Italy. Apparently, the best sushi restaurant in Torino is walking distance from my in-laws home so there is hope! However, sushi is not in the small mountain town of Bardonecchia where I’ve spent most of my time these first few months in Italy. Neither are dill pickles.
You know the ones. Those really good dill pickles that snap when you bite into them. Not the bread and butter pickles. Sorry but those are gross! No, I miss the classic summertime treat with dill and a hint of garlic. I even miss making that sour pickle face.
Italians do pickle foods, but the style is different. Agrodolce (or sweet water) is an Italian pickling method that uses vinegar and sugar. It’s sour, but also weirdly sweet. For Americans craving dill pickles agrodolce simply will not do.
Clothbound Cheddar Cheese
Asiago, Fontina, Gorgonzola, Mascarpone, Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino di Pienza, La Tur, Caciocavallo, Robiola! Cheese is part of the reason to move to Italy and yet, high quality cheddar is not that easy to find. Seriously, when you come visit me in Italy, will you please bring a clothbound cheddar cheese?
While “Mexican food” is a very broad category it was mentioned by my fellow American expats time and time again. So much so that everyone started sharing tips on growing cilantro and where to find ingredients from tortillas to believe it or not Old El Paso. You could make fun of America’s “Mexican food” but that would make enjoying Margaritas as big as your head or endless basket of nachos hypocritical. Where’s the fun in that? Legit street taco spots like Little Conejo in Vancouver, Washington (pictured below) are what I miss the most. Carnitas, when will I taste you again?
Bottomless Cups of Coffee
Italians refer to American coffee as ‘dirty sock water.’ Ordering a Caffè Americano in Italy, comes with a side of judgement not a refill. Brunching conversations really do demand a bottomless cup of coffee.
Crunchy Fried Food (Fried Chicken)
Italians do have fried food. Take for example fritto misto. An absolutely delightful mix of fried tidbits often including seafood and vegetables. Light being the operative part of the word. Where Italians use chilled club soda to keep batter light, American recipes call for buttermilk or beer. Our fried foods are crispy to the point of crunchy. Take for example my favorite, fried chicken. It’s salty, juicy and when done right not just crispy, but crunchy. I miss all things crispy and crunchy in American cuisine and you can bet the minutes I have a kitchen, I’m frying up some chicken. Now, if I can just find buttermilk…
Italians have “grigliata” as a cooking style, but that stick-to-your-ribs, have to wipe off your face and lick your fingers Texas-Style Mop, Kansas City, North Carolina Vinegar, South Caroline Mustard Style BBQ is exactly what it sounds like, uniquely American.
IPA Craft Beer
I’m cheating a little, this one’s all mine. Living in Portland, Oregon meant having access to the most creative, diverse and frankly the best craft beer scene in the world (humble brag much!) Italy is slowly changing but most Trattorias or Pizzeria still offer only two or three options. None of which are IPAs. There’s just no hop!
I think I just heard my New York City friends gasp all the way over here! That everything bagel with lox and a schmear is not so easy to pick up on the way to work in Italy. Bagels were mentioned so much by expats that a few hookups at American military base commissaries were shared. Ten-hut bagel craving coming through loud and clear.
White sugar and cane sugar are easy to find but in smaller more rural towns brown sugar is not. Plenty of expats offered up the advice for making brown sugar. Just add molasses to white sugar! Something tells me it’s not that simple. Which brings me to….
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Can’t find them and without brown sugar chocolate chip cookies are just not the same. Have a recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies that doesn’t take brown sugar I’m all ears! Please drop a link in the comments below.
Many expats traded tips on where to find peanut butter while even more shared the idea of making it at home “in a jif!” Alas, I don’t have a kitchen yet or know where in the world my kitchen equipment is. Making peanut butter and my two favorite types of cookies peanut butter and chocolate chip is just going to have to wait.
I’m lumping the rest into a category I’ll call junk food. Other frequently mentioned foods missed by American expats in Italy include:
- Jello. Which ended up in a collective nostalgic sigh for creamy lime jello salad in a fancy jello mold.
- Hershey’s Chocolate
- Reeses cups and or pieces
- Sour Cream
- Sun chips, Doritos and Ding Dongs
- Brach’s candy
- Pancake mix
- Angel food cake
- Asian crackers/snacks/ingredients
- Vanilla for baking
- Baking powder
- Lemon Pepper
- Pumpkin Spice Latte
- Cranberry sauce in the can come Thanksgiving.
- Welch’s grape juice
- Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Even though it’s sold in Italy it’s apparently “not the same”
- Pickled Jalapeños
- Salted butter
- Maple Syrup. Now my Canadian friends are groaning!
- Clothes dryers and ice cubes! The two non food related items American expats just couldn’t help bringing up in our chat. More on that to come later.
I know judge away. These are not healthy foods! That’s the thing about moving to another country. At a certain point you get a little homesick and your old standbys just are not there or easy to find. New habits form and life of course moves on, but those guilty pleasure cravings still pang at the gut.
Many expats living in Milan or similar large Italian cities noted items on the list can be found if “you look hard enough” or “order online” or “have friends ship them from home.” It’s true that larger cities have more options than smaller rural towns in Italy. No surprise there. Local markets represent the population they serve and Paolo and I are pretty sure I’m the only American in Bardonecchia. I’m just grateful I taught myself to make tortillas before leaving America and can order Masa online! Alas, sushi just doesn’t ship.
Ever been an expat? What foods or habits did you end up craving?