Stanley Tucci Weighs In On The Mystery Of Italy's Many Food Rules

Stanley Tucci knows a thing or two about Italian food — and about Italy and Italians, too, for that matter. Tucci was born and raised in Westchester County, New York by parents who had emigrated from the southern Italian region of Calabria. Tucci grew up eating his mother's incredible cooking and acquired, quite naturally, a great appreciation for taste, and deep and abiding (even obsessive) love for good food (via The Atlantic). He has famously remarked that food "is the first and the last thing I think about each day." (via YouTube).

Tucci's food show "Searching for Italy," which debuted on CNN in 2021, has given him numerous occasions to eat Italian food and reflect on both how it's made and how it's eaten. 

Italians are famous for having a lot of rules when it comes to food and eating (per Foodellers). The most famous tend to be familiar to people who eat Italian food around Italians: Don't put Parmesan cheese on fish-based dishes; never break your spaghetti before you put it in the pot; no putting milk in your after-dinner coffee ... the list goes on (via Eat Like An Italian).  

In a 2022 Waterstones interview about his memoir, "Taste," Tucci was told that a recipe he'd shared with the site for spaghetti aglio e olio had been viewed a million times but that some had been shocked and appalled by his adding olive oil to the pasta water. His interviewer jokingly told him that his action was, apparently, "a cardinal sin."

A cardinal sin in whose food religion?

Tucci didn't bat an eye, and explained, "It's a cardinal sin for some people and for others it isn't. It's that simple." He went on to compare it to religious practices, noting, that for "some religions, blah blah blah is a sin, and in other religions, it isn't," suggesting that it's the same for Italians with food rules: The level of importance is high, but the food practices vary widely — and so, too, do the food rules (via YouTube).

Tucci acknowledged that the difference could be attributed in part to Italy's famous regional differences (per More Time to Travel), but insisted that it goes much further than that, claiming that it's "province by province, town by town, street by street, house by house ... you can go to somebody's restaurant or house and say, 'Oh this is wonderful, you put parsley in there;' they go, 'Yes yes' and you go, 'Do you put blah blah?'... [and they say, acting shocked] 'No, never. Never, oh, oh, oh, that would be disgusting.'" 

Clearly, some serious food rules would be trespassed by adding blah blah blah.

Food rules: Can't live with 'em; can't live without 'em

But Tucci went on to show why it's so idiosyncratic, adding that then, "You go down the street to some other guy's house or another restaurant, you say 'Do you put blah blah blah ... ?' [And the response is] 'Absolutely, you can't have it without it.'" 

A food rule in one house is turned on its head in another! So who's right? Tucci summed it up neatly, saying, "And you think 'You're crazy! Like you're crazy people.' The entire country is crazy!" Tucci has seen enough of Italian food rules to know that they don't quite make sense (and there is evidence that they may really be changing, too, per Forbes).

Nevertheless, once you know the rules, it's hard to put them behind you (per Eat Like An Italian). Watching people rinse their pasta after cooking it or adding pineapple to pizza can be highly triggering to those raised in certain households (via The Local and Huffington Post).  Recognizing that this is his own heritage, too, Tucci continued, "But that was the way I was brought up ... and I'm the same way, and I find myself doing it."

You can take the boy out of Italy, but you can't take the Italy out of the boy.