You Probably Won't Find Mozzarella Sticks In Italy

If there's one thing Italy is famous for the world over it would have to be its food. The country has a range of cuisines from the northern Alps to sunny southern Sicily. There's bolognese from Bologna, Risotto alla Milanese from Milan, and Pizza Napoletana from Naples, to name a few.

One dish you probably won't find in Italy? Mozzarella sticks. These, along with dishes like chicken parmesan and spaghetti and meatballs, are American creations. A lot of what we think of as Italian food is in fact Italian-American, and outside of super touristy spots like Rome and Florence, you'd be hard-pressed to find them anywhere in Italy.

That isn't to say there aren't close cousins of Italian-American dishes over in Italy. Mozzarella sticks started showing up on American menus in the 1970s, according to The New York Times, and are likely the Americanized version of the Italian dish Mozzarella en Carrozza, or literally Mozzarella in a Carriage, because when pulled apart the strands of melty cheese resemble the reins of a horse carriage.

Mozzarella en Carrozza's origins are a bit murky, but San Pellegrino's website says that thrifty housewives in Southern Italy would put leftover cheese between pieces of stale bread, dip it in egg and breadcrumbs, and then fry them. Since the majority of Italians who came to America in the 1800 and 1900s came from Southern Italy, it's likely that Mozzarella en Carrozza came with them and became the modern-day mozzarella stick.

Italian-American vs. Italian food

There has long been a push and pull between Italian-American food and Italian food. Even the host of CNN's "Searching for Italy," Stanley Tucci, has expressed frustrations with Italian-American food, and for some Italians, it can be maddening how much is lost in translation when an Italian dish makes the journey to America. Television host and restaurateur Francesco Panella told Eat This, Not That! that the Italian-American dish Chicken Parmesan is based on the Italian dish La Parmigiana, which is made with eggplant, fresh tomato sauce, and cheese.

Perhaps it's best to think of Italian-American and Italian cuisines as being in conversation with each other, rather than mirror images. After all, Italian-American food is just as delicious, and you can find some of the best of it at any of these Italian restaurants across the U.S. And what would pasta night at home be without some garlic bread, even though it isn't really served in Italy?

While you might not be able to find a nice basket of piping hot mozzarella sticks on your dream trip to Positano, they'll definitely be waiting for you when you return home to America. In the meantime take this list of 39 Unique Italian Foods You Need to Try Before You Die with you on your Italian vacation and trust that, mozzarella sticks or no mozzarella sticks, you'll still eat incredibly well.