Why You're Unlikely To Find Chicken Parmesan In Italy

When you think of Italian food, a few images may come to mind. You might envision a romantic dinner sharing a plate of spaghetti and meatballs à la "Lady and the Tramp." Perhaps you picture music playing softly in the background as you sip on red wine and stick your fork into a hearty lasagna. Or maybe you imagine yourself eating a pizza covered in tomatoes and globs of mozzarella. Thinking of these images may be comforting if you love Italian dishes. However, what many of us consider to be traditional Italian food may not actually be authentic to the beautiful country. 

You just might be surprised to learn that some of your favorite meals probably aren't available in Italian eateries. In an interview with Los Angeles Times, cookbook author Katie Parla revealed that foods like spaghetti and meatballs and chicken Parmesan aren't typically consumed in Italy. "People have perfect ideas about what Italian food is...like chicken Parm, which doesn't exist in Italy but is completely married to a concept of Italian cooking here," Parla said.

Fortunately, there are some delicious Italian staples that we might not be accustomed to eating in America but are just as delicious all the same. In Parla's cookbook, "Food of the Italian South," she focuses on regional foods based in southern Italy (think: Capri, Sicily, and Naples). The book outlines dishes such as pan-fried anchovies, carrati pasta, and bread dumplings as specific dishes akin to Italy but not on the menus at Italian-American restaurants. 

Chicken parmesan isn't authentic Italian food

Although chicken Parmesan is unlikely to be on the menu in certain parts of Italy, Parla suggests you'll have no trouble finding the dish that may have inspired it: eggplant Parmesan. Eggplant Parmesan features fried eggplant with tomato sauce and cheese. Pasta sauce manufacturer Paesana suggests that chicken Parmesan came into popularity during the Italian diaspora when proteins, like chicken, were more readily available. As a result, Italian-Americans swapped eggplant for chicken, partly because of its accessibility and high ratio of protein.

Spaghetti and meatballs is another delicious meal we happily twirl and slurp, but, like chicken Parm, it isn't considered authentic Italian food, specifically the way we eat the pasta and the rounded balls together. 

"There's a specific order," Parla told Los Angeles Times. "You get your spaghetti and then when the spaghetti is gone, you get a meatball or two or three depending on the meatball size. It arrives unadorned, no garnish on the plate and that's it. It's your main dish."

In your vision of Italian weeknight dinners, it's probably hard to see yourself eating spaghetti separately from its meaty companion. Much like it's hard for us to picture giving up the fried chicken cutlet, tomato sauce, and cheese combination we've come to love in chicken Parm, all because it isn't considered authentic. In this case, sometimes it's okay if it's not the "real" thing, as long as it makes you genuinely happy — and satisfied!