Don’t kill my pastasciutta
I always say that in Singapore I usually eat better than in Hong Kong, especially Italian cuisine – not to mention Sardinian cuisine, which is almost absent in Hong Kong. I feel that in Singapore – this is my opinion – the quality of the raw ingredients is better and there is a greater respect for the relevant traditions.
And when I decide to have lunch or dinner in an Italian restaurant rather than choose other offers from around the world, I like to have Italian foods made to Italian recipes, strictly according to our tradition – yes, if I go to an Italian restaurant abroad, strangely enough I want to eat ‘Italian’. Why else? I don’t want to eat ‘fusion’ and I don’t want to eat something that is cooked and prepared to please local people first.
My discourse primarily concerns the pasta. In more than five years in Hong Kong, I can say that I have rarely had a real Italian pastasciutta, but other forms of pasta, usually creamy, usually not al dente, and often a hybrid between pasta asciutta and pasta al brodo, which are the only two categories of pasta admitted in our traditional cuisine. And I can say that my best Italian meal in the close region was not in Hong Kong but in Macau, at the Don Alfonso restaurant in Grand de Lisboa.
I’m not a cooking expert or an expert on recipes, I admit. I can only bring my taste and my practical knowledge of regional cuisines. So, it is difficult for me to explain and to sustain that this kind of pasta is not good, or rather it may be fashionable but it is not so fitting with the Italian tradition. In particular, on the concept of ‘al dente’ I have had fruitless discussions with friends, hosts and guests. How can I explain the right feature? Pasta for me must be ‘dry’ (pasta asciutta, in fact) and correctly al dente, and the sauce must remain on the pasta, without being creamy.
Now, being temporarily in Sardinia, I understand that a dish of pasta is really another thing than those culinary experiences, even in the prestigious restaurants of Hong Kong that are very highly rated. However, I don’t want to speak about Sardinian cuisine, with the risk of being biased and partisan. But have you tasted pasta con le vongole in Puglia, for example? In my personal ranking (and forgetting Sardinia, because of an evident conflict of interest), Puglia is the first region for a buonissimo, a wonderful dish of spaghetti! The second region is Campania and the third one is Sicily. My work at Isotta Fraschini near Bari, at Ponteggi Dalmine in Naples and Matera, and at Italtel near Palermo and Naples gave me a chance to taste extraordinary and unforgettable meals, which I miss so much.
I beg your pardon for my opinionated (and of course questionable and open to criticism) ranking, but sometimes, when eating magical pasta in the south of Italy, the only phrase that comes to mind is ‘divine perfection’. Excellent and simple ingredients, respect for the tradition, and cooked right – with passion, of course, let us not forget.
So, when I decide to spend maybe 60 or 70 euros to get a good Italian dinner in Hong Kong, why can I not get a good dish of spaghetti as in Bari or Naples or Palermo? Or in Catania, Lecce, Taranto, Sorrento, Cagliari, Oristano, Nuoro, etc.? Why do they insist on killing my pastasciutta with creamy sauces and imperfect cooking, and with unlikely ingredients?