Another cook asked me “Yo! Which is better Italian cuisine or French cuisine”
I said “Why?”
Well, I thought that you just knew the answer, man!
Then I chuckled. I chuckled not because I knew the answer, but because he gave me something worth writing here…
So going back to his question, who’s better?
Let’s understand the history first.
Everyone knows that Europe is home to probably some of the best and popularly known cuisine in the world.
Which is Italian and French.
And for some years, people have been comparing these two, arguing which is better or how to distinguish one from the other.
Actually, this is difficult to answer as satisfactory taste is relevant but there are some facts that can be laid out to address the confusion in terms of history, cooking style, and most importantly health benefits.
History: How To Tell If Food is Italian or French
When people talk about the food, they say that when they think of bread and cheese, they think French.
And when it is pasta and pizza, it is Italian.
That is true.
What I can say about these foods is that they are highly seasonal and regional. Both cuisine (French and Italian) maximize on what is available around them.
Italians loved using fresh and simple produce and less processed food. This means that their dishes have high emphasis on vegetables and meat or fish that are cooked simple and fast.
Italians focus more on the ingredients rather than the preparation.
This is because they wanted to bring out the food’s natural flavors. People also claim that Italian food was intended for the home.
You don’t need much expertise in cooking to produce Italian cuisine. You only need fresh ingredients and put them together. You don’t have to be exact and precise for it is very easy to prepare.
Italian foods are also highly specialized that the Italian government regulated them so specific producers focus on the type of food or raw ingredients they basically raise or manufacture.
This way, each region maintains characteristics of food special on their area.
There are also large rice fields in Italy, and this is the main compelling reason why they can produce pasta in both fresh and dried.
As for desserts, they have their specialty, the gelati.
Meanwhile, French cuisine was popular as haute cuisine or grand cuisine. Their dishes are more elaborate and require more complicated preparations.
In fact, cooking shows on French cuisine are usually hosted by professional chefs from Michelin star rated restaurants.
This is because French food was created for restaurants and to impress royal bloods back centuries ago.
But now, it has evolved to become a celebration of flavors and more of a food experience.
French cuisine has four types;
- the classical, which are foods with cream-based sauces,
- the haute cuisines, these are food with grand presentation,
- the nouvelle cuisine, this is their type of cooking that favored smaller food portions and simpler ways of cooking,
- the cuisine du terroir, cooking that focuses on regional specialties.
French food mix ingredients together then glaze food or use a lot of sauces for finale. They love butter and cheese, actually they produce varying types of cheese, in fact hundreds of them.
Butter, oregano, and fats are used a lot in their cooking.
Their staples include potatoes, rice, and crepes. They also love honey. They boil vegetables in honey or sugar. They also produce a mixture of flavors like the sweet-sour dishes.
French are also known for their cured meats and sausages. This cuisine also has their patisserie to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth.
In short, you have to be good and experienced so you end up with eye pleasing and satisfactory results.
And so you have the patience for laborious work. All this grand sauces and spices was an attempt to mask out poor qualities of raw ingredients.
Therefore, cooking a French meal at home is difficult.
Some dishes require laborious preparations and their outputs are really creative. They focus more on their techniques rather than ingredients.
Cooking Style: Italian Cooking and French Food Preparation
For Italians, meals are a social event so they try to make the best out of it.
They have larger servings and take too long to finish. Sometimes, they prepare four courses but in daily meals they may end up with just two: the primo and then the single course.
- Battuto – This is the first step when they make a sauce. They combine salt, pancetta, bacon, garlic and onions.
- Trito – This is the fusion of pork, onions, garlic, parsley and carrots.
- Crudo – These are finely minced vegetables and fresh herbs mixed with food right before they are served.
- Al Dente – Preparation that retains any food’s crisp, particularly pasta and vegetables.
- Risotto- A dish and a preparation made from short grain rice.
- Polenta – This is a cornmeal cooked using water and stock and was only introduced to Italy in the1500s.
Meanwhile here are the meals commonly served:
- Antipasto – hot or cold appetizer
- Primo – the filling dish that is the main source of carbohydrates
- Secondo – this is the main dish, can be meat or fish
- Dolce – these are the desserts
- Caffe – coffee. They love coffee and they get darker as you move farther to the south
- Digestivi – or liquor. Italians love wine.
When it comes to drinks, they are known to love three types:
- Espresso. That is coffee roasted medium to medium dark.
- Beer, but it is not as widespread as their more famous for which is
- Wine. Italy is both the largest exporter and consumer of wine in the world.
If Italian food is cook simpler and faster, French food requires more techniques.
But French food is less in amount compared to Italian.
They have breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
For breakfast they usually serve bread, butter, or jam. Lunch is a two hour occasion and for dinner, they serve three courses: the appetizer, main course, and then cheese or dessert.
For bread they usually serve a baguette and drinks either wine or water.
When they do serve meat, it always comes with vegetables. Unlike other cultures, French people don’t snack a lot but when they do they choose fresh fruits.
Here are 5 of the basic French cooking techniques:
- Braising – This involves dry moist heat. Food is seared in very high heat.
- Flambeing – Done towards the end of cooking to add intense flavour. Known as setting on fire.
- Grilling – One of the easiest techniques of using dry heat from below food.
- Poaching – This means cooking food in liquid slowly.
- Sauté – This is to quickly cook food in high heat.
Also French cuisine involves creative plating.
This could be traced to this cuisine being served to royals back in the middle ages and one of the intentions is to impress the eyes.
Health Benefits: The French Paradox and The Italian Health Conscious
What could be stunning to most of us is that no matter how much foods from these cuisines are delicious, most of the people consuming them – are healthy.
Studies were conducted and these what they found out:
First, Italian food makes use of fresh ingredients. They put emphasis on freshly picked vegetables and fresh meat and fish.
Italians do not consume processed food. Experts found that Italian food are high in nutrient content because their food are cooked simple and fast. This means that heat sensitive nutrients are kept.
Hence, their food are high in Vitamins C, A, and E as well as Omega 3 and fatty acids. This is due to the staples on their table which are tomatoes and olive oil.
Their diet is also rich in fiber since they also love bread. What is also notable is that Italian foods are served in control portions and since meals are considered a social event, Italians consume food real slowly. This allows the brain to signal to the body that it is already full so, the body does not consume more than it needs.
On the other hand, there is also The French Paradox. This is the incidence of low coronary disease in France even when they consume food high in fats.
In fact, French cooking makes use of a lot of fat in cooking. They either use butter or animal fat and that depends on the place the food is being prepared. French food also has high concentrations of sugar.
Upon research, it was found out that even if French cuisine is marked with high levels of cholesterol and finished with strong liquor, they eat food in smaller proportions.
After several comparisons, French servings of food are at an average 50% less in size compared to food served elsewhere, therefore, they consume lesser calories.
Aside from this, the French people are not a fan of processed food. They are into home cooking and they prefer natural, fresh food, and ingredients.
In addition, the staples in French cuisine are also found to have high concentrations of essential nutrients.
For example the red wine which is found to lessen the risk of coronary disease, reduce risk of kidney stone development, and was also found to expel the harmful effects of smoking.
They also do not drink sodas too much.
A study found that annually, French people drink an average of 36.2 Liters of soda compared to American counterparts who at average drinks around 216 Liters in a year.
Conclusion: Which to choose?
Considering that both of these cuisines are the food you would be craving for anytime, you would want meals than can be prepare at home with less effort especially without much needed expertise.
So let’s say, I’m a home cook without formal training, I would be preparing more Italian than French.
Because French cuisine takes a lot of steps, effort and expertise before completing a certain dish. Let alone the plating.
French foods are like real life food portraits and it takes tons of creativity.
If you’re a beginner, Italian cuisine preparation is a great way to start building your confidence in cooking. The cooking technique is pretty simple. An Italian chef once quoted that if you have fresh tomatoes in your backyard and a bottle of pure virgin oil, chances are bruschetta will turn out nice.
It’s a matter of angle which discipline of cooking are you going to choose. If you want to further learn the detailed approach of cooking technique – learn french cuisine.
But whatever type of cuisine you want to cook – these two are really different from what they seem.
I would fairly say that no cuisine is above over the other.
The only one thing that makes French and Italian cuisine similar, is the Love and Passion given by the cook on that certain dish.
And those 2 ingredients are the most important thing.
Capatti, A. et al., (2003). Italian Cuisine: a Cultural History. New York: Columbia University Press.
Photo Credit: Marlon E