Some of you may be wondering: what exactly do I mean when we talk about ‘authentic’ Italian food? The question would never even occur, I don’t think, to most native Italians. Notions of authenticity or, as the Italians are apt to call it, genuinità, have cult-like status in Italy. The notion may be hard to define precisely but, to paraphrase Justice Stewart, they know it when they taste it. Some people may find the concept hard to understand or even difficult to accept, so let me try to explain as best I can—and perhaps others will want to chime in.
A good place to start, it seems to me, is by identifying what we mean when we talk about Italian food. After some thought about the subject, I have identified a number of distinct types of cooking that, rightly or wrongly, go by the name ‘Italian’:
Post Scriptum: A reader has written in pointing out that the city of Palermo (in Sicily) is mislabeled as Messina in the map above. Please take note. But I still like this map, as it clearly outlines the various regions and Italy and groups them by color into northern, central and southern, which defines the three broad ‘schools’ of Italian cooking.