It is strange while traveling all over the world, as I have, to see what familiar types of food morph into in other countries. I make it a point to go to Burger King in Istanbul and Kentucky Fried in Cairo. What really amazes me about food as I travel(besides how different Chinese food is in other countries) is how many more vegetables there are in other diets and the size of the portions. Tourist places do huge portions no matter where, just so the tourists feel they are getting their money's worth. But in private homes and in restaurants that cater to locals, the portions are very small compared to American portions.
We are all about the bigger steak, or large portions of chicken, or a bigger and better buffet with as many return trips as possible.
Most places however, despite the four hours it takes to finish a meal in Italy, have much more modest food consumption. WE AUGHT TO TRY IT !
If you clench your hand into a fist, you will be looking at a couple of interesting things about your own body.
First, your fist is the approximate size of your heart.
Second, you are looking at the approximate capacity of your stomach!
In this county, we have a terrible habit of cramming our stomachs full of food and then continuing, no on just one occasion, but as a habit, till our stomachs are stretched to ever greater capacities in order to get that super-sized meal with the two quarter pounders in at lunch time.
I have a terrible habit, as I have no resistance to candy or to Pizza, to cram a half pizza....and I made rather large pizzas....in before I can stop...and even then, I feel like I am cheating myself, because I know I can eat the other half!
You cannot fool me....I know I will eat just as much whether I drink a glass of water before the meal as not.
You have to discipline yourself, and there is no getting around that!
Yes...fill up on vegetables and have less of the higher calorie meats, dairy and starches, but in general, it is best to just eat less!
Just as an experiment, take a two cup measure and fill it at least half to two thirds full with green beans or cauliflower. On top of that put in half a cup of potato...hopefully a low fat choice of preparation....and top it off with no more than 2 ounces of meat...again, make it a low fat preparation and remove every molecule of fat that you can.
Now...if you cannot stand to eat it in such a crammed fashion, deconstruct your meal onto a plate and eat it...slowly...talk, joke, drink water or seltzer....then stop! After a few days of that, which may seem like a great deprivation at first, you will find that your stomach will fill up a lot sooner than it did before. Just doing that will make you lose weight as long as you are not cramming the measure with French Fries!
When you live in Italy, the meal does take forever. Italians tend to congregate together, families are still close in many places, and there is a lot of joking, laughter and gossip going on.
Before the meal comes an aperitivo...a little digestive drink to get you going. an amarro, a sherry, Malvasia di Lipari, if you are from my family's islands, or a Vin Santo.
The first food course will be an appetizer, an antipasto. Often you will get a couple of little scraps of fabulous meat products, a grilled vegetable plate, a few olives or spiced olives, a bean paste with garlic and olive oil perhaps with a couple of small slices of grilled bread.....but just a taste!
For a Primo, there will be pasta. Not a great whopping pile of it, but a little salad plate full or a huge beautiful plate with a little pile in the center, soaked in the meat juices from the main course, a nice tomato sauce, tossed with Caponata(see my recipe blog) or fried eggplant. Sometimes it will just be plain with oil and salt and pepper, or a bit of Parmesan...just a few flakes on top, or basil or other type of pesto(look them up as well, they can vary a great deal) or with flakes of hot pepper and oil.
Next will be the meat course, a Secondo, a thin lightly grilled steak rubbed with garlic, or a few thin slices of a rare T-bone or Porterhouse(Chianina Beef being famous and incomparable), or chicken with mushrooms or truffles scattered on top. You may have had a chicken broth with tiny pastas as an appetizer, and the table will share the plain poached chicken that the broth was made from as a secondo. Perhaps it will be dressed up somehow. Alternatively, your pasta course may have had the sauce from the preparation of the main dish while the meat is served that came out of the sauce for the secondo. Again, these come on a separate plate...and they are small portions in the middle of a beautiful plate with a nice garnish.
Next, or on the side of the main dish, will be a Contorno. This may be a few fried potatoes, a vegetable with balsamic, or with a grating of Parmesan, sweet and sour....but simple in any case.
Next will come Dolci,(sweets) but more often fruit with a beautiful silver knife to peel your peach or pear. Perhaps you will have a poached pear in wine or something...you may also have a salad, fruit and nuts or a selection of all of these at a family meal.
In all these stages of the meal, the portions will be small...You will spread the whole experience out over an entire evening with lots of time between each, and each installment will be high in quality and served beautifully.
We often eat a big meal in half an hour, then we look for a snack late at night to top it off. They solve this problem by spreading the meal out over the entire evening.