12 'Italian' Foods No One Eats in Italy
Mama mia! Does America ruin everything? The Italians would say so. Italy is world-famous for its cuisine. From fresh fish to incredible wine, the country has the perfect recipes for delicious food. Nowadays, you can get Italian food all over the globe, but did you know that what you're eating might not be the real deal? Americans, in particular, are guilty of putting major twists on traditional Italian cuisine—and by twists, we mean completely making up our dishes and labeling them "Italian." The worst part? In traditional American fashion, most of these dishes are way heavier, way saltier, and way larger in portion size than traditional Italian food. Italians would never touch this stuff, so why do we? Maybe it's because some of your favorite, beloved "Italian" dishes are on this list.
You've been warned—we're going to break your heart a little. Read on to find out the 12 Italian foods you won't find in Italy! And while you're here, don't miss the 9 'Greek' Foods No One Eats in Greece.
Regardless of the name, Italian sodas have no ties to Italy whatsoever. The sweet and creamy beverage had its first sip in San Francisco in 1925, thanks to creators Rinaldo and Ezilda Torre, who mixed various flavored syrups with soda water. It's been said that the Italian-immigrant couple was fascinated with soda fountains and their rising popularity at the time. Some recipes in the current day also call for a splash of heavy cream or topped with fluffy whipped cream.
For the most part, when Italians aren't sipping on wine and signature cocktails, soda isn't the beverage they regularly pick up. Espresso and cappuccinos are the go-to drinks of Italy, according to Taste Atlas.
If we ranked the best-tasting foods on the planet, garlic bread would make the list. What's not to love about bread that's soaked in butter and topped with garlic and cheese? How about the fact that it's loaded with calories, simple carbs (the kind that spikes your blood pressure), and sodium? And how about the fact that it's not authentic Italian at all?
The closest Italian thing to it is bruschetta, which means thin slices with heaps of fresh tomatoes—but those tasty bites don't look anything like the garlic breadsticks from Olive Garden or frozen packages of garlic bread from the supermarket.
And if you're a garlic bread lover, here's How to Get Rid of Garlic Breath Quickly.
Buttery pasta? Fresh shellfish? What more could you ask for? Well, can't ask for this in Italy because it doesn't exist there. This dish most likely came from the traditional Italian dish, which features langoustines (small lobsters) cooked in olive oil and herbs. America did what we do best (i.e. worst) and swapped out olive oil for butter and added pasta to make the heavily-caloric meal we call shrimp scampi.
A plate of Shrimp Scampi from Olive Garden has 510 calories, which we're guessing come from the whopping 960 milligrams of sodium and 54 grams of carbs. For more meals like this to avoid at restaurants like Olive Garden, check out our list of The #1 Worst Menu Option at 40 Popular Restaurants.
You might feel like we just pulled the rug out from under your feet. Marinara sauce isn't Italian? Nope. The red sauce you've been dumping onto your pasta and pizza is very different from any kind of sauce you'll find on your Eurotrip.
Marinara sauce is tomato-heavy and, while tomatoes are on our list of foods you should eat every day, traditional Italian sauces are light on the tomato and heavy on other ingredients like olive oil and herbs. The result is a lighter dish with a more delicate flavor. If you can bear to part with your beloved marinara sauce, try ordering pasta "al Pomodoro" or spaghetti "alla puttanesca" to go authentic. And don't miss our exclusive report on the 40 Popular Pasta Sauces—Ranked!
Italian wedding soup
This one is a little less traumatizing but enormously humorous because the soup is called Italian wedding soup. Ironically, there's not much that's Italian about it. Yes, it has sausage and pasta, but you won't find this on any menus in The Boot. Plus, most Italian wedding soups are high in simple carbs and sodium. For healthier soup alternatives, check out these 20 Best-Ever Fat Burning Soups.
On the same page as Italian Wedding Soup are "Italian" hoagies or submarines. Whatever you call them, "Italian" sandwiches are easily identifiable as American. These oversized sammies pack piles of meat, cheese, and veggies onto thick-cut bread.
And let's not forget the 450 calories and 1,240 milligrams of sodium found in a six-inch spicy Italian sub at Subway. Whether you're looking for real Italian or not, it's time to say "ciao" to these oversized sandwiches. Instead, try one of these 8 Diet Expert-Approved Orders at Subway.
Ready for one more Italian food phony? "Italian" dressing. This tangy vinaigrette is made from oil, vinegar, herbs, spices, sugar, and more. However, Italians rarely dress their salads—and if they do, they simply splash some olive oil on their greens and veggies.
Pepperoni pizza cannot be ordered in Italy. Well, let us rephrase. You can order pepperoni pizza in Italy, but you won't be brought a pie covered in salami circles. Instead, you'll be served slices topped with bell peppers. Legend has it that when Italians immigrated to America, the word "pepperoni" got lost in translation and started meaning "meat" instead of "veggies."
But beyond the language barrier, you won't find anything in Italy that resembles American pepperoni pizza. And you won't find anything that comes close to our pizza in general. First of all, if you want meat on your pizza, you'll only find pizzas with thinly sliced prosciutto or lean(er) Tuscan sausage. Secondly, Italian pizza has less cheese, less sauce, and thinner crust than American pizza, making it a lighter, healthier dish than our slices. If pizza is one of your favorite supermarket purchases, don't miss these 25 Best and Worst Frozen Pizzas.
Chicken Parmesan is the hero of all comfort food. But you might not take comfort in the fact that this dish is in no way Italian. I know, I know, who can you trust these days? The closest thing to chicken Parmesan in Italy is baked eggplant with Parmesan cheese. Doused with cheese and breadcrumbs, and dumped on pasta, this American chicken dish doesn't make our list of the 53 Best Healthy Chicken Recipes.
Spaghetti and meatballs
No! Not spaghetti and meatballs too?! Unfortunately, it's true. Spaghetti and meatballs were completely contrived by Americans. When most of us think of Italian food, we picture heaping piles of spaghetti, baseball-sized meatballs, and a blizzard of Parmesan cheese on top, but this is simply a fantasy you're more likely to find in Lady and the Tramp. In Italy, meatballs are almost always served alone as an appetizer. And meat, in general, is very rarely mixed into pasta.
For a more authentic version, here's The Single Greatest Way to Make Classic Italian Meatballs.
The only Italy you'll find this creamy, cheesy pasta dish is in Little Italy…of New York. Alfredo sauce is made from cream and Parmesan cheese, but the cream is rarely used in authentic pasta dishes.
Fried? Overly cheesy? Close to no nutritional value? Ok, this one you probably saw coming. Mozzarella sticks are distinctly American. The only link to Italy they have is the use of mozzarella, a cheese that gets its origins in Southern Italy. If you're trying for true Italian food, these are easy ones to give up.
A version of this story was originally published in September 2022. It has been updated to include new information.