Unleash the Italians

A riveting tale of pizza and globalization

Is there such a thing as too much cheese? Miro, Milana and I are loving it

I’ve been in Chicago almost two weeks now, so it’s safe to say I’ve eaten at least 60–70 meals here (don’t judge).

I’m here on a professional fellows exchange, along with 14 other fellows from the Balkans that were brought in by World Chicago. Our mission is to experience and participate in the entrepreneurial and tech ecosystems here, gain new skills and knowledge and apply those in our home countries on various projects.

The reality isn’t quite so rigid, though. We have all the time after hours to explore, attend events, enjoy and learn about Chicago, which means (for me at least) that our free time is dedicated to a single goal.

Eating.

Chicago deep-dish pizza, as photographed by Rok Koželj

I like food. It fills me with joy and flavour, and I love seeing how different countries have different meals and different styles of cooking. However, my love of food has been greatly impacted by the years I spent in Lugano, a city in the Italian part of Switzerland.

How has that impacted me? One-word answer: Italians.

I have a friend called Emma. She’s as Italian as they come, a picture-perfect pasta-loving Vicenzian (Vicenzan? Venettoina? Person from Vicenza?) with some very firm ideas on what her food should be like. It’s not that she’s a food snob — she just dislikes others dismembering things she considers her heritage and turning them into something else while still calling them by the original name.

She’s already taken the time out of her busy days to call me out on my carbonara (NOT to be made with fusilli pasta) and my coffee (I cooked it wrong and ended up filtering out the coffee from the water, ending up with hot water that sorta smelled like coffee). The first one was my fault, I’ll admit it; we’re not pasta-oriented in Bosnia, and I had no spaghetti in the house. The second was just pure idiocy on my part, as I had only ever made coffee Turkish-style, which means leaving the grinds in. Also, I’ve never used a French press.

Definitely NOT carbonara, experts agree

Emma and I met in Switzerland. We were a part of a very diverse group of friends, but that didn’t stop us from holding on to our core values. In my case, that meant never giving up meat. In Emma’s case, that meant staying stylish and careful when it comes to both fashion and food.

For someone who is as detail-oriented as Emma, Chicago must be murder on the senses. I’m yet to try any meal that isn’t some sort of fusion. Publishing a photo of a deep-dish pizza on Facebook will bring you comments ranging from “omg, looks yummy” to “you call that pizza? That’s a pastry-bowl of sauce”.

Well, why can’t it be both?

I’m sorry, Emma. I love you and I would never dream of disagreeing with you on some things (you got all the style in our relationship), but I actually LIKE the deep dish. It’s cheesy. It’s filling. It makes me slurp sauce like it was soup.

(I can feel you being angry with me all the way from London and I just want to say that I still love real pizza, too, and I don’t count deep dish as pizza but rather as pizza-inspired.)

Emma and me, way back when we were living together and she was my guru

For all of you reading this blog, I want you to know that your pizza preferences are your own. I don’t care if you’re Neapolitan, Chicago, New York, Milanese, lactose-intolerant — as long as you don’t put friggin’ pineapples on it, we’re good.