The Language of Food

by Safiya Woodard

The smell of fresh pasta and garlic drift out the door of La Buca Di Bacco Di Edy as Violetta rushes around the restaurant, setting up for lunch. Her husband is at the front of the restaurant, making pasta, and her son busies himself in the kitchen prepping other foods as her younger daughters play around the restaurant, occasionally mixing their Italian with Spanish.

Fresh food and pasta are widely accepted as part of Italian culture and cuisine, and it’s a tradition that Violetta continues, despite not being born into it. Violetta and her husband are from Ecuador, and moved to Italy 22 years ago during a mass immigration from the then financially struggling country.

She ended up in Italy as a tourist at first, but quickly found a job since she knew both Spanish and English. Living in Italy quickly made her trilingual as she picked up Italian, but as she expanded her language, her self-expression and culture suffered.

“I’m not able to express my culture at all,” she grudgingly admitted through a translator, a mix of anger and sadness flashing through her eyes. While her four kids were born and raised in Italy and have had no problems with being accepted into the small town of Orvieto, people still look at her differently, the stares growing into criticism as many locals see her as a threat to their businesses.

Violetta is often seen outside the restaurant, asking passersby if they would like to eat inside- something seen often in larger cities such as Rome, but not so much in Orvieto. “I don’t think they like my work ethic,” she commented, “since I started in and have been heavily influenced by bigger cities, such as Rome.”

While a hint of sadness lingers in Violetta’s eyes, she can’t help but smile as she thinks about her coworkers, the restaurant owner, and the many tourists and regulars who choose to eat at Buca Di Bacco Di Edy as she cleans a recently vacated table. They just opened the restaurant in October of 2017, but she has already formed a friendly and welcoming atmosphere for the restaurant with even those who are not family feeling as though they are.

Having been to multiple parts of Italy, she prefers Rome over most other places. “Here, Tuscany, and the northern side of Italy are a bit more closed minded than Rome and the southern half.” Not everyone here is the same, she acknowledges, pointing out the man who owned the restaurant as someone who was more open minded and understanding for choosing to seek out and hire her husband Edy, also from Ecuador, because he is a good chef and not discriminating because they were not from bItaly. “It’s mostly just when you’re working that people look at you differently. Any other time you can pass as a tourist and they won’t see you as a threat.”

The small-town atmosphere allows for most everyone to know each other in Orvieto, but the frequency of tourists coming through allows for a more diverse cliental that doesn’t view her so strangely. “It’s hard to be acknowledged by my colleagues and other restaurants, but here, I am surrounded by nothing but good people.”