Nutella … as culture shock

Most people who travel through a wider world will tell you there’s no place like home, even after a couple of weeks deliciously wallowing in foreign food.

That’s no offense to the land you love. On the other hand, we didn’t exactly originate all the best dishes of food in the history of the world. Like most nations, we have borrowed from all the other nations. Most embarrassing of all, though you love your country, you have to admit we didn’t invent pizza.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the Italians invented pizza. Maybe they did and maybe they didn’t. In fact, Greeks have been known to insist they invented the pizza. One day, generations ago, some clever fire-tending Greek woman was toasting the gummy wheat paste she called bread when she had an epiphany and, on a hunch, rubbed a wild tomato on that early dough.

There’s no doubt that more than one nice fire-dough lady in the world tried rubbing tasty stuff on roasting dough. Who is to say that any of several countries didn’t have a similar hunch and do something over a fire with wheat paste and, God knows, whatever else.

It’s pretty much the same process as inventing the wheel. Who did that?

Practically everybody did that, sooner or later.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Moses came down from the mountain and, in addition to a couple of tablets, wearing a big honking smile on his face and bearing a wad of dough cooked with a smear of coagulated goat milk – potentially the first cheese pizza in history.

On the other hand, my money is on the Italians, whether they were truly the very first people in the world to discover pizza. Like all of us on our planet, I have tasted many pizzas. More often than not, the best was an actual Italian pizza made by genuine Italians in the tasty land of Italy.

Something similar could be said of many other great Italian foods. Granted, Italy wasn’t alone in inventing pasta, but Marco Polo did study under Chinese cooks and enlarged upon the long, stringy shapes of that splendid dish.

However, on a sad note, I had always expected everything I tasted in Italy to be worthy of Moses, Marco and me – until that awful day when I took my first gagging taste of Nutella.

Nutella is a sweetened chocolate hazelnut (or filbert) spread, created by an Italian. It’s pretty much the same way you and I would use peanut butter, but, fortunately, peanut butter lacks the excessive overdose of icky sweet chocolate.

(I am compelled at this juncture to admit I may bear Nutella a grudge. My parents, in a weak moment way back when, named me Wilbert. Of course, school mates can’t resist teasing a person with a silly name and the cheap rhyme that can go with it. To this day, I hear the distant voices of cruel classmates singing out, “Wilbert the filbert” and then laughing hysterically).

True, I am aware that some American children do actually ingest Nutella, and apparently the poor little things enjoy it.

But we all have our odd weaknesses. For instance, my own mother loved buttermilk. Even a mother can get hooked on distorted drinks.

I will oppose neither buttermilk nor Nutella. But Nutella seems to be the cause of a tremendous omission from Italian cuisine. It is difficult to find peanut butter in the stores of Italy. If Italian merchants stock it at all, they shove it back in a corner for homesick tourists

I have occasionally heard my fellow super-patriotic Americans glare and ask why a person would visit Italy or France when there is no country on the face of the earth better than America.

Granted, I like Italy only in small gulps, especially on those weird occasions when people around you are actually eating Nutella rather than peanut butter.

We don’t have much available Nutella here in the United States, thank goodness, but we Americans do have a snooty habit of thinking every food, automobile or potential spouse in the world is inferior to the similar gems of our country.

I have to admit, the Italians do have the best pizzas I have ever tasted. But I am concerned: It’s just a matter of time before some crazy Italian chef, drunk on buttermilk, creates a pizza lathered in Nutella.