An Italian chef shares 8 dishes you should never order at an Italian restaurant, and what to try instead

An Italian chef shares 8 dishes you should never order at an Italian restaurant, and what to try instead
Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo
Italian chef Barbara Pollastrini told Insider the dishes she'd never order at an Italian restaurant, including chicken fettuccine Alfredo. Ravsky/Getty Images
  • Chef Barbara Pollastrini wants to help Americans understand "true Italian cuisine."

  • So she gave Insider the scoop on eight dishes you should never order at an Italian restaurant.

  • Shrimp scampi, chicken fettuccine Alfredo, and Caesar salad all made her list.

Chef Barbara Pollastrini wants to help Americans understand "true Italian cuisine."

Italian food
A display of fresh Italian dishes at a restaurant in Rome. Christine Wehrmeier/Getty Images

"For Italians, food is more sacred than the Gospel and the Bible," Pollastrini told Insider.

"Having said that, I would give the Oscar to Americans for their reinterpretation of Italian cuisine," she said. "It is always fascinating — and at the same time horrifying — to see how it is common practice to try to mix or reinvent our recipes. It can be a crime."

So Pollastrini gave Insider the scoop on eight dishes you should never get at an Italian restaurant - and what to try instead.

Rome restaurant menu
A restaurant's menu in Rome. Piola666/Getty Images

"Although I have lived in America for many years, I never get used to seeing some supposedly 'Italian' restaurants presenting some dishes, calling them true Italian cuisine," she said.

So here's Pollastrini's guide on how to order when you want an authentic Italian dinner.

Pollastrini said she would never order shrimp scampi because it has too much garlic.

Shrimp Scampi
Shrimp scampi is a classic Italian-American recipe. Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Shrimp scampi is a classic Italian-American recipe that typically features shrimp and pasta.

But Pollastrini's main issue with the dish is that it usually "has enough garlic to kill every single vampire in the universe."

Pollastrini believes you can keep things simple and still have some delicious shrimp for dinner.

Pollastrini likes her shrimp with extra-virgin olive oil, parsley, and some good white wine. LauriPatterson/Getty Images

"Why not make the shrimp simply poached with extra-virgin olive oil, parsley, good white wine, and salt and pepper?" she said. "I would be more than happy with it just like that."

Authentic Italian cuisine doesn't drown anything in sauce - even breadsticks.

Chef Pollastrini doesn't dunk her breadsticks in marinara sauce. Blurr/Getty Images

That means breadsticks dipped in marinara is a major no-no.

If the bread is well-made, Pollastrini said it only needs "excellent olive oil for a drizzle."

Pollastrini pairs her breadsticks with olive oil. Porosolka/Getty Images

Feel free to add a pinch of salt as well.

Pollastrini said Italians don't serve pasta on the same plate as meat.

Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo
Chef Pollastrini said chicken fettuccine Alfredo is a crime. Ravsky/Getty Images

"Pasta with meat or chicken together on the plate is considered a crime," she said. "Take chicken fettuccine Alfredo, for instance. It's so wrong just to even say it."

Let your pasta shine solo instead.

Pollastrini pairs her Fettuccine with butter and cheese. Eugene Mymrin/Getty Images

Pollastrini recommends pairing your fettuccine with butter and Parmigiano cheese, "which, by the way, is the real Alfredo sauce," she added.

A pasta carbonara made with cream is "the crime of crimes."

Martha Stewart's pasta carbonara
Martha Stewart's version of pasta carbonara with heavy cream. Martha Stewart/Instagram

Pollastrini didn't hold back when she saw Martha Stewart add heavy cream to her version of pasta carbonara.

"In the real carbonara, we use just egg yolk, and absolutely no heavy cream," Pollastrini told Insider at the time. "You are not making an omelet."

Try a traditional carbonara - which has eggs, guanciale, and pecorino Romano cheese - instead.

Michelin-star Carbonara
A traditional carbonara will never have heavy cream. Kieran E. Scott/The Recipe

"If they don't offer the real version without butter and cream, don't order it," Pollastrini said. "I'd rather suffer with McDonald's as my punishment for eternity."

Pollastrini also doesn't support chicken parmigiana.

Chicken Parmesan
Chicken parmesan features a breaded chicken cutlet and tomato sauce. LauriPatterson/Getty Images

Chicken parmigiana — also known as chicken parmesan — is an Italian-American dish that features breaded chicken cutlets, tomato sauce, and melted cheese on top. But Pollastrini isn't a fan.

"It's just a version of eggplant parmigiana made with a chicken cutlet," she said.

Instead, simply pair your breaded chicken with a squeeze of lemon.

Chicken Cutlet
Pollastrini likes to keep her breaded chicken simple. sanjagrujic/Getty Images

"Be sure to say, 'no sauce, no mozzarella, and definitely no pasta,'" Pollastrini added.

And Caesar salad? Pollastrini said it's become an Italian-American cliché.

Caesar Salad
Chef Pollastrini said you'd never find Caesar salad in an authentic Italian restaurant. Fudio/Getty Images

"The Caesar salad has nothing to do with Julius Caesar or Rome," Pollastrini added. "We'd never serve mayonnaise on lettuce in Italy. The Caesar salad was originally made in Mexico by an Italian immigrant who lived in Tijuana."

Try a nice arugula salad instead.

Arugula Salad
Pollastrini pairs her arugula salad with lemon and olive oil. Burcu Atalay Tankut/Getty Images

Pollastrini would keep it simple with just some lemon and olive oil.

True Italian cuisine, she said, is all about "lightness and flavor."

Italians traditionally enjoy a cappuccino at breakfast. Pollastrini said it should never be sipped on "at the end of lunch or, even worse, dinner."

Cappuccinos are an essential part of a traditional Italian breakfast. Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

"What, for us, is the ritual of the most classic Italian breakfast — a croissant and a cappuccino — for Americans is a drink to be enjoyed after lunch like a coffee," Pollastrini said. "Absolutely no. It would be like ordering a cup of cold milk and cornflakes after a meal."

Order an afternoon pick-me-up the Italian way with just a simple shot of espresso.

A shot of espresso after lunch is more authentic to Italian cuisine than a cappuccino. Burak Karademir/Getty Images

"Or, if you have to do it the American way, black coffee," Pollastrini added.

And whatever you do, don't cover your pizza with loads of parmesan.

Pizza with parmesan cheese
Chef Pollastrini said Italians don't use a ton of parmesan to season their pizzas. SimpleImages/Getty Images

"We don't dump a ton of parmesan onto pizza as seasoning," Pollastrini said.

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