Matt and Jian’s English class 2: Let’s go and eat in Tuscany, Italy

—Ninmen Hao!

Welcome to our second English language class. Last week we talked about Steve’s Food Blog, and the street food he wrote about. Steve like the pad thai in Thailand, the satay in Indonesia and the burrito in Mexico.

Rural Tuscany, Italy.

First, we will read a little about the some of the food of Tuscany, and I will explain some of the word and phrases. Then we will a break for 20 minutes.  Then a little more reading and explanation and some group discussion. 

Let’s have a look at this map of Tuscany:


tuscany provinces map
Florence is west  (xi) of the town of Pisa, famous for its leaning tower, and north-east (dōngběi) of the island (dǎo) of Elba, where the French Emporer (Fàguó huángdì) Napolean Bonaparte was held. At the very south-west  (dōngnán) of Tuscany is the island of Montecristo, famous for the 19th-century novel (xiǎoshuō) The Count of Montecristo by Alexander Dumas


The food of Tuscany


Like China, Italy is a country with a great food culture whose history stretches back over thousands of years. Italian food is also similar to Chinese food in the way that each region has its own specialties (tèchǎn).

In Tuscany, these include “gelato” (a kind of ice cream (bīngqílín) originally invented (fāmíng) in the 16th century), pecorino (a kind of cheese [qǐ sī]), Brunello wines (a kind of hóng pútáojiǔ), and beef steak (niúpái). Many towns (chéngshì) within the region have their own famous local (běndì) foods. For example, the town of Prato has the “biscotti di Prato” (the biscuits (bǐnggān) of Prato), and the “mortadella di Prato” (a kind of sà lā mǐ made from pork [zhūròu]).

tuscan gelato

These foods are made from locally grown produce (dāngdì chūchǎn de nóngchǎnpǐn). The cheese and ice cream come from local Tuscan dairies (niu nai chang), the beef (niúròu) for the steak and the pork for the mortadella comes from cattle (huángniú) and pigs (zhū) raised on local farms (nóngchǎng), and the wine comes from the red grapes (hóng pútáo) of the Tuscan vineyards (pútáo yuán).

brunello grapes

Some of the ways of making these specialties have continued since the Middle Ages (Zhōngshìjì). Brunello wines have been grown (zhòngzhí) Tuscan vineyards since the 14th century.  The process (guòchéng) of distilling (zhēngliú) the wine often takes ten years or more. Because it takes so long to make, and the wine tastes very good, it is expensive (guì).

Gelato was said to have been invented in the 16th century.  The recipe for mortadella di Prato is also very old. It made with traditional ingredients (pèiliào), including the spices (xiāngliào) cinnamon (ròuguì),  nutmeg (ròu dòukòu), cloves (dīngxiāng), salt (yán) and pepper (hújiāo), the herb (cǎoyào) coriander (xiāngcài), and a splash (fēijiàn) of Alchermes liqueur (a sweet wine from Florence that is often used in sweets [táng] and cakes [dàngāo]).

prato mortadello shop

These kinds of time-consuming (hào shí de) ancient techniques (jìshù) are highly valued (gāodù pingjia) in Italy’s “slow food” (màn shí) culture, which was founded in 1986 by Arcigola, a group united by the desire to stop fast food (kuàicān) culture, like McDonald’s, and instead reconnect the local farmer (nónghù) to the local table (zhuōzi), thus preserving the sweet life — “La Dolce Vita” — the traditional lifestyles (chuántǒng de shēnghuó fāngshì) and culture of the Italian people (Yìdàlì rén).

Like Chinese food, the time and the way to eat something can be as important as the way it is made. For example, Biscotti di Prato is a dessert (diǎnxīn, also a xiao chi, but for the home, not the street), which should be eaten in the afternoon (xiàwǔ) or evening (wǎnjiān), preferably with a small glass (xiǎo bēi) of the sweet (tián) Tuscan “vin santo” (“holy wine”, shèng jiǔ , in which you should dip (zhàn) the biscuit.

biscotti di prato e vino2

Some questions about Tuscan and other Italian food.

  1. What are some of the famous Tuscan foods?
  2. What is special about the Tuscan foods described?
  3. What is slow food? Which of the Tuscan foods above are slow foods? Are there Chinese slow foods? What are they? How are they made?
  4. What are your favourite Italian foods? Tell us something about them, why you like them, where you have eaten them.

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