Atlanta embraces authentic Italian culture and traditions

By PAULA FERNANDES

Atlanta flourishes with Italian businesses and events that bring the most authentic Italian experience to residents and to Italian immigrants that have adopted Atlanta as their new home.

In the last few years, Atlanta has seen an invasion of Italian cultural expressions such as pizzerias, Italian ice cream shops, Italian markets and Italian-related events that promise to bring what is the most authentic and trendy in Italy. What has happened in Atlanta is an “Italian renaissance,” or people getting immersed in Italian culture and learning to make distinction between what is truly Italian and what is Italian-American.

“There seems to be an appreciation here of the authentic Italian culture from Americans,” said Peter Gaudio, an Italian born account executive of the Italian import and export freight forwarding company Savino del Bene. He added, “It is important to the Italians in Atlanta as well to find authentic Italian businesses and restaurants and we encourage each other to promote that authenticity.”

The “Italian renaissance” phenomenon is happening because many Italians have adopted Atlanta as their new home this way contributing to the establishment of an original and updated Italian culture. The reason why Italians chose Atlanta might be connected to the already existing and growing Italian community in the city, to the existence of an Italian Consulate General in Atlanta, the warm weather and the economical opportunities the city has to offer.

Gaudio said that Atlanta was chosen because his company, Salvino de Bene, relocated him from Florence to Atlanta. They offered a position and after doing research about the city, Gaudio was excited about the opportunity.

“I truly enjoy living in the United States and have a great appreciation for the American culture; however, there are times when I definitely miss home,” Gaudio said. “There are some places in Atlanta that have become a home away from home for me. That’s a nice feeling to have.”

Italians are known for being attached to their cultural roots and to legitimize their culture through food and arts. In Italy, each region has a traditional food that is not made anywhere else in Italy, which that tells the story and is part of the identity of the people of a specific region.

“Italians bring their food traditions everywhere they go,” said Tiziano Testoni, an Italian born project manager at the Italian credit bureau CRIF. He also said, “An Italian out of Italy survives only if there is good Italian food and wine on the table. If an Italian doesn’t find good food, he will bring his ingredients from Italy and cook it himself.”

Many immigrants open restaurants, markets and shops so they can feel closer to home and reduce homesickness. The Italian immigrants in Atlanta are doing slightly the same, however, what has distinguished them from others is that they decided to bet on selling the same authentic food they are used to eat in their own cucina, Italian for kitchen, instead of drastically adapting the recipes to the American taste. This formula has worked and authenticity has become trendy. The preservation of Italian traditions is the key ingredient that has made not only expatriates, but also American’s interest about Italian culture.

Atlanta counts on a variety of restaurants that offer a truly Italian dinning experience including restaurants Antica Posta, Sotto Sotto, and Baraonda. But, Italian pizzerias are the Italian food business that has become more popular. The acclaimed traditional Italian pizzerias in Atlanta including Antico Pizza Napoletana, Sapori di Napoli, Fritti, Varazano’s Pizzeria, Baraonda, and Varuni-Napoli, have gained the hearts of Italians and not Italians.

“I’ve worked and lived in many countries for many years,” Testoni said. “Atlanta is the first city out of Italy that I have lived where I can eat pizza and pasta with the same quality and characteristic of the pizza I eat in my home country.”

What the most famous pizzerias in Atlanta have that distinguishes them from an American pizza place are the use of fresh ingredients imported from Italy and the Italian certification of traditional Neapolitan pizza making.

“My company imports everything from Italy, from pizza brick ovens to olive oil and tomato sauce,” Gaudio said.

The pizzaiolo, an Italian word for pizza maker, in most of authentic Italian pizzerias have been trained to receive the Vera Pizza Napoletana Certification. The VPN is an international nonprofit organization found in the mid 1980s by a group of Neapolitan pizza makers that seek to cultivate the tradition of making Neapolitan pizza through strict requirements.

“If you want to call the pizza that you are serving Italian, it has to follow the Italian tradition, otherwise, call it something else other than Italian pizza,” Testoni said. “There is a need to preserve Italian food traditions, otherwise, our culture will be lost and people will keep thinking that what they are eating is Italian food when actually what they are eating is not even known in Italy. We are proud of our food.”

An important entrepreneur in the Atlanta Italian scene is, founder of one of the first authentic Italian pizzerias in town, Antico Pizza Napoletana, located on the west of Atlanta. Di Palma has expanded his business along Hemphill Avenue by founding the first Atlanta’s Italian neighborhood called Quartiere, an Italian word for neighborhood.

The first Italian neighborhood consists of an area around Hemphill and Ethel Street, where Di Palma recently annexed to Antico the coffee shop Caffe Gio, the restaurant Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano and the Italian market Bottega Luisa. An Italian style bar called Bar Amalfi is opening soon. The Quartiere is becoming a must go for residents, visitors and Italians in town where enthusiasts and homesick Italian can meet up and enjoy what the best and most authentic Italy has to offer.

Di Palma restaurant complex brings back the feelings of an authentic Italian piazza, Italian word for town square, with tables outside where people can have a drink, eat pizza, and also shop for Italian products. The Italian piazza founded by Di Palma & Son Co. is named Piazza San Gennaro.

Italian cultural expressions have also become part of the Atlanta calendar of events. Atlanta has been hosting the Cinema Italy Italian Film Festival for eight years. The festival, which is sponsored by Ciancia Italian Conversation Club, Plaza Theatre and the Consulate General of Italy in Miami, shows eight awarded Italian made movies in the Festival. The Italian Film Festival this year happened from April 24 to April 27, 2014 at the Plaza Theatre in Atlanta.

Among the many Italian cultural groups that promote Italian language and culture in Atlanta, Ciancia is one of the largest of the Southeast. Ciancia Italian Conversation Club is a nonprofit organization that was found in 1996, has more than 500 members that gather on a monthly basis for conversation and socializing with other Italian culture enthusiast members.

“When I first moved to Atlanta I was involved in an Italian group called Ciancia,” Gaudio said. “It was always a great time to meet other Italians like myself and see there were not just Italians at these meetings who were excited to learn more about our culture and language. This definitely made me feel more welcomed in this country.”

Atlanta has become a vibrant center for the Italian cultural expression through its authentic Italian food and cultural events that raise the awareness of what Italian tradition truly represents. The “Italian renaissance” has been possible by passionate Italians that have chosen Atlanta as their new home without abandoning their origins and love for Italy. Italian immigrants have attracted other Italians to Atlanta to compose a beautiful display of culture and diversity that has enchanted even the more skeptical. The people of Atlanta have now the opportunity to immerse in the Italian style way of enjoying life without having to leave Atlanta.

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