If you’re younger than 50, you probably just assume that Italian restaurants have been around in the United States for at least a couple of hundred years. While this type of food has been incredibly popular in the U.S. for decades, it doesn’t have quite the history in this company that you may think.
As immigrants made their way to the U.S. from Italy in the late 1800s, they naturally brought their favorite recipes with them. As they began to settle down in their new home they used cooking as a way to maintain their cultural identity. One of the most famous dishes served in Italian restaurants, chicken tetrazzini, was actually not created until the early 1900s. It was named after Luisa Tetrazzini, a popular opera singer at the time. The muffuletta sandwich, thought by most to be a New Orleans creation, was actually created in Italy, as was the Philly cheese steak sandwich.
Italian restaurants started really taking hold in the U.S. after World War II as GIs returning home from Europe brought with them a love for pizza, which they had never tasted before going overseas. A number of immigrants seized upon this development to open their own eateries, and it only made sense to do so. After all, they had already been making these dishes for years; why not make a business out of it? These enterprising people introduced several other dishes to America, including ravioli, lasagna, sausage and peppers, manicotti, baked ziti, and many others.
The 1950s and 1960s saw an explosion in Italian restaurants across America. Delicatessens offered a wide variety of sandwiches including salami, pepperoni, mozzarella, provolone, capocollo, mortadella, and minestrone. Chicken cacciatore, shrimp scampi, eggplant parmigiana, fettuccini Alfredo, and fried calamari became some of the best-loved dishes in the country. Calzones and strombolis also became extremely popular as well. And pizza, of course, continued to explode in popularity.
In the 1990s there was a new wave of dishes introduced by Italian restaurants throughout the country. These included grana padano, pecorino Romano, ciabatta, crostini, bruschetta, focaccia, polenta, pancetta, and many others. Pizza varieties also increased a great deal.
These dishes and many others have become staples of the American diet as more and more of us have grown to love them. Many people want to be able to make these foods at home, and as a result grocery store shelves across the country have been stocked with the necessary ingredients. You can’t go into any supermarket without seeing frozen pizza, pasta, and pasta sauces. Many people will say these dishes are not truly from the “old country,” but the people who love them could not really care less.