The Italian line was a very well-known cruise line that went around Italy and occasionally the United States. The food onboard was exceptional due to its creativity. The menu shows some dishes that are not normally seen now like, Roast Beef English style and buttered potatoes, Rice in broth with livers, filets of Sole Belle Meuniere and cabbage Sicilian, but ironically didn’t include pasta — the dish we most identify with Italian food.
A very simple vacation to some and an absolute dream to others. The cruise line started when Navigazione Generale Italiana, Lloyd Sabaudo, and Cosulich lines merged to form one big company. The Italian government encouraged this in hopes of bringing more tourists into Italy, a plan that worked until World War II destroyed the tourism industry. The company lost its ships when the American government seized them for use as warships which resulted in some being completely lost forever. Despite such losses, the legacy remained and they were able to resume business in the late ’40s.
The cruise ships themselves were very lavish and it was evident that the people who were able to afford the first-class ticket were very well off. This wealth was also seen in the menu full of delicacies that were desired by many. The cruise line was well equipped with different amenities that were very sought out. Below is a similar ship named REX that sailed from Genoa, Italy.
Based on the pictures it is evident that the ships were lavish and the food was exquisite. The menu reveals many different types of food such as soups and sauces. One of the things on the menu is roast beef in English style. Although it is not Italian food, it is understandable why they wanted to add different food that was to bring tourists from different parts of the world. But for the passengers, were they looking forward to having high-class Italian food or were they expecting more variety?
It wasn’t until a couple of years after WWII that things got back to normal and people were able to go on vacation. When travelers returned, the cruise line aimed to deliver on classic high-end Italian cuisine as a mark of national pride. An example of these dishes is the Sole Belle Meuniere. This is a French dish that includes Sole fish and is dredged in flour, pan-fried in butter, and served with brown butter sauce and lemon. Although not Italian, it was recreated and mastered by these Italian chefs. Another popular dish that is served on this cruise line is the Sicilian-style cabbage. This Italian dish is sautéd cabbage with garlic, olive oil, and a sprinkle of wine while it’s being sautéd and diluted tomatoes well mixed into it. These dishes, although very popular, are not seen in the menus today. Over the years these classic dishes have been seen less and less. The food being described is full of different flavors and would be very popular in today’s restaurants. The fact that they are not being made as often is an example of what happens when people start losing their passion for the food and are relying on the generic, easy-to-make dishes.
Looking back at the dishes on the menu, it is evident that some are more complicated to make than others, however, even the easiest of dishes to make are not in any Italian restaurants we see now. The Venetian Minestra soup is a simple dish starting with 5 main vegetables which are carrots, celery, onions, zucchini, and tomatoes. These vegetables are then minced and there is your soup. A simple dish like this was made perfect in the ’30s because of how easy it is to make and how easy it was to find the ingredients. Dishes like these are no longer seen in the Italian restaurants open now because what the people want is spaghetti, lasagna, and pizza.
As mentioned earlier, other dishes on the menu that are not quite Italian but made an appearance on this menu were the Roast Beef English style. This is a simple dish that only requires 5 major ingredients which are sirloin tip roast, dry mustard, salt, and cup dripping or preferred oil/fat. Then the meat needs to be trimmed to obtain the fat needed, the surface of the sirloin is then seasoned, placed in the drippings, and into the oven to be backed. This is a very English-style dish but the menu on the Italian line provides dishes from all around the world. Although Italian, it does not limit its customers and provides a wide variety of different foods.
The final dish that will be discussed is the most important one, the dessert. The dessert featured in this menu is an Iced Biscuit Arlequin Pastry. This dish is an Italian puff pastry filled with frozen fruits and will be perfect for an after-dinner snack. This dish is often seen in Italian restaurants today and resembles the popular cannoli dessert. This delicious dessert was loved by many and is still around today with its modern spin.
The Italian line menu provides not only an Italian appetizer, entreé, and dessert, but it also allows the customer to try something new from a different country or even their country. Many restaurants only offer food that they think is the main dish in the country their restaurant specializes in. Major cruise lines and other restaurants understand the importance of having many different types of food available in case a customer wants something different. This not only brings the customers back but also provides a steady flow of new and returning customers. The Italian restaurants now only attract people that have a specific craving.
All of the dishes on this menu are well known throughout the world and were made to perfection. Not only were there more options but the Italian menu was full of flavor and something for everyone. Restaurants like Olive Garden are limiting the imagination for what Italian food is, not only are they providing Americanized Italian food but they have very limited authentic options. The Italian food that we know now in the U.S is nowhere near the Italian food that was provided in the 1930s.
Written By: Daniel Leu
Originally Published: December 16th, 2021 || Last Updated: July 19th, 2022
A part of Doc Studio’s History of Food in America Collection
- “8 Things at Olive Garden That Real Italians Would Never Do.” Food Network, https://www.foodnetwork.com/fn-dish/news/2019/8/8-things-at-olive-garden-that-real-italians-would-never-do.
- Menus, http://menus.nypl.org/menu_pages/63504.
- “SS Rex.” Italianliners, https://www.italianliners.com/rex-en.
- “Six Italian Lines in 2 Ship Mergers; Navigazione Generate, Lloyd Sabaudo and Cosulich Form ‘Italia’ Company. Handle Trade to Americas Lloyd Triestino Takes over Servizi Marittimi and Marittimi Italiano, Operating in the Orient. Mussolini Expresses Approval. One Hundred Ships Involved.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Nov. 1931, https://www.nytimes.com/1931/11/12/archives/six-italian-lines-in-2-ship-mergers-navigazione-generate-lloyd.html.