Mar 102011

In 2002 posters appeared in northern Italy, put up by the Lega Nord, the separatist party of Umberto Bossi. The party’s anti-immigrant stance was clear from the posters, which read “Yes to Polenta, No to Cous Cous: Proud of our Traditions.” While the dish, made from semolina wheat, is now strongly associated with illegal immigrants from the Maghreb, couscous has been around for a while in Italy. Food historian John Dickie says that in couscous has been around in Tuscany since Spanish and Portuguese Jews arriving in Livorno in the 1500s brought it with them. Even Pelligrino Artusi, divo (or creator, depending on how you view him) of Italian food in the late nineteenth century mentions couscous, calling it a Jewish food of Arab origin (see recipe #46 for “Cuscussù”). The shift in the semiotics of couscous illustrates the dynamism of the larger Italian food history map.  ZN

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