The Plate In The Middle | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

A few years ago, I was in Kyoto, Japan sitting in a restaurant with my friends and their friends to whom I got introduced in that moment. One of these new friends, a tall Japanese guy, wanted to welcome me, a blonde, blue eyes western woman visiting his country by showing me his appreciation with a special gesture. After a while we were sitting together enjoying each other company, the tall Japanese guy started to eat from my bowl of soup, truly surprising the rest of the company with this gesture.

Perhaps his behavior was too exuberant for being Japanese, or perhaps he really meant it. Later, my friends told me that his gesture was a sign of wanting to consolidate a new friendship, a creation of a tight bond that would last through the years.
(Above photo: One of my plates hand-painted in Italy – artist unknown).

Eating in someone’s plate in Japan means loyalty, trust, respect and it is an honor. That was his way of showing these feelings to me.
I really liked that very much. Never thought I was going to receive such a friendly treatment.

That moment brought me back in time when in Italy, my native country, people used to eat all together from a plate placed in the middle of the table. In every corner of the world, people do the same things, just like home, I thought.

Again, a few days ago, I was in a restaurant on American soil and a large plate of spaghetti was propped in the middle of the table to share with everyone in my party. These days, when I sit at a restaurant, sharing my dishes with the person I brought along is not always possible. Often, I go out with people I conduct business and it doesn’t seem right to share food in a friendly matter.
I am wondering though if this custom of sharing dishes is happening because so many cultures are living together, and we want to try everybody’s food, or because we feel the need to get closer to people.

As I said earlier this is not a new costume to me at all. I remember the painted large dish at the center of the table in my grandmother’s house and in all the families in the town of Italy where she lived. The plate was a simple hand-painted, huge size for hosting a large quantity of food for the entire family, mom, dad, all the kids, and the grandparents. Back then seniors lived in the family until their time on this earth expired.

The table setting was quite interesting. The hand-painted dish always took the middle of the table and it was filled with lunch or dinner food.
Each person had a fork, a wine glass, bread was sliced as needed and knives were placed loosely on the table for whoever needed them.
Everybody sat around the table and waited for the head of the family to sit as well. For the respect of that person, generally was the oldest person in the family, nobody would start eating until the person started first.

After the head of the family sat and dug the fork to get the first bite from the plate in the middle of the table, everybody dug in and ate from the same plate.
The last bite was reserved for the head of the family as well. Incredible, you might say and yet, I have lived in such an ancient society, even though I am not that old!

This seems unreal, almost a scene from a Medieval Shakespearean comedy, but less than 50 years ago this was a common scene in the South of Italy where I grew up. Everyday people, perhaps to brighten their days, ate in hand-painted, colorful dishware they bought at the street market. Nobles and wealthy people ate off of “chic white porcelain plates”.

Today modern Italians do not use hand-painted ceramic plates anymore for everyday use, nor for holidays either. They might hang them on kitchen walls for decorations, or they might place one small dish on a coffee table.
Italians just are not in love with such a beautiful antique art anymore. They love modern style, sleek, straight lines, no curlicues, and no fussy designs. The reason behind this is that Italians live and breathe antiquity every day.
In some cases, they live just across from famous buildings, statues, famous fountains, stairs, or Cathedrals and Corinthian capitals. All of that beauty is part of their everyday landscape, it is part of their lives. It’s just routine!

There are still many factories making hand-painted ceramics, but they are sold mostly to tourists. Tourists bring back to their countries the beauty of Italy. They find very chic eating off hand-painted Italian plates from Tuscany, Umbria, Puglia, and other regions.

Although Italians are very social people, convivial and relaxed around food, they also have distanced themselves from the custom of sharing food from the same plate. Here in America, very surprisingly, I am finding this costume back into my life and I do not know how to take it, I don’t know if I like it or not.

(Photo: https://www.pinterest.com/italianceramics/tile-murals-hand-painted-from-vietri)

I am thinking this is history repeating itself.

I am treasuring my hand-painted ceramics, as a matter of fact, every time I return from Italy, I hand carry in the plane a few hand-painted ceramic pieces.
I want a cheerful table whether I have a company or not, I want to surround myself with the beauty of my country and enjoy the colors of my heritage.

If you need help in locating a special hand-painted tabletop, or a custom-made backsplash for the kitchen, some specific plates patterns, I am here prompt and ready to help you with any of your needs, whether it will be decorating, designing, or remodeling. Ciao,
Valentina
www.Valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe.
She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn unattractive spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms, and entertainment rooms. 
She is the author of two regional Italian cuisine books, available here in this site on the Books page and in various other locations:
http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M
http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lenora Bevis
    Oct 04, 2011 @ 19:18:24

    First time here. Nice blog and great post. Well done.

    Like

    Reply

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