DRINKING WATER IN ITALY
When I first moved here, one of the things that struck me the most when shopping daily was the odd fact that a bottle of coke is cheaper than a bottle of water. It didn’t make sense to me and it still quite doesn’t. I feel that water in America is considered a delicacy, a luxury, or maybe just plain boring to even try to market it seriously. Whereas in Italy, starting with the Romans, water and wine have always found space on our table and have (either mixed together or by themselves) accompanied our meals ever since.
The only thing we could never dream of pairing with a glass of wine or water is actually pizza. Pizza goes with beer and does actually taste better with beer; who knows, it may be because yeast is a component of both. Therefore it’s a little surprising to hear that the Italians are the main consumers of drinking water in the world. Despite having good tap water in most places, Italians seem to drink an inordinate amount of bottled water, with an average annual cost of about 300 euros for every Italian family.
Italy has an abundance of mountain springs that have provided the local populations with water for the longest time. Some of these springs actually flow with either naturally still or naturally sparkling water. If you enter an Italian supermarket, you will undoubtedly notice an entire aisle dedicated to tens of different water brands, mostly bottled at source in plastic bottles, then sealed and wrapped up in a cellophane package of 6 units each. Better quality waters or specific properties will come in more expensive glass bottles like the world-famous Panna and San Pellegrino. And what will seem rather humorous to you is that some of the major brands are actually aggressively advertised on TV and in newspapers, they even endorse our major sports teams and “proudly present” national soccer games.
What can you possibly advertise about water, you’ll say a lot. Each and every branded bottle comes with labeled properties and rigorous specifications: pH, spring temperature, electric conductibility, and valuable minerals. Some waters will get tested more than 600 times each day.
These days it is very trendy to drink specific water indicated for specific health effects: TV and paper ads often feature some beautiful showgirl boasting about low sodium water, supposedly great for losing weight or detoxing, a famous actress, a new mother, will promote another one suitable to newborn feeding, and a more elderly but equally famous actress will stress the high content of calcium and magnesium instead, with possible digestive and even laxative effects.
And to remark once again that we do indeed take our water intake very seriously some restaurants now offer a water menu along with the wine list; a sommelier will gladly advise you on the best water to pair your dish, besides of course pouring it in a designated glass, aptly shaped to better contain the kind of water you have just chosen.
Nicoletta Lucia Paganucci