Typical Milanese Dishes
The most important thing to know about Milanese cuisine is its pronunciation. Because the michetta, the typical bread of Milan, it is not such if it is not pronounced with a wide ‘e’, very wide [meeketta.] And so the cutlet loses some of its flavor if you don’t call it cotolètta.
The second lesson to be learned about typical Milanese cuisine comes directly from the dialect. Milanese people say: “la bocca l’è minga stracca sel la san ò de vacca”. Translation: the mouth is not tired enough if it doesn’t taste of cow, meaning that for a Milanese lunch or dinner must absolutely end with a piece of cheese.
Outline of the history of Milanese cuisine
The traditional Ambrose cuisine (St. Ambrose is the patron saint of the city) has ancient origins and over time has been affected by different influences. It is a simple cuisine, made of vegetables and beef and pork, cooked and seasoned with butter. The latter, we can say, that it goes with oil such as rice does with pasta, the most representative differences between the cuisines of North and South Italy.
The influences of Milanese cuisine are varied. The breaded cutlet has Viennese origins, as well as the michetta whose name derives from the Austrian bread Kaisersemmel also known as ‘micca’ from which michetta (don’t forget the very wide ‘e’). The mondeghili, meatballs prepared with leftover meat, another traditional dish from Milan, has Iberian origins: albodinga, which means meatball in Spanish, in turn derives from the Arabic al-bunduck. The Arabs were those that imported the meatballs recipe in Spain occupied by Islam.
A typical Milanese lunch
Well then, now that we understand the key points of pronunciation and origin of the traditional cuisine of Milan we can move on to outlining a typical Sunday lunch. Because nowadays also in Milan during the week lunchtime means take-aways, frozen meals and sandwiches.
A typical Milanese antipasto is nerve salad. Gnervitt are the tendons of the knee or shin of veal, simmered for two hours, pulped and then topped with onions and pickles. The mondeghili are leftover meatballs. It is a typical dish of the poor and peasant: leftover roast or boiled meat are crushed and mixed with sausage, mortadella, parmesan cheese and stale bread soaked in milk. Fried in butter, they have now become also a typical delicacy of Milan’s happy hour.
The most traditional starter dish of Milan is the legendary Yellow Risotto. Legend has it that in mid-1500 at the Fabbrica del Duomo worked a community led by the Belgian Valerio of Flanders, whose job was to work on stained glass windows painting scenes from the life of St. Helena. Among the disciples of Valerio was a very clever young man who could give the special tone color by adding saffron. On the wedding day of the master glassmaker’s daughter’s, the disciple convinced chefs to mix a bit of saffron to the rice dish. After the initial amazement, the guests proclaimed the complete success of the operation: since then the yellow risotto with saffron entered in the tradition of Milanese cuisine.
Vegetable soup is also a typical starter in Milan’s gastronomy, prepared mainly with cabbage, zucchini, carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, beans, tomato, bacon and pork rind. There are those who among starters also make polenta because in many historical periods of great famine, was the only food a little nourishing in the pantries of the people of Lombardy.
Among the main courses of Milan stands the aforementioned breaded veal cutlet, ossobuco (often served as a main dish along with yellow risotto), the Cassoeula, pork chops or roast beef.
The Milanese, a name that today is known at international level, is a veal chop on the bone breaded with breadcrumbs. The osso buco is a slice of veal shank, including the bone, cooked in butter and a little stock. The Cassoeula is an originally poor dish. For the preparation (also of Spanish origin) are used all the processing wastes of the pork: ribs, pork rind, feet, ears and tail. Everything that the Lords and Nobles disdain on their tables. It is all cooked with cabbage (frozen in brine) and sweet sausages called verzini. The veal chops and breast are typical raw materials of Lombardy and Milan cuisine.
At this point, as highlighted above, cheese is a must on the Milanese table, at the end of the meal. The cheeses that are eaten in Milan come from the surrounding countryside and alpine valleys. Among the most popular are the Bagoss, Brescia cheese, Bitto della Valtellina, Caprini, Crescenza or Stracchino, soft cheeses flavored with mountain herbs and of course Gorgonzola, sweet or piquant, eaten alone, but perfect for risotto and to melt on hot polenta.
Desserts. The Milanese cuisine does not have a big tradition of desserts. The Barbajada, invented in the 19th century by the bartender Domenico Barbaja, who also became the impresario of Teatro alla Scala, is a dessert, a sweet drink, made with chocolate, coffee and milk. The ancestor of Marocchino.
But surely the most typical dessert is Panettone which is eaten from Christmas up until February: on San Biagio day. Legend has it that a monk, which at Christmas time received a woman with a panettone to be blessed, piece by piece ate it all instead. The woman, after she had forgotten about the panettone, on February 3rd, on San Biagio day, went to claim the blessed dessert that was in the friar’s belly. Sincerely repented, the man begged the saint for mercy. The latter, who had died a long time ago but always observant to men’s matters, made the miracle of making a panettone appear larger, better and more beautiful than the first.
So in summary. Tourists visiting the Lombard capital when they enter a restaurant in Milan must remember: to order a cutlet with a very wide “e”, to request that the cabbages of the Cassoeula are those frozen from the cold and not the tender ones eaten by the Nobles, but most of all that polenta may be served with a 200 g slice of the best fresh gorgonzola. The aged one is eaten alone at the end of the meal.