When the Italian language is combined with the best delicacies of our cuisine what comes out is a fabulous combination of linguistic curiosities.
It is not rare, in fact, that when you taste a typical specialty of the Bel Paese, you mop up your plate right to the end.
But where does this term come from? And then is “fare la scarpetta” against any rule of table manners?
The origin of the term
Although it may seem a rather popular way of speaking, the expression “fare la scarpetta” is present in the Treccani Dictionary, which is defined as: “the act of collecting sauce left in the plate by passing a piece of bread skewered on a fork, or more commonly held between the fingers “.
It is a saying, but also a typical Italian custom, almost like a trademark of the Bel Paese and of those who live there.
But when was the term born and why was the word “scarpetta” chosen?
If the elegant saying, fare la scarpetta, has been present in the Treccani Dictionary since 1987, the custom of popular language is much more ancient.
Some say that the term refers to a particular pasta that, given the concave shape, allowed to collect the remaining sauce in the dish. Others, however, attribute the origin of the term to the gesture itself which, being defined as unpretentious, would like to allude to the action of those who wear light and flexible shoes, and therefore to the categories of the poor and the hungry.
But the interpretations do not end here.
Some, in fact, have imagined potential connections with Syria, a country where bread was made in the shape of a shoe to accompany the traditional eggplant pulp soup with vegetables. Others, however, attribute the origin of the term to a typical way of saying in southern Italy, the “scarsetta”, which means poverty and the need to settle for the left overs in the plates of others, to be picked up with bread, as the shoe rubs on the ground.
From the hypothetical context from which this expression is born, the reason why this gesture can be considered not very elegant and outside the canonical rules of bon ton is quite clear.
However, for many Italians, but also for foreigners, “fare la scarpetta” is an intrinsic trait of our DNA and to give it up it for a mere matter of etiquette would be to deprive oneself of one’s identity.
For this reason, more and more often, many chefs and starred restaurants have decided to promote the typical custom with ideas that for some may even be transgressive. For example, the expert in good manners Nicola Santini, who has written several books on the subject, has launched the idea of a real “Scarpetta party”, proposing a series of dishes in which the liquid component is relevant, so to do the scarpetta becomes almost obligatory.
Doing the scarpetta is a fundamental part of the cultural baggage of an Italian, depriving themselves of this act would be almost like being half Italian. For this reason it is good to ignore the hypothetical prejudices of others and to live their own Italianness to the end.