New App: Italian Menu Decoder

If you’re traveling to Italy soon or just really devoted to Italian food, there’s a new app that might be right up your alley — the Italian Menu Decoder. Travel writer Dana Facaros (who has contributed to Dream of Italy) started a list of bizarre and regional food names while she was writing the Cadogan guides (along with partner Michael Pauls) back in the 1980s and ended up with a list over 70 pages long. That list sat in a drawer until the idea of the app was born.

Updating the list and putting it into app format took the couple about two years, off and on, and there are currently 2,032 main entries, and over 7,000 words, including all the name and spelling variants- for instance, on the 20 different ways of saying “sardine” in Italian.

Foods are listed alphabetically, cross referenced by regions, and type (pasta, meats, fish and seafood, breads, vegetables, etc); we’ve also included cross references to food festivals, items in the Slow Food Ark of Taste, blogs and recipes; lists of obscure and dialect words, cuts of meat plus essential info on Italian regions and regional pronunciations and advice on eating in Italy. Ideal for anyone who eats in authentic restaurants off the beaten track, or who shops in Italian markets. The Italian Menu Decoder app costs $4.99.

Here’s a sample listing from the app:

panforte (Tuscany)
‘Strong bread’ is a rich, dense, long lasting fruit cake is said to have been used as currency on occasion in the Middle Ages, and added a note of cheer to the provisions of the Crusaders. Its ‘strength’ is derived from the black pepper (hence its alternative name in other parts of central Italy, panepato).

Siena is the capital of panforte, and you’ll see it year round in Sienese shops. Traditionally it has 17 ingredients, as many Siena has contrade, or neighbourhoods, who famously compete in the city’s Palio: walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pine nuts, raisins, chocolate, candied orange peel, brewed espresso coffee, honey, water, red currant jelly, nutmeg, orange zest, salt, black pepper, flour and powdered sugar.