Rotten stew, prostitute´s spaghetti, old clothes, English soup and maggotty cheese…..


Italy and Spain have one major thing in common, great food. However, in a lighthearted way, let’s take a look at five food dishes with strange or rather unsavoury names.




From Italy, the ‘puttanesca’ sauce, usually made from tomatoes, olive oil, anchovies, capers, chilli, garlic and black olives is known throughout the world, but puttanesca? The translation is literally ‘in the style of the prostitute’….. There are many and varied opinions as to the origin of the name. One is that a Signor Petti, the owner of a restaurant on the island of Ischia was, late at night, just about out of ingredients. Some friends were still waiting to dine and, realising his predicament, shouted out “Facci una puttanata qualsiasi” (Chuck in any old rubbish). My own favourite, and probably correct, version is that it was a cheap, quick and easy meal for the Neapolitan prostitutes to prepare between clients. The added benefit being that the lovely smell would waft out to the street and attract even more business.




Ollia podrida (literally rotten stew) originates from the Burgos area of Spain, A hearty dish of beans, lentils, meat, vegetables, quail, lamb, beef, sausage etc., the name is probably a corruption of olla poderida (casserole for the powerful), which, because of its varied and expensive ingredients, only the rich could afford.




Ropa vieja, again from Spain, means ‘old clothes’, a dish of shredded beef in a tomato sauce, is popular in the Cadiz area but now more well known in Latin America. The really rather charming origin of this dish´s name is that a poor Spaniard returned home to his family one night with no money and no food. In despair he took some old clothes out of the wardrobe, kissed them and cooked them with a prayer of love for his starving children. Miraculously the old clothes changed into a delicious beef stew….




Many of the most popular dishes enjoyed in England have Italian origins partly due the the large numbers of Italian immigrants over the past couple of centuries. However, it wasn’t only a one-way street. Zuppa Inglese, translating as ‘English soup‘, is actually a version of sherry trifle and very popular in Italy, although Marsala wine is used instead of sherry (the Brits didn´t have the same relationship with Sicily as they had with Jerez de la Frontera in Spain which like Oporto, became a ‘little England’). Again, there are multiple explanations as to the origin of the name. My own theory was that most rich British families sent their children on the ‘Grand Tour of Europe’. These rich kids, missing home comforts and cuisine, surely persuaded obliging Sicilian hoteliers to whip up a rough copy of a beloved dessert..




Staying with Italy, or more precisely Sardinia, we come to the truly awful (although I have Italian friends who swear by its viagra like properties), Casu Marzu, maggot cheese…. This is like something out of a horror film. Flies are encourages to lay their eggs in the cheese-making process, they then hatch making a truly original stink bomb which tastes worse than decomposing meat. If trying this cheese, remember to wear spectacles as, if you can stop the cheese from running around the plate, the nasty little things can jump up to six inches!Thankfully illegal now, it is still obtainable. Try it if you must but purchase a good supply of toilet paper for the next day.