It’s ironic that one of the world’s best-loved foods is also one of its most not-so-much misunderstood, but rather under-understood. Italian cuisine has a great deal more to offer than pizza and pasta, and that’s what we’re looking forward to bringing you at Siena at Flatiron. We took a small dive into Italy’s incredibly rich and varied culinary history to give you a glimpse of what’s coming ….
We’re really excited about the (coming soon!) opening of Siena at Flatiron, a brand-new Italian steakhouse rooted in real Italian ingredients and traditional Italian cooking from the north and south of the country, all served in a sophisticated contemporary setting with spectacular views across the whole of Phnom Penh city. The best of all worlds. We think it’ll be a terrific addition to Phnom Penh’s dynamic dining scene, and hope that you will too.
Italian cuisine is one of the most loved in the world, and for plenty of very good reasons. At its heart, it combines sublime flavours with a simpler approach to preparation than you might traditionally see in French cuisine, and a laser-like focus on freshness, regionality and practicality. Italians know that the right ingredients are everything, and are just as serious about their food as their neighbours to the north and in fact cooking and food were considered so fundamental to life that the first European cookery book, by Apicius, was created in Rome in the 10th century, and the first printed cookery book, by Platina, came 500 years later.
But while Italian food may be generally regarded as more “approachable” — less complicated, less fancy, less expensive — than French cuisine, that is often because the full complexities of Italian cooking have not travelled as far and wide. Italian food embraces a vast world beyond the pizza and pasta with which we are all so familiar, and it is a world full of rich, layered and delicious flavours.
And that makes an awful lot of sense when you look at Italian history. If you ask an Italian about Italian cooking, he’ll ask you where from. And you’ll say, “well, Italy!”, and then he’ll say, “Yes, but where from?!” The nation state that we recognise as the trademark “boot” today only came into being in the second half of the 19th century following unification of an array of city states and republics, each of which had its distinct dialects, traditions and, of course, cuisines. So when you talk about “Italian food”, you’re really talking about food that could be Bolognese, Venetian, Roman, Milanese, Tuscan, Piedmontese, Sicilian, Neapolitan, and so on…
On top of that, there is a long history of conquests, both outward, the Roman Empire springs to mind, and inward with invasions from the Greeks, Moors (called Saracens in Italy), Vikings, and more. Each of these left their own traces which we can still see today. For example the fabrication of the salty, sheep’s cheese Pecorino can be traced back to Greek influence. You’ll also find further influences from neighbours such as France, Austria and the Balkan countries in dishes such as spätzle Tirolesi, a Germanic spinach pasta with smoked speck ham and a cream sauce.
Then there is Italy’s extraordinary geography: a long peninsula with the second-longest coastline in Europe, flanked by the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west, the Mediterranean to the south and the Adriatic to the east, and topped by the Alps in north which settle down to Italy’s only major plain. This is Italy’s dairy region, where hearty cooking tends to centre on meat, butter is widely used, and the staples are rice for risotto and cornmeal for polenta. Running down from that plain, the Apennine mountains stretch the entire length of the country, like a gigantic spine, dividing one coast from the other and riven with valleys whose peoples were isolated from one another, as were their cultures, customs and cuisines. This mountain range is also responsible for an astonishing variety of climate areas for such a small country, and also played a role in the variety of Italian foods. At the bottom is the sun drenched south, where olive oil, dried pastas, bright, fresh ingredients and plenty of seafood rule the days, and nights.
There’s a reason why some of the seminal contemporary books on Italian cuisine, The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan and The Silver Spoon by Phaidon, run to 700 and 1500 pages apiece. At Siena, we hope to give you an insight into the startling breadth and diversity of traditional Italian cooking, done the Italian way. Looking forward to wishing you “Buon Appetito!”