December 27, 2011

Mapping Panettone (Italian Christmas cake)

Today we are happy to present a guest post and map from our friends in LADEST at Siena University (Cristina Capineri, Michela Teobaldi, Claudio Calvino, and Antonello Romano). And unlike our recent fascination with the forces of evil vs. Santa, it entirely focused on the simply joys of eating. Enjoy!

Given the large number of delicious Christmas cakes and sweets to overindulge on, it is little wonder that Santa is a fat jolly man! Indeed, one may wonder why Santa ever decided to use chimneys given the troublesome girth that builds up.

In Italy the traditional, seasonal delight is Panettone, or Italian Christmas cake. Its origins are mysterious. One version has it that the cook of the Sforzas, an aristocratic Milanese family, supposedly burnt the cake he had made especially for Christmas dinner and instead served his lords with a simple cake made from dough and sultanas. Another story tells how some poor nuns from a monastery near Milan baked a cake with the few ingredients they could afford. Yet another is about a man who was in love with a nice baker whose business was doing rather badly and who created Panettone with lots of love in it! Whatever the true origin, Panettone has become the symbol of the Christmas family reunion in Italy.

But Panettone has also acquired an increasingly international following with many people search for recipes and/or ideas of how to use up leftover Panettone. In fact, according Google Insights (which tracks search patterns across space) there are more searches for Panettone than Christmas pudding. The following maps are based on data gathered from Google Insights for Search “Panettone” (2006- 2010) with results narrowed to food and drink category. Besides differences among regions, data showed a clear seasonality: peaks always take place in December.

Looking specifically at Italy, people from southern cities (Naples, Catania, Palermo, Taranto) look for Panettone, which is one of the traditional delicacies from the North, almost as if eating Panettone were a sort of glue holding the Italian national identity together.

Google Searchers for "Panettone", Italy

At the European level Panettone has spread to almost every country in western Europe, as well as Poland and Hungary, and has become an European food.

Google Searchers for "Panettone", Europe

The global scale shows a “nostalgic” pattern: the search is particularly common in countries where the Italian immigrant community is large, such as the US, Brazil, Canada, Venezuela and Argentina, as if people were searching for their culinary roots. It is worth noting that food culture is one of the areas that changes more slowly among immigrants, because food has a central role in many social rituals and communication patterns within families and communities.

Google Searchers for "Panettone", Worldwide
Enjoy Panettone and Happy Christmas from Ladest (Siena University, Italy)

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