Fainá: Italian Influence on Argentine Cuisine

by Mirta Roncagalli 

A much-loved plate in the region of Río de la Plata is “El Fainá” or “La Fainá”. In Uruguay, it is known under the masculine name and in Argentina, it takes the feminine one. In Uruguay, its story dates to August 27, 1915, when “Los Guidos”, two Italian brothers, arrived in Montevideo and founded a mill. The dish became so famous and appreciated that in 2008 the “Día del auténtico fainá” (The day of authentic fainá) was established and since then celebrated every year on August 27 to honor the foundation of Guido Mill. The following year, in 2009, fainá was declared something of national historic heritage as well as of municipal interest by the city of Montevideo. On this occasion, the historical figures of Fainaseros were celebrated. They were Italian street vendors who, wearing white clothes and a red scarf sold pieces of fainá on the streets of Montevideo by carrying it on their heads in a huge pan. In Argentina, fainá arrived at the end of the nineteenth century. The tradition on the southern shorts of the Río de la Plata was to serve it on top of a piece of pizza and with the name of “Pizza a caballo” (pizza on horseback). 

Photo by Amy Booth, taken from “Buenos Aires’ unusual pizza topping” article written by Booth and published by BBC Travel on May 10th, 2022. 

It seems that the first fainás were prepared in 1882 in Nicola Vaccarezza’s oven. Vaccarezza was an immigrant from Naples who possibly invented the combination of pizza and fainá. According to others, the culinary practice originated from the street vendors that used to sell both pizza and fainá. A mix of flavours that, with the addition of the third element of the Moscato wine, has inspired books, poems, and songs. One prominent example is Moscato, Pizza y Fainá, a hit song by Memphis La Blusera, an Argentinian blues rock and jazz band active between 1978 and 2008. 

Fainá has Italian origins. It is an ancient and simple dish made of Ligurian chickpeas. Liguria is a region in Northwestern Italy, and its capital is Genoa. The Ligurian name of the dish is Fainè or Fainà, while in standard Italian it is Farinata. However, it has many other names. We can indeed find some of these variants in many locations both in Italy and abroad (in addition to Uruguay and Argentina) where the farinata is known as Padellata di ceci or Ceci ferraresi in the Ferrara province; Cecina, Torta di ceci or Calda calda in Tuscany; Fainè in Sardinia where it is eaten in bars called FainerieBelecauda in Piedmont, it is a popular dish in the Turin area where it is traditionally consumed along with a local gastronomic specialty, the “pizza al tegamino” (Pizza in a small pot); Panelle in Sicily; Socca in the French Riviera; Calentita in Gibraltar and in Morocco where it is known as Kalinti, Kalane, Karantita and where eggs are added to the recipe.  

Even with small variations, chickpeas remain the main ingredient of the recipe. The legumes are taken to special mills that produce a particular high-quality flour. Other simple ingredients are then added to the flour: salt, extra virgin olive oil and water. An interesting fact is that in Chiavari, a town close to Genoa, the dough is still made by hand: it is poured into the Testo, a copper pan with a diameter between 30 and 150 cm, and it is slowly cooked in a wood oven on top of logs specifically chosen to add flavour to the dish.  

The counter in the Ostaja San Vincenzo. Photo taken from “Focacce, fritti e forni d’autore: lo street food tra i vicoli di Genova” article written by Cristina Capacci and published by La Republica on July 29, 2019. 

The farinata is a dish rich in vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Because of this, it has historically been used as a staple and particular in the absence of wheat flour. It is a dish connected to family meals in Italy. It cannot be missed from the tables of the pizzerias in Buenos Aires and in the Sciamadde of Genoa.  

L’antica Sciamadda, in San Giorgio Street. Photo taken from “Dove mangiare vicino all’Acquario di Genova” article written by Daniela Traverso and published by Agrodolce December 2, 2013.  

The many legends that narrate the historic origins of the farinata are another interesting aspect surrounding this dish. The legends include many famous figures (such as Ulysses); people (such as the ancient Romans and the Saracens); and events (such as the siege of Troy).  

According to some, the dish was invented two thousand years ago by the troops in Genoa who would cook it in their shields. However, according to one well-known legend, after the Battle of Meloria in 1284 where the Genoese fleet defeated the Pisans, the Genoese ships were surprised by a storm and the chickpea flour and the olive oil stored in the ships’ hull were submerged by water. Once the storm was over, the sun cooked the mush left behind which became the meal of prisoners and crew members. The Genoese people then perfected the recipe and called it ironically “Pisan Gold”.  

What is certain is that, despite the humble origins of the recipe, with time it won over more sophisticated palettes. In the fifteenth century a new decree was issued in Genoa. It legislated the production of the “Recipe of the Scripilita” by requiring specific the ingredients and forbidding the use of low-quality olive oil. These requirements contributed to making a “typical” dish in Genoa and many other places. 


Fainá: Italian Influence on Argentine Cuisine