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To shelter its cuisine, Italian city bans foreign flavors

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Others are embarrassed by what they see as a case of extreme parochialism.

The new law is "an absurdity," said an opposition MP, Andrea Marcucci, because it would "make it impossible to open in Lucca not only a kebab shop but also a high-class French bar serving oysters and champagne." The legislation had damaged Lucca's image and was a big mistake, Mr. Marcucci added.

Critics of Lucca's new law point out that many of the staples of Italian food have foreign origins – tomatoes, for instance, were introduced from South America, and pasta is widely believed to have been brought from China by Marco Polo.

And what of food from Sicily, which has a heavy Arab influence – should couscous, a staple of Sicilian dishes, be classed as foreign or Italian?

Vittorio Castellani, a television chef and author of cookbooks, says there is "no dish on the face of the earth" that is not derived from a mélange of different ingredients and a fusion of culinary styles.

The influence of other styles of cuisine is fundamental to the development of food, says Roberto Burdese, the president of Slow Food, a movement that campaigns for the use of locally grown food in regional recipes.

"The enemy is not so much ethnic food, but food of poor quality," Mr. Burdese says. "A bad Tuscan trattoria does more damage than a kebab shop."

The national debate is reflected online, where a Facebook group, the Cous Cous Clan, has been formed to protest the ban.

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