Of Migrants and Meanings

Italians and Their Food Businesses in Brussels, 1876–1914

by Olivier de Maret (Author)
©2016 Thesis 292 Pages


The circulation of goods, ideas, and people has shaped a common European food culture. But practical questions pertaining to this process remain unanswered. How and why do changes in food habits occur and what are their implications? What are the social and cultural processes involved between hosts and migrants and how do they play out in the face of economic and political imperatives? This book addresses these questions through the combined study of food and migration in the past.
By building on studies in the fields of anthropology, geography, history, and sociology, the present monograph analyzes the public foodways of Italian migrants in Brussels at the turn of the twentieth century as a way of exploring how migrants used the business of food to construct meaning and articulate sentiments of belonging. It describes and discusses Italian neighborhoods, migratory patterns, occupations, and food businesses (i.e. cafés, restaurants, shops, and peddling activities) by applying quantitative and qualitative methods of interpretation to archival, business, journalistic, and photographic sources. The study bridges a gap in the historiography of Italian food and migration by providing a Western European counterpoint to Italian experiences in North and South America and a thorough discussion of the forging of Italianness outside of Italy at a crucial time in that nation’s history. This book ultimately underlines the creative and innovative role migrants play in the social and cultural processes that shape human societies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Illustrations
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • 1.1. Framing the Study
  • 1.2. Historiography
  • 1.3. Questions
  • 1.4. Sources
  • Chapter 2: Italians
  • 2.1. Brussels Between Centuries
  • 2.2. Foreigners
  • 2.3. The City of Brussels
  • 2.4. Saint-Josse-ten-Noode
  • 2.5. Italians in Brussels
  • Chapter 3: Food Businesses
  • 3.1. A Note on Sources
  • 3.2. Catering
  • 3.3. Shopkeeping
  • 3.4. Peddling
  • 3.5. Italian Food Businesses
  • Chapter 4: Migrants
  • 4.1. Italians in the Brussels Foodscape
  • 4.2. Hospitality Workers
  • 4.3. Ice Cream Peddlers
  • 4.4. Caterers and Shopkeepers
  • 4.5. Italian Employees and Entrepreneurs
  • Chapter 5: Meanings
  • 5.1. Interpreting
  • 5.2. Adapting
  • 5.3. Constructing
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion
  • Sources
  • Annex
  • Index of Food and Drink
  • Series index


The present monograph constitutes the revised version of my doctoral dissertation discussed on 23 June 2015 at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. In the process of transforming it into a book, I have made changes following comments I received and with the desire to render my work accessible to a wide audience. Besides content, structural, and stylistic revisions, the major difference has been the exclusion of the detailed statistical tables that formed the annexes in the original study and whose main results are discussed in the text. Nevertheless, I have chosen to publish in a single annex the database of Italian caterers and shopkeepers I drafted, as it offers essential information in a concise manner. I refer the readers who wish to consult all the statistical tables to my doctoral dissertation, Italian Food Businesses and the Construction of Italianness in Late-Nineteenth-Century Brussels: Enterprises, Migrants and Meanings, copies of which are held at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the City of Brussels Archives.

Over the years spent working and reflecting on this project, I have incurred many debts. I am especially grateful to my supervisor, Peter Scholliers, and my co-supervisor, Fabio Parasecoli, for believing in me and providing all the support needed to realize such a project. I have benefitted immensely from the precious advice and constructive comments of Michel Dumoulin, Yann Grappe, Marc Jacobs, Anne Morelli, Panikos Panayi, and Patricia Van den Eeckhout. I thank Thérèse Symons and the personnel of the City of Brussels Archives as well as Robin de Salle at the Saint-Josse-ten-Noode Communal Archives for their patience and guidance. The Vrije Universiteit Brussel Onderzoeksraad and History Department proved most generous and supportive by funding research and publication. At the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Virginie Jourdain diligently shared her knowledge of sources and methodology, while Tatiana Debroux, Pablo Medina, and the Institut de Gestion de l’Environnement et d’Aménagement du Territoire kindly drafted Map 2.2 that illuminates Italian residential patterns.

Finally, I owe much to my university colleagues at FOST (Social & Cultural Food Studies), my friends, and my family for their patience and stimulation. My daughter Anna has given me countless joys, as well as sleepless nights during which I lovingly rocked her to sleep while re-writing paragraphs and refining arguments in my head. My wife Federica always offered wise advice and astute suggestions that greatly improved the present work. She sacrificed much to help me realize this project. Thank you can only start to express my infinite gratitude. To both of them, I dedicate this book. ← 11 | 12 → ← 12 | 13 →

List of Illustrations

Picture 2.1.      Samples of Low, Medium, and High Confidence Level of Signatures on Italian Registration Files in the City of Brussels (1891–1914)

Graph 2.1.       Annual Italian Registrations in the City of Brussels (1891–1914)

Map 2.1.          The Twenty Administrative Regions of Contemporary Italy

Graph 2.2.        Annual Italian Registrations in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode (1876–1914)

Map 2.2.          Declared Italian Residences in the City of Brussels (1891–1914) and Saint-Josse-ten-Noode (1876–1914)

Table 3.1.        Italian Food Businesses in the Registres des patentes of the City of Brussels (1878–1892)

Picture 3.1.      Handbill for Caputi’s Au Volcan de Naples

Picture 3.2.      Handbill for Citteri’s Milano

Picture 3.3.      Advertisement for Del Bono’s Restaurant Italia

Picture 3.4.      Advertisement for Favetto’s Distillerie de l’Eperon d’Or

Picture 3.5.      Advertisement for Morlacchi’s Restaurant Italien

Picture 3.6.      Advertisement for Serugeri’s Italia

Picture 3.7.      Advertisement for Ferrero’s and Gerbaldi’s Romano

Picture 3.8.      Advertisement for Marinoni’s Regina

Picture 3.9.      Advertisement for Girodo’s shop

Picture 3.10.    Advertisement for the Bigiarellis’ products

Picture 3.11.    Advertisement for Mariotti’s shop

Picture 3.12.    Cirio’s shop and wine room

Picture 3.13.    Advertisement for the pasta sold by Giacomini

Picture 3.14.    Advertisement for Ballinari’s shop

Picture 3.15.    Advertisement for Angelotti’s bakery products

Picture 3.16.    Advertisement for Martini & Rossi

Picture 3.17.    Ice Cream Cart in Forest, 7 July 1906

Picture 3.18.    Ice Cream Cart in Etterbeek, 1898–1903

Picture 3.19.    Ice Cream Cart Behind the Stock Exchange, 18 June 1906 ← 13 | 14 →

Picture 3.20.    Ice Cream Cart in a Brussels Street, 1900s

Picture 3.21.    Ice Cream Cart at a Fair in Brussels, 16 June 1910

Map 3.1.           Italian Caterers and Food Shops in the City of Brussels and Saint-Josse-ten-Noode (1876–1914)

Graph 4.1.       Annual Registrations of Italians Involved in Food Businesses in the City of Brussels (1891–1914)

Graph 4.2.       Annual Registrations of Italians Involved in Food Businesses in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode (1876–1914)

Table 4.1.        Declared Occupations of Italians in the ospitality Industry in the City of Brussels (1891–1914) and Saint-Josse-ten-Noode (1876–1914)

Graph 4.3.       Annual Registrations of Italian Hospitality Workers in the City of Brussels (1891–1914)

Graph 4.4.       Annual Registrations of Italian Hospitality Workers in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode (1878–1914)

Graph 4.5.       Annual Registrations of Italian Ice Cream Peddlers in the City of Brussels (1891–1914)

Graph 4.6.       Annual Registrations of Italian Ice Cream Peddlers in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode (1878–1914)

Table 5.1.        Hectoliters of Bottled-Wine Imports in Belgium (1890–1910)

Table 5.2.        Foodstuffs Imported in Belgium from Italy, Expressed in Thousands of Belgian Francs (1880–1910)

Table 5.3.       Total Cafés-Brasseries and Cafés-Estaminets, Cafés and (Cafés-)Restaurants, and Restaurants Listed in Brussels (1880–1910)

Table 5.4.        Entries with Names, Overall Entries, and Percentage of Entries with Names of Cafés-Brasseries and Cafés-Estaminets, Cafés and (Cafés-)Restaurants, and Restaurants Listed in Brussels (1880–1910)

Table 5.5.        Given Names of Cafés-Brasseries and Cafés-Estaminets Listed in Brussels (1900–1910)

Table 5.6.        Given Names of Cafés and (Cafés-)Restaurants Listed in Brussels (1880–1910)

Table 5.7.        Given Names of Restaurants Listed in Brussels (1880–1910)

Picture 5.1.      Bertinelli’s Pricelist, First and Fourth Pages

Picture 5.2.      Bertinelli’s Pricelist, Second and Third Pages

Picture 5.3.      Italian Ice Cream Truck in Brussels, September 2014 226 ← 14 | 15 →

List of Abbreviations

CBA      City of Brussels Archives

DP        Drinking Places

FO        Foreigners’ Office

FR        Foreigners’ Registers

PA        Police Archives

PR        Population Registers

SJTNA  Saint-Josse-ten-Noode Archives ← 15 | 16 → ← 16 | 17 →



1.1.   Framing the Study

In the year 1888, a peculiar yet recurring event took place in the Belgian capital. The liberal newspaper Le Soir informed its readers of

Un curieux et pittoresque spectacle, rue Royale, vendredi soir. Les Italiens et Italiennes, fort nombreux à Schaerbeek, où ils exercent la profession de modèles, musiciens ambulants ou mouleurs, se rendaient en corps à l’église Ste-Marie. C’est de tradition chez eux de porter en pompe, à cette époque, à la madone, des chandeliers ou autres cadeaux plus ou moins riches. Comme tous les ans, ce cortège avait attiré à Ste-Marie une foule assez considérable et curieuse d’assister au défilé de ces costumes bariolés, aux couleurs tranchantes, seyant si bien aux types, fort beaux parfois, de cette colonie qui se conserve ici pure de toute alliance étrangère.1


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (October)
Food Italian Food Buisiness Brussels 1876-1914 Migrants
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 292 pp., 37 fig., 10 tables

Biographical notes

Olivier de Maret (Author)

Olivier de Maret teaches Food Studies at Syracuse University in Florence. His research interests cover the relationship between food, migration, and identity, the history of Italian foodways, food history, and food systems. He is a member of the research group FOST (Social & Cultural Food Studies) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel where he completed his doctorate.


Title: Of Migrants and Meanings
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