This Italian grandmother is causing a stir on TikTok with her traditional home cooking

Antonio Nigro, 24, of Edison, NJ, had no idea he would make his grandmother a social media sensation simply by filming her doing what she loves to do.

It all started in January 2020. Pia Quaglieri, now 83, was sitting in the kitchen getting ready for a trip to the supermarket. While her Nonna (pronounced NO-nna, grandma in Italian) was writing a shopping list of everything she needed to cook for Sunday dinner for a family celebration, Nigro decided to film her.

“At the time, I had a TikTok account, but I wasn’t very active. I posted the video for fun and didn’t think about it,” he said. hours later I looked at my phone and the video had 100,000 views. It was pure coincidence. I didn’t expect it to go viral. »

Today, Nonna Pia (@nonnapiaa) has over 2.6 million followers on TikTok. Her fans adore her, calling her “incredible” and a “treasure”. Nonna Pia has really struck a chord with people who have lost a grandparent or been separated from loved ones due to the pandemic.

According to Nigro, “80% of the comments on our videos are about how Nonna reminds them of their own grandmother. It connects people to their own traditions, to their own good family memories.

Nonna Pia’s passion for cooking

For some, cooking is a necessity or even a chore. But for Quaglieri, cooking is a passion. In an interview with Next Avenue, she said, “I love it when everyone eats because it makes me so happy to see smiles on everyone’s face.”

Quaglieri grew up in Italy and immigrated to the United States in his late teens.

“Nonna Pia lived through the Second World War. During this time, she didn’t have much to eat. Now she always makes sure there are plenty. Nonna has no portion control. Even though we can eat a lot, there are always leftovers; sometimes we have full trays that we give to friends and neighbors,” Nigro said.

In a video of Nonna taken on July 3, Nigro comments that there’s no way the table full of food is just leftovers from that night’s dinner. Nonna laughs and says she cooked so much pasta and meatballs there won’t be any need for a 4th of July barbecue.

Quaglieri says she learned to cook from her mother and sister-in-law. It relies on simple ingredients, including lots of fresh produce.

Of her grandmother, Nigro said, “Like many immigrants, she comes from a modest background, so she doesn’t use a lot of expensive ingredients in her cooking. She doesn’t experiment much either. She prefers to stick to cooking the dishes she knows how to cook and has become even better as a cook with age.

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‘The Way I Do It’

Everything Quaglieri serves, from bread to pasta, is homemade. In one video, Quaglieri asks his grandson if he wants mac and cheese for lunch, adding, “The way I do it. Not from a box.

Nonna Pia and her grandson, Antonio Nigro

Antonio Nigro

In another video, Nigro asks Nonna if the sauce (yes, she prefers the word sauce to sauce) she uses for her lasagna is store bought. Quaglieri visibly shivers and says, “Are you kidding me?”

“Sometimes people mistakenly think she uses mass-produced pot sauce in the videos. But we pot our own sauce every summer. The whole family — aunts, uncles, cousins ​​— we get together all to make fresh sauce in August,” Nigro said. “It’s quite a process, pureeing the tomatoes, adding the ingredients and making tons of pots of sauce so we can use it all the time. year.”

Unlike some content creators, Nigro chooses not to create enhanced or heavily edited videos. Instead, he posts vignettes of his grandmother’s real daily life. Nigro captures Nonna Pia cooking, cleaning, laughing, dancing and having fun.

The videos illustrate her love of life and family, as well as her incredible strength. Viewers see Quaglieri lifting giant pots and kneading huge mounds of dough to make homemade bread and pasta.

Nigro said, “Pia is a hard worker. She cooks almost every day. Then she cleans the kitchen and the whole house.

Quaglieri added: “That’s all I’ve done in my entire life. I’ve always had mouths to feed.

Nigro joked, “Nonna doesn’t need exercise because she’s always on her feet except in the evenings when she likes to sit in the living room with us to watch her game shows.”

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A surprised TikTok sensation

Quaglieri is surprised by her popularity on TikTok.

“At first when I told her about the number of likes and views her videos are getting, I’m not sure she understood it, but she was flattered,” Nigro said. “Her fame has hit her more recently and she’s having fun when people recognize her when she’s out shopping.”

Quaglieri said: “Yes, I am very surprised that so many people care about my cooking. It feels good because I like showing people how I cook. But while she enjoys her online followers, her greatest joy is cooking for her family. She is very proud of her eight grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.

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Nigro considers himself an old soul. Throughout his life, he always enjoyed spending time with his older relatives, especially his grandmother. “Nonna Pia has lived with us (her parents and her brother) since I was very young. She is like a second mother to me,” he said.

Quaglieri is often heard in the videos telling her grandson, “You have to learn.”

She explained, “Because when I’m not around [any] moreover, they must perpetuate Italian traditions. I still want all my grandchildren to eat as well.

The desire to keep these recipes and traditions alive is why Nigro started making the videos. “There are no written recipes, no measurements – she cooks by feel, taste and memory,” he said.

“All the recipes are in my head, I just remember them,” Quaglieri explained. (Often asked by fans if she wants to write a cookbook, Quaglieri responds, “How am I going to write a cookbook when I’m not writing English?”)

Nigro is happy to see the world embracing his grandma, but says it wasn’t his intention to make his Nonna famous

“It was never about making money or gaining subscribers. The motivation of the videos is to preserve our traditions. I record Nonna Pia for us, for our family. I want to preserve her traditions and ensuring that his love of food and family lives on through the generations,” Nigro said.

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growing up in italian

Saturday March 19 was Saint Joseph’s Day and how else would Italians choose to commemorate this day other than with a party?

Sabino Curcio, owner of Anthony and Son Sandwich Shoppe in Brooklyn, NY and co-creator of the Italian podcast Growing Up, said, “For us, food is about family and tradition. Italians, we are proud of our cuisine. We cook the dishes that remind us of the good memories we have growing up, sitting around the table together.

In Curcio’s words, you don’t have to be rich to enjoy a hearty and delicious Italian meal.

“In Italy, and even when they arrived in America, the Italians had a hard time. They had no money or access to sophisticated ingredients. They didn’t eat much meat or chicken. Instead, they worked with good, inexpensive ingredients – the best they could find,” he said. “Water, flour, that’s all it takes to make pasta or pizza dough.”

And while today’s modern Italian cuisine tries to reinvent the classics, Curcio thinks that’s nonsense.

“A homemade crust, with homemade sauce and fresh mozzarella, is pizza. There’s no reason to add pineapple or any other awesome ingredients,” he said. “It’s not broken, so there’s no need to fix it.”

Randi Mazzella is a freelance writer specializing in a wide range of topics from parenthood to pop culture to life after 50. She is a mother of three and lives in New Jersey with her husband and teenage son. Learn more about his work at randimazzella.com.

This article is reproduced with permission from NextAvenue.org© 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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