As in so many places around the world, food is at the heart of Italian culture. If you want to experience true Italy, you must familiarize yourself with the customs and traditions of Italian cuisine. And to do that, you have to try all the foods.
Oh damn. 😉
However, "Italian food" is a bit of a misnomer. Wherever you are in Italy, you will actually find differences in food and traditions. The Italian food in Venice is completely different from what you find in Sicily.
Typical dishes and cultural practices vary widely in northern and southern Italy.
One of the main reasons for the unique food in each region is the difference in climate and season. Italy is very adamant about its DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta)– which is reflected in a protected designation of origin; Essentially, they ensure and protect products from being grown and packaged locally.
You wonder how the locals eat and how the food culture is? I split the goods!
Here's my ultimate guide to eating like a local in Italy. Mangia bene!
The Italian coffee culture is actually unique. Maybe you're used to ordering your Starbucks Grande Latte to take away in the afternoon. There are a few "non-Italian" things about this particular order.
The first thing to know is that milk-based coffee is usually only consumed in the morning with breakfast. There are a few theories why this is the case …
Some people say it's because drinking milk after a meal causes stomach ache. Others say that it is only based on the old tradition of drinking milk as soon as the milkman delivers it so it does not spoil. However, most people would not dare to order a cappuccino in the afternoon.
In the truest sense of the word you get the side eye.
Second, baristas expect you to have your coffee at the bar or at your table. That means you have nothing to do. You will find that most coffees are much smaller than you may be used to. Therefore, it is easy to drink in a few swallows.
Food is available throughout Italy
A typical Italian breakfast consists of brioche (actually a croissant) and a coffee (usually a cappuccino). Other foods you will definitely find, wherever you are? Ice cream, cheese, grappa and limoncello and plenty of wine. It is very, very easy to eat and drink silly yourself!
But hey, when in Rome! 😉
(Speaking of Rome, Look at that great culinary journey in Rome, if you plan a visit!)
North Italy: Fish, pasta (like Vongole), tiramisu (after all, it's the birthplace!) And Prosecco (the birthplace of Spritz Aperol)
Southern Italy: Pasta, pizza (the birthplace is Napoli), caponata and eggplant Parmigiana
Sardinia: Suckling pig (as in a big roast)
Sicily: Arancini, Caponata and Canoli
About the meal
Once you sit down, the server asks you if you want to acqua naturale (still water) or frizzante (Carbonated water) You will find that you usually have to ask for ice cream when the water is cold.
Wine is also a usual dinner and that will be the next question! They usually order in glass or in the bottle, but you often see 1 liter or 0.5 liter portions in Rosso (red) or Bianco (white).
Whichever beverage you choose, whether it be soda, water or wine, you will not expect free refills.
When you order dinner, you have several options. It is important to remember that Italian dishes are rarely just a big dish. Instead, the locals order their meals in courses – many, many courses! Here is a typical breakdown:
Aperitivo: These are your first sips and bites to "prepare your stomach for a meal". Think of Spritz Aperol along with a tapa like olives or meatballs.
Antipasti: Your starter. Often it is a small plate of meat and cheese.
Primi: This is the first course with warm dishes. Traditionally it is a vegetarian pasta dish.
Secondi: In your second course this usually consists of meat or seafood.
Contorini: This is essentially a side dish that is served with your second course. It is usually vegetables to meat.
Insalata: After you have eaten your second course, you can opt for a small salad.
Formaggi E Frutta: Hello, cheese and fruit combinations!
Dolce: Have you saved all the space for a dessert after all this?
Caffe: Italians often finish their meals with a dash of espresso.
Digestivo: Certain alcoholic drinks such as limoncello, amaro and grappa are said to help with digestion.
Etiquette for eating at someone's home
If you are lucky enough to be invited to dinner in an Italian house, you should consider a few little things.
In general, it is best to eat at a similar pace to your host. Finishing everything on your plate is basically a request for seconds. Meanwhile, as a sign that you did not like the food, a lot of food on the plate.
Sunday lunches are an important menu in every Italian calendar. If you receive an invitation, bring a dessert with you. Anything from the local bakery or a tub of ice cream to share with everyone is much appreciated.
Tipping + The bill
There are no expectations for tipping. The locals usually leave only a bit of money left to settle their bill, but not anymore (eg 40 € for an invoice of 37.85 €). If you're in an upscale restaurant, you may * leave * ten percent of your time to appreciate a truly exceptional service. Usually, however, the service is already included in the menu or receipt and is shown on it.
One important thing is that restaurants will not bill you when you're done eating. You have to ask or you will be there all night. I think that's really great, because it's anchored in the culture to take time and enjoy the food and the company – there's no need to hurry.
You can ask for the bill by saying:Il conto, per favore."
You will find that traditional Italian pasta dishes contain no meat (unless you are in the north, where fish are common). Spaghetti and meatballs are just as hard to get as fettuccine Alfredo and chicken parmesan.
There are also standardized combinations of pasta and sauce. While we may only prepare penne or farfalle with the sauce we have available, the Italians would have chosen combinations.
Take a look at this interesting breakdown of pairings!
Ready to say ciao? Here you will find everything you need to know before your first trip to Italy.
So, which Italian food would you like to try? allllll from them? I do not blame you! Let me know your thoughts on Italian food culture below!
Rome Food Tour & Pizza
During my visit to Rome I was on a Rome food tour with Walks of Italy and made pizza. If you ask me, this is the best way to discover a city!
Recommended Food Tours in Italy!
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