Delicious food is one of things that Italy is best known for. Pizza, spaghetti, lasagne and ravioli are just some of the images that come to mind when the words “Italian food” is mentioned. What the average person doesn’t know is that what we refer to as Italians food in the US are actually very Americanized variants of food from Italy. There’s no such thing as “Italian food” over there. Food in Italy follows themes that are reflective of the regions where they come from.
For instance, Rome’s specialties include bucatini amatriciana and carciofi Romana. Florence is all about the divine Fiorentina T-bone steaks. Venice, on the other hand, is a seafood lover’s paradise. It’s a place for feasting on squid ink pasta and grilled scallops. Each locale’s cuisine has a distinct character that you may not have expected to be of Italian origin if you didn’t know better.
When you visit Italy, part of getting immersed in a full experience is enjoying authentic Italian food in an authentic Italian way. Over thousands of years, the local population has developed eating habits and practices that are delightful to watch and even better to emulate. If you want to blend right in and enjoy food like Italians do, follow these easy tips and dig right in!
The Italian day starts strong, sweet and fast. A frothy cappuccino and a sweet cornetto pastry eaten standing up at the local bar is the way that locals do it. The caffeine from the cappuccino jolts the body into wakefulness as the pastry supplies the carbs that will power you all morning.
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar are for your salad not for your bread. Avoid the impulse to dip and you should fit right in with everyone.
Slow Down and Sit
Italians are not big snackers. There are no cup holders in cars for drinking coffee on the go. You will find very little snack foods in the grocery stores, so don’t expect anything like Wal-Mart or Subway in this country. Lunch and dinner are eaten at the table, on china plates with real silverware. Italians love to savor their food with a glass of wine alongside family, friends and colleagues. You don’t have to do the whole antipasta, primi, secondi, dolce courses. A quick plate of pasta or even a large salad are perfectly normal and acceptable to the locals. Thankfully, delicious gelato is the exception to Italy’s non-snacking culture. You can have this frozen treat practically anywhere and it comes in lots of wonderful flavors.
Speaking of Salad
There is not a long list of salad dressing choices. It’s pretty much olive oil and vinegar or lemon. Caesar dressing is not an authentic Italian concoction even if it conjures up images of Roman emperors, so don’t go looking for it.
Know What’s in Season
Italians eat with the seasons. That means strawberries in spring and stone fruits in the summer. Winter is full of citrus and dark leafy greens, while falls is the time for chestnuts and porcini mushroom dishes. Go to the markets and see what’ s being sold. When you’re in a restaurant, ask about what’s fresh that day. There are usually dishes that aren’t in the menu because they’re seasonal, so don’t be shy about inquiring.
Eat your Greens
Fresh vegetables are an important part of an Italian meal, but they are not automatically served with your entree course. Look for the word contorno or verdure on the menu in a separate section. These signify vegetables, so ask for some when you see them.
How to eat Pizza like an Italian
The best pizzas in Italy come from Naples and Rome. The Neapolitan style of pizza has a soft, puffy crust while the Roman style has a thin and crispy one. Round wood oven-cooked pizzas are only served at dinner and each one is an individual serving. Pizzas arrive at your table unsliced and they are eaten with a knife and a fork. If you’re in Tuscany or Venice, stick to pasta or look for a Roman or a Neapolitan in the kitchen. If you have a hankering for pizza during daytime, look for Pizza al Taglio or pizza by the slice.
How to Drink Like an Italian
Stick to coffee, water and wine. Drink your cafe latte in the morning or a cappuccino for an afternoon treat, but avoid milky coffee directly after a meal — a small, strong espresso is much better for your digestion.
Tipping in Italy
Waiters and service staff are paid a regular salary and are not dependent on tips in the way servers in the United States are. Unless you’re in a fine dining, Michelin-starred restaurant, 10% is considered more than generous in Italy. If you see the word servizio on your check, that means the tip has already been added.
Overall, dining in Italy is a great cultural and gastronomical experience that you should enjoy. It has a bit of a learning curve but once you get the hang of it, you’ll realize that there’s a certain charm to how the people in this lovely country enjoy their food. Eat well!