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Top 8 Tips on How to Eat Like an Italian

Italy is a gastronomic paradise that never fails to impress globetrotters. The fresh ingredients and the distinct flavors come together to create a plethora of scrumptious food that is synonymous to the Italian culture. What a layman doesn’t know is that not all the Italian delicacies served in the United States are authentic. They are Americanized variants inspired by Italy but play by their own rules. Each of the regions boasts its own unique cuisine, hence there is no such thing as Italian food. It is the name given by people living outside the country.

When you are here, make sure to delve into the finest Italian dishes the Italian way. Whichever city you visit, you will notice that food and eating plays an integral part of their culture. The people in this country take food very seriously and love enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

For instance, the capital city of Rome is extremely flavorful. Their specialties include Carciofo Romana, Carbonara and Bucatini all’ Amatriciana. The delicacies in Florence heavily rely on local ingredients such as porcini mushrooms, oregano, rosemary, tomatoes, meat, cheese and so on. The most popular dish is the Florentine Steak. Venetian cuisine is all about refined dishes for seafood lovers. The gastronomy guide to this beautiful island city would not be complete without mentioning Sarde in Saor, a fish delicacy. Thus, each locale’s cuisine has a distinct taste and unless you have visited Italy, you might not expect the food to be of Italian origin.

Here are our few tips to help you eat like an Italian while exploring this incredible country.

Ristorantes, Trattorias, Osterias; Where to Eat?

Most-visited-trattorias-in-rome | Tour Italy

First things first: Where to eat? You may know that Ristorantes, Trattorias, and Osterias are Italian-styled food joints. But do you know what differentiates one from the other? It is the menu and the level of service. Going into specifics, a ristorante is a full-service eatery that is elegant and upmarket. As such, a ristorante should have a host, wait staff including a sommelier, and a kitchen expert. The menu is formal, and the food is exotic. However, that doesn’t mean sophisticated food can only be found in ristorantes.

Remember that family-owned eatery in the town you grew up in? The one where the mom cooks, the dad mans the register, and the kids and occasional cousins serve? It is either a house converted into an eating establishment or a small-ish food joint with simple decor. Italians call it a traditional trattoria. The food served in a trattoria is more rustic and exudes a home-cooked vibe. Do not expect any fancy food plating, but do expect a hearty meal that’s as sophisticated in taste as in an exquisite ristorante.

An osteria is synonymous to a tavern or a wine bar that has evolved into serving meals in an unpretentious manner. The food provided here is based on the ingredients that are available in the local market. Hence, an osteria’s fare is simple and less fancy. Even the menu is shorter and not really fixed when compared to trattorias and ristorantes. Thus, the fish delicacy that you had a couple of days back may not be available today.

Nowadays, these three dining options have become somewhat confusing. A place may be called a trattoria or an osteria, but it looks more like a ristorante. In fact, one of the best restaurants in the world – the 3 Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana in Modena – can hardly be considered an osteria in the traditional sense. Nevertheless, there are several of these small eateries where you can relish tempting food in its traditional glory and are worth seeking out.


The Italian mornings are strong, sweet and fast. The locals enjoy standing at the coffee shop and sipping a cup of frothy cappuccino with a pastry. Some of the most promising options are cornetto, doughnuts, and crostata.

Lunch & Dinner
Italian-Dinner-Menu | Tour Italy Now

Italians are not big snackers. So do not expect anything like Subway in Italy. You will also find very little snacking items in the local grocery stores. Lunch is regarded as the most important meal of the day. You don’t have to do the whole antipasti, primi, secondi, dolce courses. A plate of pasta or even a big Italian salad works perfectly. However, after lunch, a cup of espresso coffee is a must. Dinner is usually the only meal where the entire family gathers together. Italians relish the food on china plates with real silverware. It is very common to sip a glass of wine or eat a dessert after the meal. The super creamy gelato comes in various flavors and it is an exception to the non-snacking Italian culture. These ice-creams are often acknowledged as one of the most delicious desserts in the world.

Salad Dressing
italian-Caesar-salad | Tour Italy

In Italy, salads are usually dressed with olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar. Caesar salad is not an authentic Italian concoction. It was developed in 1924 by Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who owned a restaurant in Mexico. Always remember balsamic vinegar and olive oil is used for salad and not for bread. So never dip and you would perfectly fit in the culinary culture of Italy.

Know What’s in Season

Seasonal eating is the Italian way of life. If you want to make a smart selection, get a closer look at what is being sold in the market. And when you are eating out in a restaurant, always ask the waiter, what’s fresh for the day? There are seasonal dishes that aren’t mentioned in the menu card, so don’t hesitate to inquire.

Eat Your Greens

Italy is known for growing a wide array of green leafy vegetables and they form an important part of the meal. If you want to have some vegetables, look for words like contorno or verdure in a separate section of the menu card.
How to eat Pizza like a true Italian

Ever since Pizzeria Brandi in Naples invented Pizza Margherita in 1889, the world has been in love with this tasty food. Indeed the best pizzas in Italy come from Naples. The Neapolitan pizza has a soft crust, while the Roman one has a thinner crust. The pizzas are unsliced when they arrive at the table and are generally eaten with a knife and a fork in hand. If you are in Tuscany or Venice, stick to pasta or look for a Neapolitan in the kitchen. If you have a yearning for pizza during the daytime, look for Pizza al Taglio or pizza by the slice.

Drinking in Italy

Drinking is an art in Italy and like any other art form; it follows a set of etiquettes. Try sticking to coffee, water, and wine. Cafe latte or cappuccino is ideal for breakfast because Italians associate milk with this hour of the day. Drinking milk-based coffee beverages in the afternoon or directly after meals is not a part of Italy’s coffee culture. They believe a small, strong espresso is much better for digestion.

Tipping Rules in Italy
Tipping-Rules-in-Italy | Tour Italy

Tipping in Italy is not regarded as a standard practice. If the word servizio is mentioned it means that the tip is already added to the bill and if you pay more it is considered a bonus. The service staff and the waiters are salaried and they are not dependent on tips. 10% tipping is considered more than generous unless you are dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Overall, eating in Italy is a great gastronomic experience. It is the best way to get acquainted with the rich culture. Eat well and fall in love with the country’s sumptuous food!

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By Priscila Siano (266 Posts)

Priscila Siano is the Marketing Director of Tour Italy Now, an online tour operator specializing in Italy travel. She's a respected expert on making dream Italy vacations a reality for clients.

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One Comment

  1. Antonella
    Posted April 16, 2017 at 10:15 AM | Permalink

    almost everything you said is quite true,it’s bucatini ALLA amatriciana and carciofi ALLA romana,it’s antipastO and I’m sorry but nothing says “tourist” more than someone sitting at a table drinking a cappuccino in the afternoon,after 11 am only foreigners could drink it.
    Last but not least,pizza..there are TONZ of great places all around Italy to eat it,not only in Neaples and Rome and you can eat pizza at lunch too..anyway,great tips and thanks for sharing your knowledge!!bye!

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