Eating in Italy

If the Italians know how to do one thing, it’s eat! Before you visit, though, there are some things you need to know about eating in Italy.

  • They don’t eat breakfast like North Americans. Let me explain. Here we have eggs, bacon, toast, the works. In Italy, breakfast is a light little wake up – maybe a small bun, croissant or pastry and a caffe (espresso), cappuccino or caffe latte.
  • Italians don’t drink cappuccinos after noon, so if you’re going to order one, have it with breakfast.
  • Sitting down at a cafe will almost always mean they charge you for service. If you order a coffee, drink it at the bar like the Italians!
  • Be careful of what time you stop for lunch if you want to have a sit down meal. Most places, restaurants included, close between 1 and 2 for the afternoon. Places that make sandwiches or serve pizza by the slice only will usually be open all afternoon for a lunch on the go.
  • Italians enjoy an aperitivo before dinner – a drink (prosecco and champagne are favourites because it’s believed the bubbles help prepare your stomach for a meal) and some light snacks are usually eaten after work. Some bars have aperitivo hours (between 5 and 7 or 8) and will serve little sandwiches, pieces of pizza, chips and other snacks. Check before you sit down, though – there might be a charge for the snacks!
  • Most of the better restaurants don’t serve dinner until 7pm or later. The reason? Most Italians take their time with the aperitivo and aren’t hungry or ready for dinner until 8 or later.
  • Avoid any restaurant that has people outside inciting you to come in. Generally speaking, they’re not as good and tend to cater to tourists instead of locals.
  • Also, avoid any restaurant that has their menu translated into a ton of languages. Most good restaurants will have an Italian and English menu, maybe one in a third language (Spanish or French). After that, you know they’re only after tourists.
  • Try to walk a few streets away from any main tourist site. As a general rule, don’t eat inside a piazza or square – the view is nice but the food is never as good.
  • A lot, if not all, of the restaurants will have a menu posted outside. Take a look before sitting down.
  • Restaurant menus will have antipasto, primi and secondi sections. Some will also have contorno (side dish) and dolce (dessert). The primi plates are usually pasta or risotto, something heavy. Secondi dishes would be meats or fish, something a little lighter.
  • If you’re drinking wine, most restaurants will have a wine list. Ask for a house wine (vino della casa) even if you don’t see it on the menu. Most places have a house wine at a great price, and they’re usually delicious.
  • A meal isn’t complete without gelato. Okay, maybe that’s just my rule, but make an effort to find and try as many different flavours while you’re in Italy.

Do you have any tips for eating while in Italy? I’d love to hear them!