Billions of visitors descend on Italy every year, rushing from site to site. But most of these people miss out on the most quintessential Italian thing: Food.
Of course visitors eat– and eat a lot, but most try to fit meals in at their pace, insisting on to-go coffee and early dinners. The saying goes “when in Rome,” and since you might actually be in Rome, why not do food like the Italians do?
The morning ritual in Italy starts with coffee. Locals line the counter at their favorite bars, handing the barista their tickets. Outside, shopkeepers scrub the sidewalk in front of their stores with soapy water and brooms and unlock doors. Italians eat small breakfasts that don’t sit heavily in the stomach. A coffee drink and pastry starts the day.
This is the only acceptable time of day in Italian culture to have coffee drinks with milk. Order a cappuccino or latte macchiato– it’s the Italian way to start your day right.
If you find a sit-down breakfast that serves eggs, run. Run far away. Italians don’t eat eggs for breakfast. What you’ve just found is trying to cater to American tastes and I can assure you, it will be terrible.
The sun is reaching its zenith, the day is probably hot, and throngs of tourists choke the narrow streets. It’s time to duck into some shade and eat. Lunch can be filling or light, depending on your needs. Lunch in Italy isn’t a big affair, but it is a moment to rest, so even if you only nab a sandwich, don’t forget to zone out for a moment and people watch.
Coffee shops, known as bars in Italy, sell sandwiches made of cold cuts such as salami and prosciutto, tomato, and thick slices of fresh cheese. Pizza slices are another quick choice.
For a longer break with more sustenance, sit down at a restaurant and order pasta, soup, salad, or any of the local antipastos. A glass of wine or beer is perfectly acceptable with lunch. Or, wash everything down with a little espresso.
It’s time to settle in for the biggest meal in Italian culture. You might have noticed a restaurant sign or two with 10 p.m. on it and thought, maybe that was a typo. It’s not.
Dinner options open around 7 p.m., at the absolute earliest. Most restaurants aren’t full until around 8 p.m. If you’re peckish during the interlude, grab a gelato or take part in the glorious tradition of the Italian Aperitivi.
An Italian Aperitivi is an early evening drink with snacks. Usually, the cost of your drink covers the snacks and the snacks themselves are delicious regional finger foods.
When dinner time does roll around, be ready to relax and enjoy for awhile. There is no fast dinner in Italy.
Bring your appetite. Waiters and hosts will think you didn’t enjoy the meal if you don’t finish everything on your plate. If you want to keep that from happening, you can skip the antipasto course and primo course and go straight for the secondo course and a “contorno” (side dish). To put the finishing touch on your night, order a “dolce” (dessert). Wash the meal down with a sweet wine or a pallet cleansing espresso shot and you’re ready to wander back to your abode full, happy, and having eaten like an Italian.
Pro tip: You have to ask for the bill in Italy, the waiters won’t bring it until you do. A quick “il conto, per favaore” (bill, please!) will do the trick.