Thursday, October 9, 2014

10 Things You Need to Know Before Eating in Italy

“Watching Italians eat (especially men, I have to say) is a form of tourism the books don't tell you about." Barbara Kingsolver

Let's talk about one of my favorite subjects: Italian food.  Having tried "Italian" cuisine around the world, I have to say it does not compare to eating real Italian food IN ITALY.  Italians love to break rules, unless we are talking about food, then their rules are very strict as they don't like to deviate from tradition.  So, I'm going to share 10 things I've learned and that you should know before eating in Italy:

1. Have your breakfast standing: Regular Italian breakfast consist of coffee and a croissant, locally called "cornetto".  Since it will take you about two seconds to drink your shot of espresso, Italians usually have their coffee standing at the coffee bar.  If you sit at a table and wait to be served, you will be charge quadruple the price. Beware!

2. Is it lunch time yet?: Don't show up at a restaurant before 12:30, they will not be ready.  

3. Order in Order: There is a specific order when it comes to eating Italian food.  If you order out of that specific order, you may be frown upon or else.  So here is the order:
  • Antipasto: Is the appetizer 
  • Primi: Is your pasta dish
  • Secondo: Is you your meat/chicken/fish dish which can be ordered at the same time  as the side dishes; normally you will have to order your sides (called "contorni" in Italian) as they don't come with the meat dish.
  • Dolce: Is is your dessert
Now, you don't have to order all the courses, just make sure you don't order a Secondo first and then and antipasto.

4. Do not mix and match: Food in Italy is approached with the same devotion as a religion. Do not mix and match when it comes to food in Italy.  If you order a pasta dish as a Primi (first course) and a chicken dish as a Secondo (second course) DO NOT put your chicken and your pasta in the same plate!! All you need to know is that it's a sin ;)

5. Ranch, what is "Ranch"?: When it comes to salads you will not find several pre-mixed dressing options.  Most likely your only option will be bottles of Olive Oil and Vinegar at your table, and salt and pepper.  You are expected to season your own salad to taste.  Sorry, only Italian-style in Italy.

6. Dishes you won't find: Italians around the world have allowed themselves to be creative and break the rules that are so strict in their country of origin.  However, no matter how much you search for them you won't (easily) find: Spaghetti and Meatballs, Spaghetti with chicken legs, Pasta Alfredo, pasta with everything but the kitchen sink on it.  Their dishes are usually built with a few "extremely good" ingredients.

7. The real meaning of Pepperoni: In Italian the word Pepperoni means Bell Peppers, so if you order a "Pepperoni" pizza, you'll get red bell peppers as a topping.  If you want an American pepperoni pizza try "Pizza alla Diavola" which comes with a spicy salami on top.  It's yummy, you will not be disappointed. 

8. Is it dinner time yet?: No. If you are looking to dine at 6:00 pm, you're out of luck, it's not dinner time until around 8:00 pm.  If you are starving, you can try an Aperitivo, a drink which comes with little munchies, kind of like happy hour.

9. Now it's dinner time: Same rules apply as at lunch time.  Ah, and no need to tip a percentage of the meal, a couple of Euros will do.  Waiters receive a salary and are not dependent on the tips to make a living.  

10. The best part of it all: Take your time! Enjoy your meal! Have some wine! Eat out on the terrace if the weather is nice.  Nobody will rush you out, they will not bring you the bill as soon as your food is on the table, they will not even bring it what you are taking your last bite.  You can linger for as long as you want, talk, laugh and take it all in.  Lower the RPMs and enjoy your real Italian food experience.

Arrivederci for now,

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