Pizza. Risotto. Gelato.
So you came to Italy to eat? Well, who can blame you?
Food is one of the greatest treasures of Italy!
Italians love their food and judging by its popularity, so does the rest of the world! Culinary excellence has to be one of the most common reasons to love Italy.
Eating well is something every traveler wants to experience. Yet, it can be a bit confusing to know where to start when it comes to eating in Italy.
Since nobody wants to be confused about eating in Italy, read on to explore the essential food tips that you need to know!
7 Food Tips For Your Trip To Italy
Chances are you are familiar with more than a handful of Italian food words.
So, ordering from a menu might not be so intimidating.
It’s really understanding the food culture that’s a bit more complex.
In addition, the nuances of mealtimes are just different. In the ritual of communing with family and friends, in the pace, and in the pleasure of eating.
You feel the difference in the eating experiences here.
Italy is my home and like many others, I find eating to be a joy. It’s truly one of the best parts of living here!
So, today I am sharing seven food tips for Italy, that will help you navigate your adventures.
After all, if you are going to travel all this way, you want to make the best of your culinary adventures!
Know The Types of Eateries
It’s helpful to know a little about the different types of eateries in Italy (and there are plenty).
So you can make the best choices given your time, resources, & energy.
As well as really explore like a local and experience authentic Italy.
Here are a few of the more common eateries you will find.
Ristorante // A full service sit-down restaurant with multi-course meals. Some will be more expensive than others.
Trattoria // Similar to a restaurant, but often less formal. The menu will be simpler and often it’s family run.
Osteria // Less formal than a restaurant, an osteria often has a small menu focusing on regional food & wine. Prices tend to be less expensive & they are often family run.
Bar // A bar in Italy is more like a caffe. It’s a place to get coffee, pastries and wine & drinks. They will often have snacks and sandwiches as well.
-eria // Anything with an eria at the end of the word, mens it’s an eating establishment that serves/sells that product. Gelateria=Gelato. Pizzeria=Pizza. You get the idea.
Italians Eat in Courses
Meals in Italy have many courses.
Yet unless it’s a holiday or wedding, Italians don’t eat them all in one sitting (one of the lesser know food tips for Italy).
The portion sizes are also smaller than in America, so it’s not as overwhelming as it seems to eat several courses.
You can simply mix and match as you please.
Here’s a quick guide to courses:
Antipasti // The starter. This is a great place to experience local & seasonal selections. And ideal to split with others.
Primi // The first course of hot food like pasta, risotto, soup, or dumplings.
Secondi // This is the main course, typically meat, poultry, game or seafood. Always the most expensive course on the menu.
Contorni // Side dishes of vegetables, potatoes or salad that are typically served with the second course.
Formaggi e Frutta // Cheese & Fruit are sometimes served to round out the meal. Or even in place of dessert.
Dolce // Dessert, save the best for last!
Caffe // Italians typically end meals with an espresso.
Digestivo // These are after-dinner drinks like limoncello, grappa & amaro that Italians sometimes drink to aid digestion.
Mealtime is Sacred
In Italy, mealtimes are about enjoyment and spending time with family and friends.
They are a time of pleasure and leisure. As well as good for the mind & body.
These are pauses engrained into every day are opportunities to stop and connect, both with yourself & others.
The customs around dining in Italy are constant no matter which region you visit.
Meals are prepared simple and fresh. There is no rush. You sit down and enjoy the experience.
That’s the Italian tradition.
Service is Slow & Relaxed
Typically things move at a more leisurely pace in Italy.
This also holds true for dining experiences.
It’s one of the reasons why eating in Italy is nourishing experience for your well-being.
You won’t feel rushed in & out the door because there is another reservation behind you.
The wait staff won’t fuss or continually stop by and ask how things are going.
In fact, you usually have to ask for the check (il conto) when you are ready to leave.
Using an app or phrasebook will allow you to get off the beaten path and dine in local restaurants that don’t cater to tourists with English menus.
Having a translator can help you figure out the names of foods as well as cooking terms used to describe them.
Words like affettato, which means sliced. Or al forno, which means baked.
This is a simple food tip for Italy and it will help you to find all the good stuff!
You may find this list of Italian restaurant phrases useful.
Generally speaking, restaurant hours are limited in Italy. Especially outside of the main tourist areas.
Most restaurants open up around noon and close again by 3 pm. Then dinner begins again around 7.
If it’s mid-day and you are hungry, find an open bar. More like cafes, they often have light snacks and sandwiches to tie you over until dinner.
Additional charges in Italy can be confusing. Here are a few things to be aware of before you go.
Coperto // The coperto is a cover charge added to the overall food bill in restaurants. It will be listed on the menu, and offsets the price of itmes like bread, oil, salt & pepper.
Except in the region of Lazio (where Rome is located). Here there is no coperto, but you will be charged for bread (pane).
Bar Charges // Some bars in Italy charge more to sit down, than if you stand at the bar. You may see two prices listed, banco (standing) & tavolo (sitting).
Sitting down can easily be double the price, which may be preferred if your legs are tired or you want a leisurely pause. 😉
Servizio // In some places you will see a dining service charge for groups of 8 or more, known as a servizio.
If an establishment charges this, it is supposed to be written on the menu. Expect to pay about 10%.
Tipping // It’s optional in Italy, but it can vary based on location. The wait staff make a living wage in Italy, so tipping is not a part of the culture. If anything, you may round the bill up a euro or two.
In my experience, people tip more in the big touristy areas than other areas. In my region, locals don’t really tip. Here, I tend to follow their lead in respecting the local cultural traditions.
Hopefully these food tips for Italy will enrich your adventures.
Now that you have some dining basics under your belt, take a deeper look at how to make the best of your Italian food adventures with 15 Secrets to Authentic Eating in Italy.
And to help you find your way around the other parts of Italian travel, read the T & I Travel Guide.
All of these food and travel tips for Italy are brought to you from a local’s perspective. So take a look around and dive into the wealth of inside insights!
Now, go and book that trip to Italy! It’s time for your own joyful & yummy food adventures!
until the next time…
…live well – travel well – be well
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