How do you eat in Italian, that’s a question that’s on everyone’s mind when they visit, and when they’re back home.
Italian food culture is probably very different from what you’re used to at home. And, since Italians have been perfecting it for over 1,000 years, try going with the wine and olive oil flow instead of fighting against the current when you’re in Italy. So, while in Italy, keep in mind that both the tradition of food and eating are important parts of the culture.
But how do you say “eat” in Italian? The verb for it is “mangiare”, and if someone says “hai mangiato” it means they’re asking if you’ve eaten, and if your answer is “no”, they’ll worry and follow up with “vuoi mangiare?” which stands for “do you want to eat?”.
So here you go on a journey to learn how to eat Italian food and how to eat in Italian, exactly what we’re here to save you from some embarrassing moments by teaching you how to eat Italian food. I’ll be honest I’m still trying to understand what time Italians eat dinner, but for now…
How do you eat in Italy?
1. Eat in Italian. Don’t ask for “fettuccine alfredo” or “spaghetti with meatballs”
They don’t exist here. Alfredo is an Italian name, and when I asked my Florentine friends if they really had never heard of “fettuccine alfredo,” they responded: “Chi?” (Who?). To get pasta with cream sauce, try anyone with panna (cream) listed in the ingredients – just know that you’ll never find pollo (chicken) on that same list. Explaining the idea of putting chicken in pasta provokes confused looks and expressions like, “Che schifo!” (How disgusting!). Likewise, spaghetti is not served with meatballs. In Naples, you’ll find miniature ones on other types of pasta. Everywhere else, pasta al ragù (with meat sauce) is a common first course, and “polpette” (meatballs), are a typical – separate – second course. If you’re way ahead of me and already thinking, “I’ll just ask for both those things and mix them together,” you can certainly do that. But…reread the title of this article first.
2. What to drink with a meal
Italians only drink water, juices, sodas, wine and beer while eating. In America, my mom used to open up the fridge come dinnertime and list every drinkable thing inside: “Ok, we’ve got ginger ale, milk, coke, lemonade, Bacardi breezers…what do you want?” This would never happen in Italy. The table is usually set with a bottle of sparkling or still water, and a bottle of wine, red for meat and white for fish. Cocktails and liquors are reserved for: aperitivi (before-dinner drinks) and digestivi (after-dinner drinks). Italians take enjoying the flavor of food very seriously, and you must admit that drinking peach iced tea with rosemary lamb chops has to mess with your taste buds. One exception is pizza, to which Coke and beer are common and beloved drinks that usually accompany it.
3. Don’t eat eggs in the morning
The quintessential Italian breakfast is a strong espresso and a sweet pastry. A glass of milk or orange juice can be added. Mix up some scrambled eggs to start your day, and your Italian roommates will watch as if you’re building a spaceship on their stovetop. In Italy, eggs are usually consumed for lunch or dinner, eaten hard-boiled in a salad or sandwich, or as a frittata (open-faced omelet). If you’re dying for a salty breakfast, try a ham and cheese toast (you guessed it, a toasted sandwich) at a local bar (in Italy, a café is called a “caffè“ or “bar”), or escape to American paradise. One of the best places for an American breakfast or brunch is Rooster Café.
Location 2 – Via di Porta Rossa 63/R
Open Tuesday-Sunday from 9am to 3pm.
4. Do drink cappuccino in the morning
…with your (non-egg) breakfast, and not as an accompaniment or finish to other meals. A surefire way to be immediately labeled “foreign” is by ordering a pizza and a cappuccino. If you want to fit in, wean yourself off frothy milk and get used to black espresso, which Italians drink after eating, all day long.
Every single bar in Italy makes cappuccino, if you want to switch it up try La Ménagère, where the ambiance is unique and very flowery.
Via de’ Ginori 8/R
Open every day from 8am to 2am
5. How do Italians eat pizza and what is a “pepperoni pizza”
Duh! Little red meat circles on a pizza! …Right? In some countries, yes. But in Italy, “peperoni” (one “p”) is Italian for the plural of bell pepper. So if it’s “pepperoni” (double “p”) you want and not strips of red or yellow vegetables, check the menu for “pizza al salamino,” “pizza diavola,” or “pizza calabrese” – just be prepared for some spiciness. Now, you should know that in Italy everyone orders a single pizza and proceeds to eat it entirely on their own, and it is not already cut out for you. This brings up the next question: do Italians eat pizza with a fork? The right way is to cut the pizza into slices and eat it with your hands, some like to use a fork and knife, but most Italians firmly believe that using cutlery isn’t the right way to enjoy this delight.
6. Peel your fruits and vegetables
Italians peel fruits and vegetables normally enjoyed with the skin on in other countries: apples, pears, sometimes peaches, carrots, cucumbers, potatoes; even they don’t know exactly why. I’ve heard, “It’s healthier,” “The pesticides will make you sick if you don’t,” and “It tastes better, ” but I think it’s mostly tradition. And why peelers are sold in Italy, Italians prefer good old-fashioned knives. If you eat unpeeled produce in front of them, they might just take it out of your hand, remove the skin in one perfect spiral, and slice it into uniform wedges with the speed and dexterity of a sushi chef. In fact, one of my most embarrassing moments (and I have a lot to choose from) was trying to peel a pear at the dinner table while my Italian friend’s parents watched. Still, many people prefer their fruit with the skin on, they just wash it before eating it!
7. Italian condiments: don’t ask for salad dressing
…reach for the olive oil and vinegar. If you want to be pointed in the direction of the salad dressing aisle at the grocery store, you’ll get blank looks (because there isn’t one). Some tourist restaurants have “ranch” and “french dressing,” which taste like anything but ranch and french dressing. It’s best to begin an amateur mixologist career, by finding the perfect balance of oil and vinegar for your palette. Sound a little boring? You probably haven’t tasted authentic Italian olio e aceto (oil and vinegar); the varieties are endless and the flavors intense. Opt for a cloudy, green oil and pay a little extra for an aged, balsamic vinegar, and you might just write off other (less healthy) dressings for life.
8. Use condiments sparingly
Olive oil is the only real Italian condiment. All the rest came from some other place and show up at grocery stores on the same shelf as exotic food. But “exotic” will not be the word Italians use to describe you putting ranch dressing on your pizza to their friends. People in Italy like to enjoy the exceptional flavor of what they’re eating (which is usually handmade or picked that day), and not mask it with other toppings. If they’re eating chicken, they want to taste chicken, not just barbecue sauce. A condiment (read: olive oil) should enhance flavors, never cover them up.
9.How do Italians eat? Take time to enjoy your food
To eat in Italian. Eating is not a race, and a bowl of cereal in front of late-night TV is not a dinner. It’s not uncommon for Italians to spend an hour preparing a meal and even more time savoring every bite. And when eating out: service is slow, courses are many, and it’s highly unlikely that a waiter will ever tell you they “need your table.” Block off large chunks of time in your agenda for eating. Italian food is unbelievably good and so worthy of “wasting” a few hours; sitting at a table is so much nicer than running around town with a sandwich in your hand. Relax! You’re in Italy!
There’s even an official expression for “enjoy your meal” in Italian, which is “buon appetito”.
10. Wait to eat plain bread with your meal
Can’t wait to show Italy how Italian you are by sitting down at your first ristorante, pouring some olive oil and vinegar on your plate, sprinkling it with Parmesan cheese and dipping your bread inside? Save it for the Olive Garden, because, like that restaurant, it’s actually not Italian at all. Visitors to Florence often complain about the flavor of plain Tuscan bread, as it’s made without salt. Now the big question is how to eat bread in italian restaurants? Well, you’ve got to see it more as a utensil, just like the Italians. It’s often used as the main tool to fare la scarpetta (do the little shoe): the action of mopping up any delicious-ness left on your plate after a meal, or whatever your fork can’t pick up during one.
*Interesting fact: Fare la scarpetta (do the little shoe) ‘s origin came from one of three things: 1) An old word similar to “scarpetta” that was used to describe someone who didn’t have enough food 2) That bread picking up food off a plate is similar to they way the sole of a shoe picks up things off the ground 3) That using bread to scrape up food off a plate smashes it into a shape that somewhat resembles a shoe. (I choose to believe #3 because of this video). Also, our Italian readers (Ciao, belli!) want me to warn you that while the scarpetta is 100% welcome at home, it’s arguably not the most polite demonstration at nice restaurants or in front of people you care about impressing.
Help us all be more Italian! What strange or fascinating food rules have you encountered in Italy? Share them in the comments below:
Extra point cause it’s called 10 rules, and this way I don’t break the post title
What time do Italians eat dinner?
A lot of you are wondering online, what time do Italians eat dinner? Well, generally around 8.30 pm, but that really depends on the family. Dinner time in Italy depends also on the area you’re in: in the north, they eat earlier, while in the south much later. Personally, I range between 8.30 and 9.30 pm. That’s because I usually wait until I’m hungry. Some of you might think that 8.30 is pretty late, but keep in mind what time Italians eat lunch: between 1.00 pm and 2.00 pm, considering that they don’t just have a sandwich or a salad but a real meal. Then, maybe around 4 or 5, they’ll grab any kind of snack, which could be a yogurt, fruit, a little sandwich, some cracker, etc. so they won’t be starving when dinner comes around.
Is it expensive to eat in Italy?
Well, that really depends on where you find yourself, and if you give off a touristy vibe. Now if you’re okay with not eating with a view of the Duomo, or the Canal Grande, you’ll definitely find some spots that are cheap and are also going to remind you the most of Nonna’s cooking. I mean I was just in Naples and ate in this side street, with nothing to look at except for the food. I had pasta, meat, wine, and dessert. I spent 15€. And it was all good. Just be wary of places that offer you a similar deal but with a view of the Duomo of Milan, cause you’re probably going to eat something you could’ve gotten at the Garden State Plaza food court.
Is it rude to not finish your food in Italy?
This is a trick question. But I shall answer it nonetheless. So, if you’re at a restaurant, no it isn’t rude at all. I mean, you ordered it, maybe it wasn’t what you expected, maybe you wanted all the food on the menu cause everything looked great, and now you’re stuffed. You can take it home to where you’re staying no worries. But if you’re at Nonna’s or at any family gathering, yes you will be rude for not finishing your food.
Restaurant = OK to not finish
Family Gathering = Don’t you dare.
Is the food safe to eat in Italy?
That is a pretty fair question. Italy has some of the strictest food regulations out there. So, yes it’s very safe to eat in Italy. Most regulation is put in place so the fame of Italian cuisine doesn’t get tarnished by crooked business owners that try to cut costs, and serve unhealthy food to unsuspecting consumers. When you’re visiting, don’t worry, the food is safe to eat in Italy.