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Guide to Italian Food Culture and Eating Out in Italy

Our Italian food culture guide explains what Italian food to order for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the different types of restaurants and how the menu is structured when eating out in Italy.

When you stay in an Italian village or town for any length of time, you will soon feel part of the community. The locals will wave to you, say hello and waiters at the bar or trattoria will greet you like lost friends every time you visit.

On the other hand, if you travel around, you can explore the variety of accents and regional Italian food that makes up Italy's food culture.  Wherever you go, make sure that you live like a local; eat totellini in Bologna, risotto in Milan, trenette al pesto in Genoa, and cassata in Taormina. Each area has very strong and well-established culinary traditions, and discovering them is always a pleasure.

Italian Food Culture and Breakfast

The Italian breakfast is not very heavy at all, and some people just make do with a strong espresso . However, some may indulge in sweet pastries such as a bombolone , cornetto , or sfogliatella - and remember that when you offer un caffe it means that you are ordering a short, black coffee. If you would prefer to have un cappuccino make sure that you order one before 11:00 a.m. It is not part of the Italian food culture to order a cappuccino after that.

macchiatoUn caffe Americano is a long black, un caffe latte , is flat white, and un macchiato is an espresso with a dash of milk. Un caffe alto or lungo is a tall black, and a caffe basso or ristretto is an exceptionally short coffee. Finally a caffe correto is an espresso with a shot of grappa to kick start the system on those bitterly cold, winter mornings.

Italians go to the local bar for breakfast. The Italian bar is what others would call a coffee shop. The Italian food culture here is that the locals would not sit down to drink their coffee, because of the cover charge to do so, known as the
coperta . Bars charge an enormous surcharge for the use of the seat, the cutlery and the table. As a result, Italians can be found lined up at the counter chatting away to neighbors and friends.

So therefore you will see two prices being charged one for drinking your coffee at the counter -
al banco , and for being at the table - al tavolo . But there is a third price that you can get charged if you are at the bar after 10 in the evening, and that is a dopo le 22 surcharge, which is more expensive that using the table.

When you place your order at the bar, at the same time you will be asked to hand over the
scontrino . This is the pre-payment which is required and the scontrino fiscale is the receipt that you must keep with you until you leave the bar.
Caffe Italiano

Italian Food Culture and Lunches and Dinners

When you go to a restaurant or trattoria there is only one price list, but a surcharge of 10-15% is added to your bill - il conto for il servizi o - service charge. As a result there is no need to leave a tip at restaurants when this is included.

a typical italian restaurant Lunchtime is the main meal of the day, and the pivot of Italian food culture. Lunch is between noon and 3:00 p.m. and shops in small villages and towns close for lunch, it is that important to the Italians.

Dinner , is served between 7:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. There are a number of options for you to choose from, each within their own price bracket.

There are restaurants, which can be the top of the range -
ristoranti, trattorie that is more of a family owned restaurant with typical local fare and at better prices, pizzerie which doesn't need any explaining, an enoteca which is a wine bar that sometimes serves simple dishes at good prices, and paninoteca where you can buy panini or sandwiches.

Italian Food Culture and Italian Menus

antipasto The Italian menu is designed to offer 4 courses, starting with the antipasti , prima piatti , secondi piatti , and dolci .

antipasti and the prima piatti are the appetizers dishes usually soups, bruschetta , and small dishes before the main event. They also include pasta and rice dishes like risottos .

secondi piatti or second plates are the more substantial meals that will include meat, poultry, and seafood dishes. None of your main meals will come with vegetables. These, known as vedure , and seen in your menu under cortoni or side dishes.

Italian Food Culture - Olive Oil and Balsalmic Vinegar

Olive oil and balsalmic vinegar are two ingredients that you will always find on an Italian table. A basket of bread is usually put on the table while you wait for the meal to be cooked, and unless you are in the far north of the country, everyone uses olive oil to moisten the bread, and butter is nowhere in sight.

Italian Food Culture and Going Dutch

Finally, when it comes to good manners and Italian food culture, it is considered very rude in Italy to ask for a separate bill when you are going Dutch. Not that you can't go Dutch in Italy and share a bill, you can, but it is better for one to pay the bill, and the others to decide how much is owned after the dinner.

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