Good to know....
[revised February 2024] Food can be a divisive subject, something so personal and “ancestral” that we immediately notice when somebody has different eating habits from us.
So, it was fun to collect some of the aspects that make us, Italians, seem weird to the eyes of people coming from another continent:
- we usually eat lunch and dinner preferably at the same time, which means late! In summer we can easily have dinner at 9.30 pm, even when children are involved (at least in Rome and in South regions)
- we mostly eat Italian food *all the time* ! Yes, we are fond of our tradition and eating “ethnic cuisine” is usually on a special occasion. This is changing, though: new generations like fusion food and the spread of delivery services made Italians more familiar with different options.
- We eat one kind of food at a time: only exception is the main course (fish or meat) with its side vegetables, but you never combine pasta and salad, for instance.
- The reason for the previous point is probably connected with the presence of many fresh and quality ingredients in our culinary tradition, which are better appreciated if they are “alone” or just in the good and well explored combination (tomatoes and mozzarella, for instance). We give a lot of importance to acronymous like DOP, DOC, IGT… What do they mean? For food, the best guarantee is DOP (a denomination of protected origin): it means the environment has a special influence in the creation of that product and the whole process must happen in a specified location. The easiest examples are Parmigiano Reggiano or Parma Ham, but we have 167 products in Italy with this special recognition, no other European country can say the same! A step below is the IGP products: we have 130 of these examples and it means at least one phase (growing, transforming or making the final product) happens in a specific geographical area. We care a lot for these quality marks and we appreciate genuine single flavours: in the end, a good hand-sliced prosciutto only needs some focaccia and a glass of wine to be a perfect meal!
- To continue this little “lesson” on food acronyms, best wines are labelled as DOCG, which means that their denomination is “controlled” and “guaranteed” by a commission. Not only they have to follow a disciplinary code during the production and can only be produced in a specific territory (as the DOC wines are), but they have to maintain this quality level for at least 10 consecutive years and be tested both mechanically AND by a human analysis. Of course all this attention raises the price of the wine, but if you want to taste a good wine without spending a fortune be sure that it is a least an IGT (the territory is not too restricted, but the vines have to be carefully selected and indicated, without mixing too much)
- pizza doesn’t come pre-cut. And we order one pizza per person, it’s an individual dish, not something you share, at least not when you are in a pizzeria sitting at a table.
- salad is not served as an entrée, but as a side dish with the main course. And the only dressing option is olive oil, salt and – for those who like it – vinegar or lemon juice. This seasoning is personally done, the restaurant is never serving an “already dressed” salad.
- Fettuccine Alfredo, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan, pepperoni pizza... you won’t find these recipes listed in Italian restaurants in Italy! If you like the pizza with spicy sausage, ask for a “pizza con salame piccante”, and instead of those “movies pastas”, order “tonnarelli cacio e pepe” or “fettuccine al ragù”. Chicken is usually served here with peperoni (i.e. non spicy peppers) or grilled, while you will surely enjoy eggplant parmesan (melanzane alla parmigiana), really delicious!
- coffee is better tasted at a bar instead of restaurants: I suggest to ask for the bill (BTW, you have to ask for the bill or it will never been prepared, we consider this rude, and waiters do not speed up service on purpose, you always have to call them) before coffee and have a healthy walk to the first good bar (yes, the bar here serves coffee, not alcool… at least, not only) and drink your espresso standing … “as the Romans do”
- we usually have gelato on a cone, generally two or three flavours at the time (same price!) and we eat it while we walk in our errands or during a promenade
- cookies or a slice of cake for breakfast are not a treat, it’s totally normal. While eggs for breakfast are extremely rare in an Italian house.
Do you know other weird aspects of Italian eating habits? Let us know with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org