Discover the Essentials of Italian Food Culture: 4 Must-Know Tips for Anyone Planning a Trip to Italy
The USA Abroad! series is a look at the experiences of Americans who are having an international student experience in Europe.
Although Italian food is a prevalent type of cuisine in the United States, the food itself and its consumption are exponentially different in Italy. I have highlighted four “food shocks” an American might have upon setting foot in Italy–and I have also briefly explained some myths about Italian food that stemmed from the States!
1. Breakfast is sweet and simple
In the United States, if your friend asks you to go out to breakfast, you probably imagine a full and hearty breakfast with bacon, eggs, hash browns, and a decadent serving of pancakes or waffles. In Italy, breakfast is much more simple — and significantly lighter.
The typical Italian breakfast consists of coffee, a cornetto, and often orange juice, too. A cornetto is a typical breakfast pastry eaten in Italy. It is similar to a croissant but not as buttery and flaky. Cornetti can have all types of fillings, ranging from Nutella to chocolate to various jams, but my favorite is pistachio. While in big cities like Rome and Milan, you can find an “American style” breakfast in some restaurants, but don’t be surprised if you walk into a cafe to get breakfast and don’t see the typical savory options common in the United States!
2. Posso avere un espresso per favore…
Coffee culture is a big part of Italy’s culture and is incredibly different from the coffee culture in the United States. Everyone in Italy drinks espresso, a short and condensed portion of coffee, around 1-2 ounces. However, not everyone drinks straight espresso — there are many delicious espresso-based drinks that Italians enjoy, like a cappuccino, caffè macchiato, or a caffè latte, to name a few. Different consistencies and amounts of steamed milk are added to make these drinks.
In Italy, coffee culture is not merely about the type of coffee drink you have; it is also about the community aspect associated with drinking coffee, often at your neighborhood bar. Your interactions with the barista and the people around you are meaningful and even familial in many settings.
3. Water — Naturale o Frizzante?
After sitting at a restaurant in Italy (and many other European countries), your waiter will first ask you which type of water you would like. In Italy, drinking sparkling water is very common, so at restaurants, you can choose between still or sparkling water — and sometimes you can even choose if you want slightly sparkling water (leggermente frizzante) or normal sparkling water (frizzante). Another point to know about drinking water in restaurants is that your water will not be served with ice (ghiaccio) like it usually is in the States. In Italy, ice is only used in cocktails or served alongside soda.
Aperitivo in Italy is similar to happy hour in the United States. It is a time when friends, family, or colleagues can get together between the end of work and before dinner to relax and enjoy a drink or two accompanied by some light snacks — chips, olives, small sandwiches, or pizzette (small pizzas). Standard drinks at aperitivo are spritz (usually with Aperol or Campari), Negroni, wine, beer, or prosecco. The social aspects of eating and drinking in Italy are as important as the dishes themselves, and aperitivo is an excellent example of the conviviality that is valued so much here.
Debunking American Myths About Italian Food!
Spaghetti with meatballs can be argued as being one of the most common Italian-American dishes, but unfortunately, it does not exist in Italy. Instead, spaghetti and meatballs are served separately. Instead of spaghetti and meatballs, Polpette al sugo (meatballs with sauce) is a typical dish found at restaurants in Italy, and it is well worth the try!
Another pairing of foods that is extremely common in the States but could never be found in Italy is Chicken Alfredo. Pasta and chicken are seen as two separate dishes in Italy and are never paired; instead, they are divided into primi and secondi (first and second course). Alfredo sauce in the United States is also different from Alfredo in Italy. In Italy, Alfredo is less heavy than in the States because different (and fewer) ingredients are used.
Francesca Bizzarri-Black is a student from Seattle, Washington, studying Archeology and Classics at the American University of Rome. She has lived in The Eternal City for almost two years and is in her sophomore year. Francesca loves to read, write, go to museums, and, most of all, try new foods from the different cities and countries she travels to.
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