How to NOT embarrass yourself in an Italian restaurant September 21, 2013/in Blog/by admin
Eating in Italy is Serious Business!
Italians are known for being pretty relaxed about rules, but they take their food VERY seriously. Food is much more than just nutrition, it's Art, it's Alchemy, and it should be respected in order to best be enjoyed. Here are some tips on eating and drinking in Italy that might save you some embarrassment in front of that really cute waiter or waitress...
"Excuse me, did you just order a glass of MILK??!"
No. 1: Latte is Milk
If you order a "latte" you will get a glass of milk. If you want the milky coffee you need to order a "caffe latte," which is almost exclusively drunk in the morning at breakfast (and I know you know this: cappuccinos and caffe lattes are no-no's after about 11 a.m. and definitely NOT drunk after a meal, with a meal, or with dessert).
No. 2: When is a pepperoni not a pepperoni? Always.
A "pepperoni" is a red bell pepper (you mostly find red or yellow here, not green). If you want a "pepperoni pizza" you order "pizza con salamino piccante."
No. 3: Forget about the Meatballs
Don't expect to find spaghetti with meatballs. You may find something similar somewhere (probably in the south), but it won't look like what you're used to and it's certainly not a common dish in Italy.
No. 4: Truffles are not chocolates
They are, instead, a very precious type of fungus (technically a rhizome, and NOT a mushroom) that grow underground in a symbiotic relationship with the roots of trees (usually oak in the case of Italian truffles). They are extremely aromatic and are sold as very costly "bulbs" that are grated finely onto pasta and other dishes.
Truffles: "The diamonds of the kitchen"
No. 5: Hold the "Balsamic"
You might not find balsamic vinegar everywhere since it's a regional product from Modena, in Emilia-Romagna (the region of Bologna and Parma). It's common to find it in stores and restaurants, but it is not part of a lot of traditional dishes (don't put it on a delicate "Caprese" salad from Naples, for example! You'll kill the flavor of the tender buffalo mozzarella). For more on this delicious vinegar, see the consortium of producers here. It MUST be made in Modena to be called Balsamic Vinegar.
No. 6: Who the heck is Alfredo??
There is nothing called "Fettucine Alfredo." My Italian friend described it as "American food porn."... so don't make a fool of yourself. ("Al Fresco," however, is eating outside, so that's OK!)
No. 7: You say Tomato, I say ... Pomodoro
Don't expect to find a "red sauce" like your Sicilian grandmother used to make. Every region has its own type of tomato sauce, and it's probably not called "rosso." In Tuscany, for example, you might find "pasta all'arrabiata" (= "angry" pasta) which is tomato sauce with garlic and a nice dose of peperoncino (hot red pepper flakes). Along the coast you may find a plain "pasta al pomodoro" (pasta with tomato sauce), while in Bologna the "sugo" (sauce) is almost exclusively tomato sauce with ground beef (and a little prosciutto!).
No. 8: Hold the cheese, please
Don't put cheese (grated parmesan) on your fish or seafood pasta. Ever.
No. 9: Bread is not pre-meal fare...
Please do not put oil and vinegar on your plate and start mopping it up BEFORE dinner. They bring the bread along with the cutlery and salt and pepper, in preparation for service, but that doesn't mean you are supposed to start eating it, or pouring oil on your place mat (or worse, a nice "charger" or under-plate). The bread is used to sop up the sauce AFTER a meal, otherwise you just fill up on empty carbs before the meal even begins.
And No. 10: It's in the way you say it, "CH" = K
Bruschetta (slices of toasted bread grated with garlic then topped with olive oil, chopped tomatoes and basil) is pronounced Broos-ketta, NOT Bru-SHetta!!!
Una bella bruschetta!
Italian menus are broken down into categories: 1. Antipasto, or "starters/appetizers;" 2. Primo, which are your pastas, rice dishes and soups; 3. Secondo, or main courses; 4. Contorno, or side-dishes; 5. Dolce, which is dessert as well as cheese plates. You are certainly not expected to order 5 courses every time you go to a restaurant, but "just a salad" will likely get you a scowl if you're in a fancy restaurant (casual places are fine). When ordering, be sure to specify what you would like first and then second, and if you'd like for some dishes to come at different times. For example, if some people got an appetizer but you are jumping straight in with your "secondo," you may want to tell them to bring all "first courses" together, regardless of what they are, otherwise you may be waiting a while to get served! You also need to ASK for the bill since they'll never bring it until they've been asked.
* don't ask for a doggie-bag or for them to wrap up your extra food (unless you're in a pizzeria)
* don't expect to get ice with your drinks, especially water
* don't expect to find a wide choice of beers (there are very few micro-breweries in Italy, and most restaurants won't have such a selection)
* don't ask for a "low-fat" coffee drink at a bar or restaurant (you CAN order de-caf, which is a "caffe decaffeinato")
* if you order a "martini" you will get a glass of Martini-brand vermouth, NOT a classic gin or vodka martini (you need to find a special "american bar" for that sort of mixed drink, or try the bar at a fancy hotel). A "Martini" in Italy is vermouth, but they do great ads!