Essential Italian Food Etiquette

By Ben Chinisci, ISA Italy Site Specialist

Italian food is arguably the most comforting, popular, and ubiquitous cuisine in the world.  There are some critical nuances to eating in Italy that you should know when you go abroad!  This basic guide will help you navigate these nuances and eat Italian food properly:

Coffee culture

  • There is virtually no drip coffee like in the US, everything is espresso based.  To replicate your traditional drip coffee from the States, you can order an americano.
  • Cappuccinos or milky coffee drinks are ordered until 11am, but after that, only espressos are ordered!
  • You’ll typically drink your coffee standing at a counter bar, or al banco.

Pasta

  • Dried pasta is ok! Most Italians do not actually make their own.
  • Do not snap the pasta in half before putting it in the pot!  Similarly, do not cut your pasta with a knife during meal time.
  • Do not use a spoon to twirl your pasta.  You should use your plate to twirl the pasta.
  • If your pasta dish contains fish, never add cheese on top!

Pizza

  • The main thing to remember is that the people of Naples claim to have invented the original pizza, the margherita.  This pizza contains the colors of the Italian flag: the red sauce, the white cheese, and the green basil.  Which came first, the flag or the pizza?  We may never really know.
  • If you want to order a pizza with other toppings on it…
    • Pepperoni pizza is not peperoni, that’s pizza with peppers! If you want to order it though, you can order a pizza with salsiccia, or sausage.
    • Never, I mean never, get pizza with pineapple on it.  This is a cardinal Italian sin!
  • Pizza in Italy is actually not pre-sliced!  Sometimes some pizza scissors will be provided to help you cut the pizza, but otherwise you’ll just cut your pieces with your own fork and knife.

Meals

Breakfast is SMALL.  Italians do not eat eggs and bacon.  You should expect a pastry or a couple cookies or biscotti with a coffee at most.

  • Lunch and dinner usually consist of a first dish, or primo piatto, which is pasta.  Next is the main course, or secondo, which is meat and veggies.  Finally, there is usually a small dessert like fruit.
  • Dinner is almost always paired with a wine.  In general, with red sauce and/or meat dishes, you’ll drink red wine.  With a lighter sauce and/or fish, you’ll drink white wine.
  • Meal time is a time to slow down!  Enjoy talking with each other.  This is a social “hour” where meals can last longer than you might be used to.

Now that you’ve got basic Italian dining etiquette down, you’re ready to go mangiare!  Buon appetito!

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