You can’t go to Italy and not talk about the food. Not only is it all delicious, but it plays such an important part in Italian culture. With no food allergies and no desire to be gluten free, I approached Italy with open arms and an empty stomach. It goes without saying that the food and wine in Italy is superbly decadent, but the preparation and presentation of food follow a set of rules that dictate how and when and what to eat.
Before coming to Italy I was aware that food is no joke out here. My pre-trip research taught me that food is made and eaten purposefully, not simply eaten just to survive, but eaten to enjoy life. However, since arriving in Italy I have realized that the passion has led to guidelines that must be followed. In some ways, the rules remind me of eating kosher. Certain foods cannot be eaten before others and some will not share a plate under any circumstances. Come to Italy hungry because meals, especially dinners, have multiple courses that you are expected to complete. Here is the bare minimum that a traditional Italian dinner will feature:
Antipasto: The first course is an appetizer. Something light, often cold, and simple.
Primi: The second course is my personal favorite – pasta. Thick, homemade pasta sit twirled in a bowl topped with the perfect amount of sauce.
Secondi: Meat dishes come third. Veal and chicken are common secondi offerings that you’re expected to be able to eat after scarfing down a bowl of delicious pasta. Occasionally served with a salad, I sometimes struggle with this course.
Dolci: I never struggle to find room for the last course. Desserts vary by region, as most food does, but tiramisu and gelato can be spotted on most menus.
The good news is, Italians don’t expect you to eat this in a hurry. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the Italian lifestyle is a leisurely one. Dinner typically starts around 8pm and depending on the event, the chef, and the meal, can last as late as 1 o’clock in the morning. You will never have a better night’s sleep than after a 4-6 course meal paired with wine that ends late into the night. I never thought that I could see pasta as something of an opening act and not the star of the show, but my stomach and I have never been more satisfied.
Some other important food rules to remember when in Italy are:
- A cappuccino in the morning is wonderful, but don’t even think about ordering one after 1pm.
- There is no such thing as too much gelato, nor too many gelato shops.
- Water without bubbles is for Americans. Water with bubbles (con gas) is the only option acceptable to pair with food.
- Cheese is great, but never ever to be put on a salad.
- There is not food or meal that cannot be paired with a glass of wine.