Swiftly following on from the 30 things you need to know before visiting Italy and a little inspired by this table cloth (via our snapchat @HandLuggageOnly – see tweet below), I figured it made sense to accompany that little guide with a food section.
A food guide to Italy! (Probably a tacky souvenir to have but actually quite handy!!!) ?? pic.twitter.com/T4AjeXwDm4
— Hand Luggage Only (@HLOBlog) June 15, 2016
Italian food is world-renowned for being amazing. If you think about it, there’s a reason why it’s spread so far across the world) despite there being relatively few Italian speaking countries – it’s just so delicious, wholesome and very more-ish! Italians also know a thing or two about food and even you average untrained Italian can point out a terrible Italian dish straight away.
Ever-expanding waistline concerns aside, here are 10 quick things you need to know about food in Italy!
1.) Each region is know for different things so try to indulge in what you region is known for when you visit. Have a Chianti wine when you’re in Chianti, a Florentine steak in Florence, Parma ham (and parmesan cheese) in Parma, pizza in Naples… you know the drill! 🙂 It’s the best way to get the very best of Italian food as nothing beats eating food right in its very origin!
2.) You’ve got to work, or rather, walk for your food! The very best restaurants will always be off-the-beaten track (i.e. a few streets away from the main tourist areas) so try to skip the tourist traps in the main squares and make an effort to find more rustic restaurants. We learned this the hard way and without fail, every time (except for once in Pisa) we had food on the main tourist path, it pretty much ended up disappointing. As a rule of thumb, the more locals you find in the restaurant, the better (a restaurant that caters to locals tends to have higher culinary standards as they rely on repeat local visits instead of one-offs that is usually associated with tourists so they do their best to get it right).
3.) Skip supermarket ice cream. You’re in Italy and everyone here makes their own ice cream. This is no time to settle for mass produced ice cream – no matter how delicious.
4.) The meals here tend to come in fours. Unofficially, you have starters first, then the 1st plate (typically pasta dishes and are usually the portion size of a main meal), the 2nd plate (meat and dishes – also a main meal portion size) and dessert. If you decide to go the whole hog, exercise caution – I ended up ordering a florentine steak as my 2nd plate (twice actually, once here and the other here) and struggled to finish it both times!
5.) You probably saw this already in this post but just as a friendly reminder, meal times are meant to be savoured with friends and family. This isn’t just ‘perfunctory nourishment’ time but instead is an opportunity to catch up properly.
6.) Helpful as it can be sometimes, try to avoid restaurants with pictures on the menu. Pretty much for the same local/tourist reasons in number 2 above. If you can read this post (and hence understand English), you probably know what a steak or chicken breast is so you probably wouldn’t need a photo of it on an English menu.
N.B.: None of this is judgemental at all about tourist hotspots (they’re hotspots for a reason after all), it’s just from experience that meals in tourist traps tend to be very disappointing.
7.) Beware of the afternoon lull. Depending on where you are in Italy, some restaurants shut for lunch and so you could show up expecting food and end up bitterly disappointed. Then again, that makes you appreciate you dinner even more so… 😉
8.) Wine is very cheap here. Even the really good bottles cost just a fraction of what they would in most other countries in Europe so this is definitely one place to try as much wine as possible.
9.) Speaking of which, you should really only every have wine or water with your meals here. (No beers, sodas, milks, ales or anything of the sort). The rules are not hard and fast when it comes to this (no one will actually try to stop you) but its the best way to enjoy the flavours of your meal.
10.) Breakfast in Italy is quite a simple affair. We’re talking coffee and a sweet pasty (perhaps a cornetto – and no, a cornetto is not that ice cream cone we get in the stores) and that’s about it. No Italian version of a full English breakfasts I’m afraid. Breakfast is not the main meal of the day – we leave that till later in the day! 🙂
Extra point: Your bread will come served without butter (or pretty much anything else). You could ask for olive oil but in reality, your bread is just here for you to scrape up your pasta sauce with! Also, that bread ain’t free.