Colazione: A Guide to the Italian Breakfast

I am truly not sure why, but breakfast in Italy is sweet. Cake is a traditional breakfast food, and so are cookies. We are always a bit stunned when we hear Americans making fun of the concept of cake for breakfast, mostly because that’s the norm for us!

Breakfast cookies for Italian breakfasts!

A selection of typical Italian breakfast cookies!

Whereas the French will indulge in omelet or crepes and fresh fruit along with croissant and jam, and Germans will add ham to their toasts, in Italy there is no tradition whatsoever of savory foods on the breakfast table. Continental breakfast is a concept we embrace to the tee! Even fruit is looked upon with suspicion! The typical Italian breakfast is made of a hot beverage, like cappuccino or caffe’, with something sweet to eat- cake, cookies, pastries, brioche, croissants, or toast and jam.

Breakfast Pastries in an Italian Bar

When at home, caffelatte and coffee made with the moka are the more common choices for drinks, and usually small breakfast cookies (Mulino Bianco, anyone?) provide the sugar rush. Cereals are available on the shelves in the grocery store, but mostly eaten as an afternoon snack, not for breakfast! Italians often consume their breakfast out- the thousands of bars you will walk by everywhere in Italy serve cappuccino and paste (brioches, or bomboloni) for a breakfast you can conveniently consume while standing at the counter!

The Cappuccino Counter at an Italian Bar

Eggs? Ham? Bacon? THOSE ARE DINNER FOODS! (It seems to hear grandma!)

In the Bay Area you can indulge in a perfect, Italian style breakfast at Emporio Rulli. My favorite is the one in Larkspur, but all locations will really work out for my monthly fix of bomboloni con la crema! You can also find bombolni at I Preferiti di Boriana at the Ferry Building, and a good breakfast can be snatched at Cocola.

31 Responses to “Colazione: A Guide to the Italian Breakfast”

  1. Hi Vanessa

    My family (both sets of grandparents) were from Italy and I always remember staying over their houses and having something sweet for breakfast. This brings back good memories. I live in Boston and there are a few places in the North End to go for some good Italian breakfast.

    @mfusco

  2. Both my parents were born in Sicily. I don’t remember having sweet things for breakfast. What really sticks in my mind was having hard homemade bread broken up in a bowl with sugar and milk. Sometimes, my father would pour some of his coffee in the bowl which was a treat for me. I guess we must have been poor!

  3. [...] a hold of the butter-heavy French croissants and the American fascination with buttercream: all I ever want for breakfast is either a bombolone or a cornetto, croissant-shaped pastry roll filled with custard. Not much to [...]

  4. Hey Vanessa!

    I was actually very surprised to read this. My grandfather, who is 100% Italian and whose parents were right off the boat, grew up in East Boston. I don’t think he told me that he ate anything “sweet” for breakfast every morning…. Do you think that maybe foods differ from region to region? My family is from a little place near Napoli, so it could be different from you.

    Hope to hear from you soon!

  5. Hello Hannah,
    Italian traditions and Italian-American traditions started diverging with the landing of the first wave of Italian immigrants in the US! In addition, before WWII there was no sugar to go around for anyone- but breakfast before the well-beings of the post war years was stale bread in milk pretty much all over Italy. Each family, then, carries on its own traditions, but in modern Italy breakfast is sweet all around- in Southern Italy even gelato is considered breakfast food!
    Ciao!
    Vanessa

  6. Hi, I’m sicilian, and yes our breakfast is usually sweet, with cornetti (croissants) with chocolate, cream or apricot marmalade, cup of milk and coffe, cereals and orange juice. But here in Sicily, we have breakfast also with granita (MMMMMMMMM!!!), but it’s only in Sicily, the original ^_^.
    Granita is my favourite summer-breakfast, because it is like granular ice drink (sicilian ice) but a little creamy, so Not with grains frozen. It is made by a special machine (with water, sugar, almonds, and sometimes also honey) and accompanied by a brioche made with eggs, and teaspoon, slurp!!!!
    There are many flavors, usually almond, chocolate, coffee and pistachio di Bronte, etc…
    Only in Sicily there is the original granita, and it’s very good…very popular sicilian summer breakfast.
    See >>>http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granita_siciliana
    Other type of breakfast is Tavola calda, like salad snacks popular in oriental Sicily, only in piana di Catania, very famous arancini with rice and ragù or with butter (arancini are also in Palermo), cartocciate with jam, cheese and pomodoro sauce or mushrooms, bolognesi, siciliane, patè, pizzette, cipolline etc… so good, appetizing!!!
    See >>>http://www.bardelsole.it/images/Tavola%20Calda.jpg
    These are our italian (sicilian) types of breakfast, sweet but also salad! ^_^

    An sicilian kiss to you!!!

  7. Hi! My family is from Tuscany: my father is actually from there and I have been several times. Although I remember my father’s pitiful attempts to make paste while living in Oklahoma, when I visit my Nonna in Italy, she usually makes a frittata or serves fresh fruit. Sometimes my Nonno will go out early in the morning to bring back paste, but that’s a treat. Is it different in Tuscany, specifically Pontedera, than from where you’re from? Thanks!

  8. Hello Elizabeth,
    My mother is from Arezzo, a few miles from Pontedera, and the everyday breakfast is always the same- cookies and caffelatte in most of the households. You’d only eat paste outside, if you have breakfast at a cafe, but not at home- you are right, having paste at home is one of those luxury! All over Italy, the sweet breakfast is a staple of the diet- it is testified by the tons of different breakfast cookies you’ll find in any grocery store, and the variety of pastries in any cafe (bar) around town. I have never heard of frittata for breakfast- frittata is widely considered a dinner food!
    Once again, please consider age- if you’re in your thirties your grandparents will have very different traditions than if you’re in your fifties…
    Ciao!
    Vanessa

  9. Hi,
    I’m Andrea, I grew up in Sicily and now I live in Pisa… few km far from Pontedera :)
    In both cases (Sicily and Tuscany), the breakfast is *rigorously* sweet. Often we (I and my friends) wonder about how can be a salt breakfast: simply it is out of our way of live the breakfast.
    At home, I eat a caffelatte with some Pan Di Stelle (alternatively, Pavesi’s Gocciole); at bar, I get a Cappuccino and some pastries, so… I entirely agree with the article :)
    And yes, in summertime the best breakfast is a good lemon granita, with a delicious brioche :D

  10. Ciao Andrea- this is really funny! I know that often in some areas in the South breakfast can be ice cream or granita… I could never quite persuade my parents to go THAT sweet…
    and, BTW, I LOVE Pan Di Stelle- so hard to find here!

  11. This is so fascinating. I’m not Italian, I’m American (Indian origin, India), but I’m very interested in how people live in different parts of Europe and Japan, because the health in these places, on average, is better than in America. Obescity doens’t give full picture, but obescity rate in Italy is about 9% and Japan5% and Korea, even lower..3 or 4%. In America, it is over 30%. Being a holistic health counselor, and I love to learn and observe, i’m very curious.

    I’m a little surprised the breakfast in Italy is sweet considering the low obescity rate. Perhaps it is beause everything is fresh..not as processed (like butter, dairy)? Lots of walking? Less sweet foods later in the day?

    Can anyone comment? Maybe i need to look at lunch and dinner in Italy next :) Just trying to get general idea.

    Do people smoke a lot in Italy like in France, Germany? With the sweet breakfast, i wonder if diabetes is a problem? Maybe not.. the breakfast alone, of course, does not give full picture. And maybe it is the quality of the foods. Here in America..everything is highy processed. All breads are made fast..with yeast. Not old way. How about in Italy?

    Oh..and in America people eat fast..people eat to quickly get it out of the way. so they can get back to work. they eat chemicalized junk..not fresh. I think this will change..i want to write a book about how people are eating and what they are eating in other countries. To help americans understand the damage they are doing to themselves eating the nasty foods made by large corporations whols one and only goal is to make profit.

    I know it’s a lot of questions :) Just curious. Oh.and i LOVE lasagna..good sauce, perfect, soft noodle, and meat..mmm :)

    Also love cafe Latte.

  12. Also in France they use full fat butter, cream, cheese, and dairy. so tasty.. here in america dairy is highly processed..lots of skim milk…everything is fortified. no enzymes in the cheese..etc. lucky we have healthy options. but most american’s are unaware.

  13. you should put more on it

  14. [...] have received many comments incredulous about my first post about the typical Italian breakfast. All Italians who have responded confirm that breakfast is sweet, but everyone who was raised in [...]

  15. [...] breakfast as well, as the cappuccino and espresso are just great- not to mention the staple of the Italian breakfast, the cornetto (aka: Italian croissant). Rocco spins the cornetti in their delicious Nutella [...]

  16. Sugar is definitely a contributing factor to obesity but it isn’t the whole picture. Humans are animals evolved to eat a set of naturally occuring foods. When you eat a diet made of food that comes from a lab instead of nature, breathe in and slather yourself in chemicals, etc. you aren’t going to be as healthy as you would be if you lived naturally.
    This and a total absence of exercise compromise the metabolism and make us sick.
    If you lack the general health to metabolize the sugar you take in then it will become fat. Your insulin levels will not be normal and you will have to forego sugar entirely.
    The possible benefits of a sweet breakfast: fast energy when you need it and a sated feeling that will keep you from “emotional eating” later on in the day (i.e. night binging)

  17. I miss eating breakfast the way they do in Italy. I am a Canadian married to a Sicilian. When we vacation in Italy we usually stay near Salerno (Amalfi coast area) and in Sicily. In both locations sweet pastries and pane are served in the bars for breakfast. At home we always at some form of sweet bisuit with cafe au lait or Orzo. Bacon and eggs was never considered! I prefer to eat this way for breakfast and have adapted this eating style here in Canada…my kids prefer it too of course!

  18. I’m also interested in those who have questions about the health element of the italian breakfast! I live just a few kms north of Rome though Im American by nationality. I can vouch that the breakfast far and wide here is EXACTLY as described. My confusion is, I was recently diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and when I showed my Dr. here the diet recommended by the American Diabetes org I found in my research online to go with the treatment plan here, she took a red pen to it and crossed off a number of options for breakfast, including any eggs and meat! Even though I thought diabetics should stick with high protein, the RECOMMENDED breakfast for me is…. milk with orzo (alternative to coffee) and…… a few COOKIES or bread with jam. I can’t understand it… maybe it’s just that for the rest of the day, there isn’t any allowance for anything sweet, and lunch and dinner are heavy on the fresh vegetables and meat or fish… but it still seems very odd to me. I’d REALLY be interested in any insights anyone might have, particularly as to why there is no protein in the Italian breakfast! Thanks!! :) (it sure is yummy though! :)

  19. Hi ! i leave in the states since a year and i can confirm that the actual typical italian breakfast is caffe/caffelatte and cookies in almost every household from north to south!! loved your article!thanks

  20. This article is quite a few months old but id like to comment anyway. My boyfriend is from Italy and I am from South Africa, he has been staying here for over a year now and always comments on how “strange” our breakfasts are because it consists of eggs, bacon etc and how in Italy its simple with the coffee and pastries… I think I will surprise him with a nice pastrie and coffee breakfast Saturday!

    Really enjoyed this article, made me wish I was Italian too! :)

  21. Grazie Une, it is always a good way to surprise an Italian to get him pastries and caffelatte! My husband refuses to start the day without it!

  22. This makes so much sense! I had a wonderful time studying in Arezzo and every morning the options were jam on toast, sweet yogurt, or swiss muesli. The other Americans in my group were begging for something with protein to start the day; now I understand. I wish someone had mentioned that it was a normal tradition, I think everyone would have embraced it more.

  23. i like an italian guy who is from ancona….he is visiting me soon int he philippines what should be the proper way to entertain him? thank you analyn

  24. hi guys
    I plan to spend some days in Rome and Venice on june.
    Do you have any advice you can tell? or is there is any cheap and good restaurants and markets you can tell me about.
    thank you for help

  25. Hi there

    I had absolutely no idea as to what is common for breakfast in italy, so since we’ve just booked 10 days in Tuscany this summer on various hotels – all including breakfast – I got curious… naturally.

    Being a Dane (not just north, but also a far way east of SF! :-)) I’m used to breakfast being cereal, oatmeal, white and sourdough rye bread in compilation with various coldcuts, fruit and jams. Usually as an everyday breakfast you’d just have one or the other. The continental breakfast is sneaking up on us though. Especially on weekends.

    Up here in the north breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day, and as such needs to be filling for the chores ahead in the day – I can’t really picture a mocca and a cookie doing much in that direction, but i still look forward to try out the true italian breakfast.

    thx a lot for a colorful article – I have also enjoyed reading all the comments

  26. I think sweets for breakfast might actually a great idea. As opposed to a desert at dinner, you have all day to burn off that sugar!

  27. I am 100% Italian and I live near Pontedera, and I can confirm that Italians eat for breakfast croissants, biscuits with something hot, coffee or cappuccino. At home, usually, you drink your latte coffee (coffee milk) and not all have expressed maccchina to get a cappuccino at home. I must also say, however, that some prefer to have a coffee bar with a small pizza to pasta, or maybe a sandwich, and there are even those who do not like the sweet, very few, but they exist.
    Another thing: many hotels tourists will find a sweet and savory breakfast with salami, ham and cheese. It’s called continental breakfast and is set up for tourists, in fact, we Italians do not eat meat and cheese for breakfast. In northern Italy, however, precisely in the region Trentino Alto Adige and Valle d’Aosta is used to eating too salty, not in the rest of Italy.
    One last thing, many immigrants abroad during the war, will not remember or have not told their grandchildren that made breakfast pastries, because then there was a lot of poverty, the biscuits were a luxury few could afford and then were salty breakfast but only because they were a few leftovers from the night before :)

  28. in mexico city its custom to go to your local bakery and get mexican sweet bread, different types and have it with coffe too for breakfast, a quick meal in the mornings .

  29. I’m Italian from rome and I live in new York city…in Italy I never, ever had sweets for breakfast. My father is from sicily and his family always had sweets for breakfast…I think I’m trying to say that eating habits vary even within the same country from region to region…here in the us foods are very different from coast to coast…

  30. I am italian and i live in tuscany.
    It’s very nice this thread about italian breakfast.
    The breakfast is obviously sweet,with some regional differences.
    The italians eat cappuccino,bomboloni,croissant and cornetti only outside, in the bar, but at home the italian breakfast is coffe with milk,yogurth with fruit,bread with butter and jam.
    I personally eat espresso ( with moka o Nespresso) toast with jam and yogurth.
    Sometimes orange fresh juice. Rarely a home ade sweet cake,in tuscany “crostata”

    No butter,no whole milk.
    This is the “mediterranean diet”, and the breakfast is about 15%daily calories.

  31. No problem for obesity and diabetes in sweet breakfast
    First, is different if sugar is eat in the morning o in the dinner!
    And sugar is the only fuel for our brain,especially after an overnight fast.
    Also fat and protein ( egg,bacon,ham……) are important for the development of obesity and diabetes type 2.
    The traditional american breakfast originates from the countries of northern Europe,German and UK ,that have different climates from Italy and other mediterranean countries .
    And everything it’s obvious and understandable.
    The strange ,for me ,is that in hot places of Usa ,like south California o Miami,the traditional breakfast is too fat and too caloric.

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