100+ Things to Know If You’re Going to Italy- Part 3

The ultimate Italy travel cheat-sheet goes on with food customs and table manners. If you’d like a personalized crash-course on Italian culture before your trip, please contact me at vanessa at Italyinsf dot com. I would be happy to schedule a time to help you out with your trip organization as well as give you some useful tips about culture and traditions!

Prosciutti hanging in a Prosciuttificio in Parma

Part 3: FOOD AND DRINKS

  1. 99% of Italian hotels include breakfast in the room price.
  2. As a consequence of #33 above, Italians remain the main audience at bars for breakfast. Don’t miss the chance to get out of your hotel by 9am on a workday and order a cappuccino al banco (at the counter) with a cornetto, preferably with custard, and eat it standing with all the rest of the crowd.
  3. Cappuccino is not forbidden in the afternoon, it’s just frowned upon following a meal. Some places will actually refuse to serve it to you. Don’t get upset, just embrace the culture…
  4. In order to be able to get the said cappuccino, in many places you first have to pay for it so you can show the scontrino (proof of payment) to the bartender.
  5. Italians don’t put ice in their drinks. If you must, ask for it, but realize they’ll look at you as if you were a Martian. When (if?) they bring you ice, they will send to the table a small saucer with 5 ice cubes for the entire table.
  6. You can’t order food “to go”, unless you are in a pizza place or in a rosticceria. If you try to walk in a restaurant and order a meal to go, people will look at you as if you were crazy!
  7. When eating at a buffet or family style, it is more than acceptable to help yourself as many times as you want, and never okay to overfill your plate.
  8. Aperitivo is a wonderful tradition you should not miss out on. Bars that offer an aperitivo buffet will charge you for the drink, but not for the food, which will range from simple chips and pretzels to sophisticated warm appetizers and parmigiano cubes sprinkled with balsamic vinegar. Buffet is all you can eat (but don’t forget the rules above!). Find a bar that serves an aperitivo buffet and head there between 6pm and 8:30pm, and you can skip dinner if you want!Aperitivi
  9. There are no dipping sauces in Italy, so Italians are not really familiar with double dipping rules.
  10. When starting a meal, bread will be brought to the table but neither olive oil nor butter is served. A bread dish is never on the table, so bread rests on the tablecloth.
  11. Speaking of bread, never ever leave it upside down on the table. It’s considered bad luck and unrespectful toward the owner of the table.
  12. Never, ever pour wine (or water) backhanded. It’s considered an offense to the person you’re serving.
  13. No doggie bags in Italy. Taking home the leftovers is not an option, and leaving food on the plate is frowned upon.
  14. Salad is considered a side dish, not a starter. No meal in Italy ever starts with a salad.
  15. If you’re invited to a wedding, be prepared to eat. Imagine a minimum of 15 courses and sitting at the table for 5 to 6 hours.
  16. Tap water is never served, and despite the fact that it’s now as safe as in the US, people keep on drinking bottled water and restaurants only serve bottled water.
  17. When water is not safe at fountains, it will say so. Otherwise, take advantage of the only free water in the country!
  18. Coffee is not a “to go” item. You enjoy it at the bar, and no paper cup is provided!
  19. Cheese is never eaten with fish.
  20. Salad dressing is oil and vinegar and that’s it. There aren’t different types of dressings.
  21. There are over 100 different types of pasta, and each region has its own. Make an effort to try as many as possible!
  22. Bread and pasta are never eaten together in the North, but they are sometimes in the South.
  23. Restaurant customs are a bit different than in the US. Since servers are salaried and don’t rely on tips to make a living, they don’t care about turnover- it is customary in Italy to stay seated at a restaurant table for the whole evening, and dinner would usually take longer than in the US.
  24. If you don’t ask for the check, you’re not going to get it. Italians consider a check put on the table before you’re done with your meal, or without you asking, like an invitation to leave. It is considered a no-no in restaurants, so you must ask for your check if you’d like to pay!
  25. When ordering food at a restaurant, substitutions or changes are usually not accepted.
  26. Alfredo sauce is not Italian. Don’t ask for it!
  27. Frappuccino doesn’t exist, either. However, all other coffee drinks whose name Starbucks has stolen usually mean something different than what you think you’re ordering.
  28. Hot chocolate is a different experience altogether- it’s denser, more like a pudding, and it’s usually ordered in the afternoon, as a merenda item.
  29. Appropriate use of grated Parmigiano cheese is limited to pasta- and pasta with either vegetable or meat sauce, not fish! There is no grated parmesan cheese on salad or pizza. Occasionally, slivers of parmigiano will be served over bresaola or carpaccio- but never grated cheese!
  30. Nothing but pork is considered appropriate meat for your pizza. No chicken, not beef- only pork in various formats (prosciutto, salame, salsiccia, etc.).
  31. Chicken is not to be eaten with pasta. That’s it. There isn’t a single pasta sauce in Italian cuisine where chicken can be an ingredient.
  32. Dinner is past 8pm, not at 5pm. If you’re hungry at 5pm, go to a pasticceria and get a hot chocolate and some pastries. If you’re hungry at 7pm go to a bar and order an aperitivo. Don’t show up for dinner before 8pm (and that’s still kind of early!).
  33. Don’t miss the chance to try pizza in a pizzeria, but be aware that pizza is a dinner food. The very few pizzeria open at lunch usually cater to tourists only (and the pizza is probably not likely to be great!).
  34. Speaking of pizza, it is considered inappropriate (and many places will just say it’s not possible!) to ask for a split topping: half a pizza one way and half a pizza a different way is just not a concept Italian pizzaioli are able to grasp.

Lasagna making in Italy

If you missed it:
Part 1: General Travel Tips
Part 2: Shopping and Stores
Part 3: Food and Drinks
Part 4: Culture
Part 5: Driving and Moving Around

Part 4 will be all about Culture and the small bits of information that will make your trip a most enjoyable one!

4 Responses to “100+ Things to Know If You’re Going to Italy- Part 3”

  1. [...] « 100+ Things to Know If You’re Going to Italy- Part 3 100+ Things to Know If You’re Going to Italy- Part 5 [...]

  2. This is an excellent work, well done :) However, a couple of these tips were a bit overenphasized :) For instance, the one about leaving bread upside down on the table… It was the first time I heard of it! :)

  3. If you try leaving the bread upside down in Romagna, and in my family in particular, my father will start yelling at you! By being away and marrying someone from Piemonte I found that traditions in one part of Italy are not recognized in other parts- but that doesn’t make them less true!! :)

  4. And again speaking of pizza: the Italians do not use pepperoni! If you see pepperoni on the menu, you’re getting peppers. Choose salami instead (if you’re looking for meat).

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