Eat Like an ITALIANO – Rituals at an Italian dining table

Food is one of the most defining aspects of Italian culture and part of any Italian vacation. The gastronomic experience in Italy however, goes beyond  food alone. Here are some things you need to know to best enjoy an authentic Italian food experience on your next holiday!

1. Buon Appetito!

One of the most renowned Italian expressions, this phrase is used to wish someone an enjoyable meal just before starting a meal.

2. Antipasto, Primo, Secondo, Contorno e Dolce

Italian tables are a place of both high quality and generous quantities and a full meal can have between 3 and 5 courses. Commonly an Italian dinner will have a Primo (first course) such as pasta or soup, and a Secondo (second course) typically meat or fish served with a Contorno (side) of vegetables or salad. For special occasions, at the restaurant (or simply at the Sunday family lunch at Nonna’s house) there are two additional courses. The Antipasto (appetiser) is a small dish served before the main course to tease the appetite and can be anything from cured meats, olives, cheese to the famous Bruschetta. Lastly the sweetest course of  all: Il Dolce ( Dessert). Some typical Italian desserts include Tiramisu, Gelato and Cannoli.

3. Olio, aceto, pepe e sale: farebbe buono uno stivale!

Four items you will always find on an Italian table whether you are dining out or at someone’s house are olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to adjust meals to everyone’s liking. The saying: “Olio, aceto, pepe e sale: farebbe buono uno stivale!” literally translates as: “Oil, vinegar, pepper and salt: would make even a boot taste good!” meaning that these items are essential for every good meal. Most restaurants will also provide complimentary bread for the table.

4. Vino della Casa

A restaurant’s “Vino della Casa” (house wine) is the cheapest wine sold. Typically not listed by name on the wine list it can be ordered by the jug full in quantities of  1l, ½ l or ¼l – referred to as “Quartino”.

5. Caffè e Ammazzacaffè

One of the most traditional rituals around the Italian table has to be drinking an espresso coffee after every meal including dinner. Along with the coffee “I Grandi” (the adults), often like to sip on a shot of liquor following the coffee referred to as “Ammazzacaffè” – literally translated as Coffee killer. Limoncello is a common Ammazzacaffè.

6. “Il conto, per favore!” – Coperto e Mancia

At the end of the meal at a restaurant, when the “il Conto” (the bill) is requested for the table you will often find an additional charge called “Coperto”. This is a small fee added to every table’s final bill to cover the service and the tableware. In Italy, there is no strict rule about tipping “Mancia”. Leaving a tip is a polite gesture that shows you appreciated the service you have been provided with, however, it is not  expected.

7. La Passeggiata

To best way to end an authentic Italian dining experience is “La Passeggiata” – the evening stroll. It’s very common for  town residents to walk to the town’s central ‘piazza or “sul lungomare” – along the sea for coastal locations, to digest dinner, catch up with friends and maybe even indulge in a Gelato.