To Eat like an Italian means understanding there is a time and a place for everything in Italy, especially when it comes to food. It probably won’t surprise you that Italians take their food very seriously, this is why Italy has become known for great food. During my recent visit to the Umbria region of Italy I realized just how much the accolades of Italian food are deserved.
Being ignorant of the Italian way meant many a time I earned a look of disapproval or worse a tut and shake of the head, and even a refusal of what was requested! While offending the population of Umbria with my errant food habits I learned how to eat like an Italian. In Italy a meal is time to spend with family and friends, a time to be savoured and so Italian meals are no quick affair.
To eat like an Italian you will need to know what to expect. An Italian meal can consist of many courses, most common is the 4 course meal which consists of the following. Antipasto, starters consisting of cured meats such as salami and Prosciutto (aka Parma Ham), bread, olives, cheese and such. Primo is next and is a warm dish, usually pasta. Secondo follows, it is the meat course, usually pork, chicken or fish. Dolce is dessert, so something sweet commonly (especially in the Umbria region) it would consist of something chocolatety or cream based, or both, like tiramisu. And finally Caffè, which will be of the espresso variety.
Around all that food are the drinks! Starting with an Aperitivo, usually a Prosecco (a dry sparkling Italian wine). With the meal you will be served with the wine to match your food, and finally after your coffee there will be a final drink the digestivo, usually a limoncello.
If there is bread on the table it isn’t there as a starter and you won’t find butter for it. And whatever you do, never eat it with your pasta, but once you have finished your pasta you can use the bread to finish up any sauce left, this is what it is there for.
Italian coffee is fantastic, velvety, rich, and just strong enough. Coffees which are milk based like cappuccino, they are for the morning, after that it’s espresso time only. If you should fancy a tea in the afternoon forget it! As a side note, latte’s are considered a children’s drink and consist mostly of milk.
One last thing to keep in mind if you want to eat like an Italian, Italians never eat while standing or walking. I saw one place in all of Italy offering a paper coffee cup for take away (and this was in the touristy area of the Trevi Fountain in Rome). But isn’t it better to slow down and enjoy what you are eating and drinking, especially since you are in Italy where the simplicity of Italian food offers the chance to really enjoy the flavour of what you are eating!