Eating in Italy…. ……can be confusing.
Where to go?
Should it be an Osteria, Trattoria or a Ristorante? Rest assured there’s not much in a name anymore. Years ago, an Osteria was a basic place where you could sometimes even bring your own food, a Trattoria was a more a family owned place where you could eat good simple meals and a Ristorante was, well a Restaurant!
Now, some very fancy places are called Osteria and simpler places Ristorante. The best advice is to chose somewhere based on a recommendation or on your own research, don’t worry about the name.
Understanding the menu.
Most Italian menus are based around 4 courses.
Antipasto to start, primo to follow, then secondo and finally dolce.
How does it all work? Well, antipasto is a selection of food to taste, somewhat like a starter. In Tuscany this could be crostini, bruschette (careful how you pronounce that – as ‘ch’ in Italian is always pronounced ‘k’!) a selection of hams, salami or cheeses or maybe a vegetable dish.
Primo is essentially a pasta course, various types of pasta maybe with a selection of sauces but it also includes risotto and soups.
The Secondo is generally a meat or fish offering generally served with vegetables but not usually with potatoes. You may want to order contorni, or side dishes to go with a secondo as sometimes the meat or fish is served on its own.
Dolce, or desserts follow.
There may or may not be a menu or a wine list. For wine you can always ask for ‘vino della casa’ or house wine.
You don’t have to have all four courses – most people don’t, so order maybe antipasto and a secondo, or antipasto and a primo and see if you have room for dessert!
Italians are very tolerant but you may get some strange looks if you sprinkle parmesan on a fish dish, eat salad as a starter or drink a cappuccino after your meal. It’s just not done!
Finally, a coperto is a cover charge of a few euro per person, again common in Italy and is part of the reason why big tipping is not the norm. Leaving any change or a small tip is the usual practice.
Don’t forget if you just want a quick bite to eat, many bars will offer to make you a snack; indeed the local bar is the place to go to for your breakfast cornetto. Some local shops will fill a panini for you and sometimes you can find places that offer a tavolo caldo, a kind of takeaway – although don’t eat on the streets, it’s frowned upon!
Finally don’t forget the pizzeria – no stay in Italy is complete without a true pizza experience either eaten there or taken home to enjoy.
And if you would like some more help or advice, you can always email us – we are happy to help!