One of the most appreciated aspects of Italian culture is Italian cuisine, which is, without exaggeration, succulently scrumptious. Dining out in Italy is truly the gastronomist’s and epicurean’s opportunity to gorge and indulge in the haute couture of fine cuisine and delicate tastes.
But Italian cuisine is not just a pastiche of pasta and pizza; it is a creative collection of regional dishes that are characterized by various European and Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences. The secret to the freshness of Italian food is the culinary tradition’s emphasis on fresh, locally grown, seasonal produce.
The unification of Italy diffused many popular dishes throughout Italy and abroad, however, regions remain fiercely loyal to their locally produced specialties. To truly taste Italian culture, you must venture off the beaten path and sample regional, local cooking, which is, in essence, authentic Italian cooking.
As someone of Italian heritage, here is some practical information about dining establishments in Italy, and some tips to help you pay your bill after you have polished off your pizza.
WHEN IN ITALY, EAT AS THE ITALIANS DO
A traditional and formal Italian meal can continue for hours and consists of an antipasto (appetizer), sometimes served with an aperitivo (aperitif drink), followed by a primo piatto, generally a pasta, risotto or soup course, followed by a secondo piatto, a heartier meat or fish course. The second course is generally served with a contorno (side dish) and/or a salad, which is eaten with the main course, or directly afterwards. The dolce (dessert) and fruit selection with cheeses follow the salad. The caffe (coffee), and digestivo (digestive drink) conclude the meal.
However, do not feel pressured to follow the traditional multi-course meal, which is becoming rarer nowadays. Although the food choices on the menu are presented in this order, simply order whatever you feel comfortable eating.
WHERE TO WINE AND DINE
Depending on the dining experience you crave (and how hungry you are!), there are many different dining establishments in Italy.
Restaurants are found all over Italy, and vary in ambiance. They may be upscale and elegant or low-key and causal. Most offer popular selections and regional specialties, and tend to be slightly more expensive than family run establishments. Many offer a menu turistico(tourist menu), that combines a complete meal into one fixed price.