Is Italy on your 2023 Europe summer bucket list? If it is, I'm sure you are salivating at the prospect of indulging in an array of Italian delicacies, from delectable pasta, to thin-crust pizza and pillow-soft gelato. However, before you begin your culinary journey, there are a few rules that you should follow so Italians don’t yell the phrase, “ma che cosa fai?” (what are you doing?), at you.
Let’s begin with Italy’s most prized possession, coffee. Have you ever met an Italian who does not consume coffee? I didn’t think so, probably because they don’t exist; coffee is a fundamental part of Italian life and culture and is written into their DNA. The most common mistake foreigners make is ordering a latte and being surprised when they receive a glass of milk. Yes, latte translates to milk in Italian, so make sure to order a café latte. Thank me later. If you are a cappuccino lover, keep in mind that it is strictly a breakfast beverage. Hence, don’t order one after 11 am … or do so, but at your own risk. Italians will give you a disappointed look and likely think you’re insane as they believe that drinking a milky cappuccino after breakfast will impede your digestion. I once heard a story about an Italian man who became ill after drinking 12 cappuccinos per day. ‘It must have been the excess consumption of milk,’ the Italians reasoned (the coffee had absolutely nothing to do with it!).
While in Australia pasta is typically eaten as a main meal and for dinner, in Italy, it is a primo (first course) which is followed by a secondo (second course) which consists of fish or meat. Although not forbidden, Italians prefer to eat pasta for lunch and a lighter meal for dinner as
it's easier to digest. If you hadn’t already noticed, digestion has a strong influence on Italian eating habits. In the 1930s, Italian futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti spread an anti- pasta rhetoric attempting to ban pasta as he believed that its heavy nature made Italians sluggish and slow-moving (I know, outrageous!). As wheat imports from other countries strained Italy’s economy, he promoted a radical transition away from the consumption of wheat (pasta) towards rice. Fortunately for pasta lovers, the futurism movement ran its course. Could you imagine a life without pasta?
When it comes to putting cheese on pasta, are you notorious for showering on the cheese? Well, if you find yourself along the coast enjoying a fresh plate of spaghetti ai frutti di mare (seafood pasta), think twice. It is forbidden to put cheese on seafood as it interferes with its delicate flavour of. More importantly, waiters will definitely tell you off if you do, I can vouch for it!
The beloved Italian ritual, aperitivo, sees a herd of Italians gathering at lunchtime and before dinner, in a piazza (square), a bustling hub of bars, cafes and restaurants, sipping on an Aperol, Campari or Hugo spritz (a northern speciality) and munching on bite-sized snacks. The theory behind this pre-dinner drink ritual lies in… yep you guessed it, digestion! Aperitivo comes from the word aprire which translates to ‘open’ and its purpose is quite literally to ‘open’ your digestive system in preparation for dinner. Or is it just an excuse to drink? Either way, cin cin (cheers)! Your budget will thank you too. In most parts of Italy, an aperitivo costs 5 euros or less. However, you should keep in mind that while there is no tipping culture in Italy, when you dine out, you will have a coperto (cover fee) which is normally 2 euros a head. We all know how addictive aperol spritzes can be, especially on a balmy night, however, they are a pre-dinner drink, so take this as an opportunity to have a glass of Italian wine instead.
Italians live by and adhere to digestive parameters and this is what permits them to consume an abundance of culinary pleasures on a daily basis. I can safely say that you are now equipped to eat and drink your way through Italy like a local, but remember, no cappuccinos after 11am!