Italians have a passion for food. But the passion they have is incredible.
On the plus side, most of the food you get here is fresh – made with fresh ingredients (and you can taste it). In a restaurant, the menu will say if any of the dishes contain frozen food. Getting a take-away pizza (which we do from time to time, from the restaurant at the back of the flat) means that it is cooked that instant using dough made that day and with produce bought that day. Everyone here eats pizza from a restaurant. They have the best (wood or, sometimes, gas fired) pizza ovens and the cost of a pizza – about €6 – €8, sometimes less! Why cook it yourself?
In a restaurant they will take the time to recommend the best dishes, particularly if they are well-known for a particular range of dishes. They take time when they’re eating. People from the south will comment that “you’re like a Milanese” if you eat too fast. It’s expected that a meal will take several hours. They still have an enormous amount of time for lunch. I cannot imagine that they will ever reduce a lunch hour down to half and hour – it’s hard enough to get them to recognise that an hour is really long enough.
And they are quite strict about the time. Lunch is to start at about 1 o’clock. Dinner is after 8 and, more usually, about 9.
Lunch can be a sandwich (panino) or a toast/tost (toasted sandwich), but is often at least some pasta or maybe three courses. When I say three courses, I do not mean like in the UK. Each course is somewhere between a starter and a main course in the UK.
Dinner will always be about three/four courses, if you count the antipasto (oh, but that’s so important here). So antipasto – often some meat, cheese or some other small dish. Less than a starter in England, usually.
Then you have the primo piatto – nearly always a pasta or risotto dish. Don’t be thinking that you can have pasta as a main course – it just isn’t done! Pasta is more like our Yorkshire puddings used to be – something you ate before the main meal.
The secondo piatto is the meat or fish course. This will be just meat or fish – unless you choose a side order. It, generally, except for cotoletta Milanese, will be on the small side, but then, you have just had a small bowl of pasta to fill you up. The side order can be chips or oven baked potatoes (like roasted, but not quite as good), some vegetable (such as a grilled selection) or a salad.
Sweet (dolce) will be the final course. This is likely to be gelato, torte or frutta (ice-cream, cake or really fresh fruit – just try the ananas (pineapple)). Followed by coffee (normale – don’t ever ask for cappuccino after about 11.00 a.m.) and sometimes the digestivo (sambuca, amaro, etc.).
With the meal select some wine of your choice.Â But donâ€™t feel you have to drink the whole bottle.Â So many times we have seen a table leave almost a quarter to half a bottle of wine!Â (Itâ€™s one aspect of Italian life that I find very hard to emulate)Â Oh, yes, and you will definitely be ordering some water (naturale or frizzante/con gas).
In their homes they will have much the same although they may have more meat/cheese (like an antipasto) at the end instead of dolce and, generally, dolce will be fruit unless a guest has brought something for sweet.
And, if you’re in a restaurant – don’t tip. Ok, well, tip about €5 if you must. But don’t go thinking that it must be 10-20% of the bill. Tsk, tsk.
And then, listen to a bunch of Italians talking about food. Let’s take pizza, for example. Where do you get the best pizza? Don’t ask this if there is a group and you’ve only got 5 minutes to spare. During one of my lessons, I, stupidly, asked this question. There followed a good 20 minute argument about where you went to get a good pizza in Milan. Of course, as everyone knows, the only really good pizzas (pizze in Italian) are to be found in and around Naples. But, even so, there will be a big discussion on why the pizza at such-and-such a place is so good and why it is not so good at the other place that was mentioned.
I love the thin pizze here. We have a place just a minute away that do them so thin that there’s almost no base and so big that you have to be hungry to eat one. Apparently this is wrong. True pizze are quite thick (at least in Naples, so I’m told).
The downside – they don’t like spicy hot food and they’re not so keen to try different foods from the world. There are so few Indian restaurants here. We’ve found one that we quite like. There is also a Mexican restaurant that I’ve been to (although N says that the Italians haven’t the first clue about how to do Mexican food – her being from California and all). And although there are quite a few Japanese restaurants here, most Italians will not even consider Japanese food! Not because it’s spicy (it’s not), but just because they can’t bear the thought of it. I’ve heard there’s a good Thai restaurant – but we haven’t been to it – yet.
Back to pizza for a second â€“ my students in one of my classes were amazed when I explained about the pizza you could buy in the UK which had cheese in the crust.Â It caused much laughter (as does telling them that we order 2 pizzas and two cappuccinos rather than pizze and cuppuccini) and they just didnâ€™t understand (mind you, neither do I).
Oh, and on another note. They do cater for vegetarians here – however, I have heard the (true) story about someone going into a restaurant and saying they were vegetarian, to be given some dish and when they pointed out that there seemed to by ham in the dish were told, yes, but it’s only prosciutto! (Parma ham to you). They don’t really consider prosciutto meat!!
However, they will eat tripe – ’nuff said!by