Meals in Italy


Meals in Italy


In Italy breakfast can range from breads and jam to a huge buffet of meats, cheeses, cereals, breads, eggs, juice and coffee. 



Italians love coffee!  You can enjoy it any time of the day, but you will want to know what you are ordering, so here are some basics.


Un caffé-is espresso (a shot of coffee)

Un caffé Americano-is espresso diluted with water (similar to traditional American coffee)

Un caffé freddo-is sweet and iced espresso       

Un cappuccino-is espresso with a little milk

Un caffé latte-is espresso with lots of milk

Un caffé hag-is decaf espresso       

Un Nescafe-is instant coffee in a packet with hot water


TIP: Italians have cappuccino only in the morning.  They drink espresso (caffé) later in the day.



Lunch in Italy is served from about 12:30 PM until about 4:00 PM.  There are a variety of options for places to eat.  Rosticcerie or paninoteca are small establishments that offer foods to go, such as fresh made sandwiches that you can select from a case, prepared salads, or thick square slices of pizza or focaccia.   Trattoria or tavola calda offer a sit down experience with hot dishes or pizza.  Finally you can consider a build-your-own picnic bought from the alimentarri, a one-stop corner grocery store, or the supermercato.  (You probably know enough Italian to figure that one out.)  



Pizza in Italy is like the hamburger in the States.  (Over one billion served!)  But they are a little different than those served at your local pizza parlor.  They are made with a thin crust and although they are about 10” in size they are meant to be for one person.  (Only the ugly American orders one to share.)  You do not order a pizza and then pick your toppings.  Each pizza has a name and that determines what is on the pizza.  If an ingredient is not listed, it is not on the pizza (including cheese).  Here are a few options to consider:


Margherita-tomato sauce and mozzarella

Marinara-tomato sauce, oregano and garlic but no cheese


Quattro formaggi- four cheeses

Quattro stagioni-a different topping on each of the four quarters

Capricciosa- ham and mushrooms but may also contain some greens  

Thon-tuna, often with the addition of capers or egg slices


TIP: In Italian, pepperoni means small very hot peppers.  You will want to order salami or diavola if you want something like the American style pepperoni.   Also when your pizza comes, it will not be sliced.  You can cut as you go.



Dinner is like a late night feast in Italy.  Ristorante (the finest eating establishments in Italy) start opening at 8:00P.M. and don’t become busy until after 9:30 P.M.


The menu, la lista, is loaded with courses, but you do not have to order them all.  Listed below are the names of each course and an idea of what you might order.


Antipasti (appetizers) might be bruschetta (grilled garlic bread with chopped tomato) or fresh mozzarella with melon.

Primo Piatto (the first plate) is most often pasta but could easily be a bowl of soup.  If you ordered antipasti, you may decide to order this course as your main dish, or skip it and move on.

Secondo Piatto (the second plate) is a main dish such as meat or fish; this is often the most expensive part of the meal and is usually served a la carte.  Sometimes a vegetable is served with this dish but more often than not you must order side dishes separately.

Dolce (desert) is very rich in Italy.  Try the tiramisu, gelati or crème brule.        


TIP: Italians are known for their gelato (ice cream).  It tastes more like a frozen sherbet than ice cream.  The real difference is that it is made with milk instead of cream. Gelaterias are open all day and late into the evening, and a nice stroll after a meal with gelato in hand can be a memorable event.



You can order pasta as your main dish, your appetizer or skip it all together.  Usually the pasta serving is not as large as you would see at home.  Here are a few  pasta dishes and sauces you may see on the menu.  Enjoy!


Aglio ed olio- This simple dish of pasta, garlic and oil is wonderful.

All’Arrabbiata- Tomato, garlic and chili peppers.  Can be very hot! 

Amatricana- Bacon or sausage with tomatoes, onion and peppers.

Bolognese- This is your typical meat sauce usually with tomatoes.

Bucaniera- Seafood, tomatoes, garlic and oil.

Carbonara- Egg, pancetta (bacon) and cheese (often goat cheese).

Frutta di mare- Seafood.

Funghi- Mushrooms.

Gnocchi alla Romana- Small dumplings served with tomatoes or butter.

Paglia e Fieno- Green/natural noodles, mushrooms, cream, ham and peas.

Panna- Cream sauce.

Parmigiano- Parmesan cheese.

Pasta e Fagioli- Pasta and beans often with some vegetables. 

Pomodoro-  Tomato sauce, usually no meat.

Primavera-  Pasta with fresh spring vegetables.

Puttanesca-  (prostitute)  A woman can attract any man with this flavorful dish of garlic, tomatoes, olives, capers, peppers, oregano and anchovies.

Quattro formaggi- Four cheese sauce.

Vongole- Clams, tomatoes and garlic.  May be on the pasta menu but only have a small amount of pasta, clams are the treat here.


Please also visit our page about Dining in Italy.


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