“In order to look beyond our imperfections and live a balanced life, we need a healthy physical body, that means eating correctly“–Paul Ebeling
“Il cibo é l’essenza della vita” and for Italians, this has been true for over 2,000 yrs. The people of Italy live to eat, and it’s visible in their appreciation of well-made dishes and their interest in each ingredient and where it was grown.
This approach to food is Key to “l’arte della cucina,” the art of Italian cooking as it exists in Italy.
No matter how much people shout in the US about farm-to-table eating, the Italians invented it, and when they could not find things fresh or authentic, they bought the closest thing they could and made substitutions.
This is why Italian-American food is nothing like food in Italy.
But, there is one thing both Italian cuisines have in common, and that is a fierce dedication to and appreciation for the family. Italians on both sides of the Atlantic love sharing a delicious meal with friends and family, and when it is time to eat it is the more the merrier.
Many 1st-time visitors from the US to Italy are surprised by the striking differences in table manners, menus, and traditions, and the same is true of Italians when they visit the US.
In Italy, lunch, not dinner, is the main meal, here is a bit more of the truth about Italian food, as follows:
- Italians dine in courses
- Bread is not a course
- Wine is part of the meal as it is food to Italians
- A bottle of naturale or frizzante water is always included
In Italy, lunch, not dinner, is the main meal. Dinner is usually light and will include simple dishes like a frittata with soup or salad. The big meal, served at midday, is on Sunday, when generations of the extended family gather together at the table and enjoy a full meal with multiple courses that are enjoyed over a long afternoon.
To start the meal, there is an antipasto, often a plate of local cheeses and salumi or a more elaborate display of pickled vegetables, crostini, or olives. Primo piatto is the first course, and depending on the region it will be risotto, polenta, or pasta (either fresh or dried), followed by secondo piatto, the second course. Secondo is what we would consider the main course since it’s meat or fish accompanied by a contorno (side dish) that’s often a verdura (vegetable) or a composed salad made with vegetables and other ingredients. Green salads come at the end of the meal, or can be served with contorni and the primo secondi. The salads are refreshingly simple, and cheese comes before dolci, the dessert course.
The courses served for lunch and dinner, but, not every course will be eaten every day, and even more food will be included for special occasions, but you can count on at least 2 or 3 being eaten regularly.
In America, bars are where you go for happy hour. In Italy a bar is the heart of the neighborhood and it’s where you can grab a quick caffé early in the morning, stop in for a panini and salad, enjoy a gelato, and go for an aperitivo in the evening before dinner.
Coffee, and its preparation and service, is like a ballet with many dancers, acts, scenes, traditions, and pas de deux. You have to step lively and know your part or you will stumble, embarrass yourself, and maybe even offend someone if you get things wrong.
Do not aka Stop ordering cappuccino anytime except the morning. It’s a breakfast drink, it is not served after Noon, and it annoys the heck out of the Italians when you order it at lunch or dinner. Espresso is never called that: it’s just un caffé. The first coffee in the morning is called a moka and dows not contain chocolate. Plus, do not expect to find lattes and complicated coffee drinks everywhere.
Instead, visit the beautiful traditional coffee houses that serve coffee like a sacred liquid in hallowed temples to caffeine. These architectural gems are antique relics complete with exquisite paneled salons, marble counters and floors, and coffee drinks served in fine china cups that reflect the luxurious quality of the revered drink. Career baristas create specialty coffees brewed to order that come in distinct cups based on the recipe.
There is a language and a list of customs to learn, so once you learn the lexicon you will be on your way to enjoying the true Italian way of life and eating.
Eat healthy, be healthy, Live lively