Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Tips: dining out in Italy!

It is now amidst high summer holiday season and some of you may decide to visit Italy. As you can imagine there are many myths and misinterpretations concerning “Italian food” abroad, and I would like to talk about a few things so everyone can enjoy the real Italian dining to the max when you guys make it here…

Today I would like to share a few pointers about dining in the restaurants and trattorias. The Italians have a few particular customs they tend to adhere to, and when you eat out it comes in handy to be aware of them, not only in a formal place but also in a casual dining atmosphere.

Firstly, they are not very accustomed to eating one big heap of “one pot meal”, they traditionally eat their meals in series of courses in relatively small portions. Roughly they are divided into

-Antipasto (hors d’oeuvres)

-Primi (usually pasta or risotto, or similar dishes)

-Secondi (dishes based on meat, seafood, or frittata/omelette etc.)

-Contorni (vegetable based side dish, often served alongside “secondi”, but on separate plates)

-Frutta (fruit) or Dolci (dessert)

Average everyday suppers at home are simpler, usually 2-3 courses (Primi & Secondi OR Contorni, plus either antipasto, frutta or dolci), and on a big formal occasion there will be many more courses to be added to the above.

In addition, there are a few key points which I would like to remind you….

-Portions of pasta dishes are much smaller than you would expect, as it is not considered as a “main dish” and they assume the diner will be having something else after you finish the pasta.

-I have seen some confusions between foreign tourists and waiters, as the diner asks the waiter “what does it come with?” when they order a dish of “Secondi”. A plate of secondi (for example a cutlet, steak, roast etc.) does not come with anything, it is served alone. For a “side” you need to order “contorni” separately!!

-speaking of “sides”, tossed/garden salads are usually considered as “Contorni”, not as a starter like it is believed in many part of English speaking countries. Same thing as soup, soup is usually considered as a part of “Primi” for light eaters for whom pasta or risotto is too heavy.

-unless you are eating at a restaurant catering mainly to the foreign tourists (these joints are to be avoided at all cost!! Food are generic at their best, and prices inflated!), do not ask for things like spaghetti with meatballs, chicken parmesan, manicotti, fettuccini alfredo, garlic bread etc. You will draw a bemused look as they are not at all authentic Italian repartoire. (I will speak of this more in separate entry!!)

-also a few things when you eat at sit-in pizzerias… pizzas are mostly sold in one size, one pizza per person. (they are much lighter than, say, American counterparts.)

-At tables they tend to eat their pizzas with knife and fork, instead of manhandling them. This rule only applies in a restaurant though, there are many people munch on takeaway pizzas on the streets, or at home you can also pick up a slice bare handed.

-There are many variety of pizza Bianca (white pizzas) which are made without tomato sauce. They are very tasty and highly recommended!!

-If you are in a mood for a snack during the day, try some of the pasticceria (bakery for sweets), fornaio (bakery for various bread and related savoury treats), take away pizzeria, and gelateria (ice cream shops), which are to be found everywhere!! There is absolutely no need or reason for heading towards one of those ubiquitous McDonalds outlets!!!

Try to keep these in mind when you are in Italy, and if any of you guys have more suggestions and ideas let me know, I will add to the list!! Buon appetito!

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