Food in Rome
Italy is famous for its delicious food and, for such a small country, it has an enormous range of dishes and cooking styles that vary from region-to-region. One of the simple pleasures of travelling through Italy is tasting all the different types of cuisine it has to offer. The tantalising smells that drift your way while meandering down the quaint Italian streets make it impossible to leave with an empty stomach.
Outside Italy, many Italian restaurants lack the authenticity that their native counterparts have – coming to Italy and tasting dishes in their region of origin is an experience you just can’t get anywhere else.
Although you could easily become accustomed to Italian food, getting used to mealtime hours may be slightly more difficult for foreigners as lunch and dinner often begin much later than in other countries. The rule of thumb is that the further south you are, the later dinner begins – in the northern parts people sit down to eat as early as 19:30-20:00. Romans traditionally eat no earlier than 20:00, and in Naples or Sicily the standard dining hour is even later, at 21:00.
Most restaurants in Italy serve lunch from 12:30 to 14:30 and open for dinner around 19:00 at the earliest – but if you go at this time, expect all the tables to be occupied by tourists.
This little guide will help you understand the dining customs in Italy and what you will find on the menus, so all you will have left to do is sit back, say ‘buon appetito’, and enjoy!
Meals of the day
– known as colazione,
breakfast may be the only time that Italians follow a ‘less is more’ policy. Whether at home or at a bar (a ‘café’ in English), the typical Italian breakfast is a short, strong espresso or a frothy cappuccino and a plain cornetto
Throughout the day, Italians will munch on sweet biscuits or slices of ciambellone
(a light cake) at home. If you’re out and about, most bars will sell a nice selection of pastries, such as croissants (with all types of fillings), fagottino
(a type of brioche) and strudels. This really is what you call the dolce vita!
Italy’s most famous meal is pranzo
(lunch), when the natives traditionally take their time over their food. All across the country people, mainly elderly women, begin fretting hours beforehand about what they’re going to cook for lunch that day. In many parts of Italy shops and offices close at lunchtime so that workers can go home for lunch and a rest, though this is less common in the bigger cities like Rome and Milan.
Typically, lunch starts with antipasti
(appetizers), followed by a primo (
first dish) which is normally pasta, and a secondo
(second dish) which is normally a meat dish. These dishes are accompanied by one or more contorni,
which are either a salad or a vegetable dish such as cooked spinach sautéed in olive oil, chilli and garlic. The whole meal is often washed down by a nice bottle of wine.
Lunch normally lasts for a few hours and is just as much about enjoying the company you are in as what you are eating. Though these lengthy lunches are now usually reserved for holidays or special occasions, such as family get-togethers, don’t let that stop you keeping the tradition alive!
like lunch, cena
(dinner) is a social event and often lasts for hours. However, unlike the daytime feast, most Italians opt for either a first or a second course, as opposed to ordering both. Second courses tend to be meat, fish or cheese served with a salad (insalata)
or a selection of vegetable dishes. Some people also eat pasta at dinner, particularly if they haven’t had a proper lunch.
When it comes to dessert, most restaurants will have a standard range including tiramisu, crème caramel, cheesecake, crostata(jam tart) and ice cream. If you visit a person’s home for lunch it is usually polite to take a tray of cakes from the pasticceria (bakery) that will be served with coffee.
Italians have just three simple things on their mind during their dinner-time meal – good food, good wine, and good conversation.
Four tips for eating your way across Italy
- If you want to order a second dish without ordering a first dish, and vice versa, this is perfectly acceptable.
- Though a post-meal cappuccino is not the ‘done thing’ in Italy, if you are a fan of milk in your coffee, opt for a macchiato instead – an espresso with a small amount of steamy, foamed milk.
- Pizza is served primarily at dinner time. However, pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) is served all the time and you will find shops all over the city selling it.
- An aperitivo (a drink and a light buffet or appetizers) is a great way to keep stomach rumbling at bay while waiting for the late dinner hour. You will find aperitivos being served at bars in the early evening.