Savoring Italian meals is one of the great pleasures in life, and you don’t even need to go to Italy to experience it. You can drop by the Olive Garden for instance and have your fill of real Italian. If you really want to get the most out of this dining experience, it helps to know how to dine in a typical Italian restaurant.
There are 5 parts in a typical Italian menu, and a full meal is comprised of an appetizer, a two courses and a side dish. People often order two courses minimum but it is not necessary. Usually these meals take a couple of hours to complete or longer depending on the number of courses.
Appetizers – Antipasti
The antipasti is served prior to the main meal. Most Italian appetizers consist of cold cuts with chef’s specialties culled from various regions of Italy. Some restaurants have an antipasto misto where you can savor different types of dishes.
An antipasto misto often has more food options than you may realize so it’s a great way to get acquainted with Italian meals. Their affordable price also makes an antipasto buffet a good choice.
Primo – The First Course
Pasta is the first course, though in some cases it is risotto (rice dishes) or soup. Risotto is especially popular in northern Italy and restaurants offer a huge variety. Standard risotto dishes are usually for at least two people though it can vary.
There are also a good number of pastas to choose from. American style pasta has more sauce than Italian pasta, so keep that in mind if you’re going to a traditional Italian restaurant. The reason for this is in Italy more premium is put on the kind of pasta used than the sauce.
Secondo – Secondo / Main Course
The main course consists of fish, poultry or meat. Vegetables and potatoes aren’t usually part of the meal. Majority of Italian restaurants offer a couple of vegetarian options. Even if there’s no mention in the menu you can just ask the waiter for a vegetarian dish.
Contorni – Side Dishes
Typically customers order a side dish to go along with the main course. Popular choices include insalata (salad), verdura (vegetable) or potato. You may also just order the salad rather than the meat portion of the meal.
Dolce – Dessert
A wide range of desserts are available. You may choose from a bowl full of fruits, cheese, sweets, pastries and other treats. An after dinner drink – digestivo or caffe – is served after dessert.
Wine is the most popular drink in Italian restaurants though other options are available. Sometimes the waiter may take your drink order before the food too. In case of wine you may order by full, half or quarter liter.
Coffee is often served after meals and you’ll rarely find tea served. You can order soda or tea but there are no free refills.
Tips for Dining in an Italian Restaurant
Italian restaurants, whether in Italy or another country, have different tones. This determines how formal or casual it is and what the menu is like. For meat dishes and pasta all restaurants have you covered.
If you’re after some cheese and some wine you’ll get your fill just from the appetizers. If you’re on the go and just want a pizza or sandwich, head over to a paninoteca or bar.
Speaking of pizza it should come as no surprise there are myriad choices on the menu. A pizza d’asporto is the Italian version of the take out. It’s a great choice if you’ve got to go places and want a bite to go along.
If you want a pizza by the slice just ask for a Pizza a trancio. If you want a genuine Italian pizza then you don’t want to settle for anything than a pizzeria.
Italian Hot Chocolate and Coffee
A traditional Italian bar / caffe serves up coffee sure, but you’d likely get an espresso as that is the Italian coffee. Regular American coffee is called acqua sporca or dirty water because it is mostly water.
There are many kinds of Italian espresso but most of them are heavily concentrated. It is more powerful than the average coffee and the flavor is more intense. American style coffee is available in some Italian restaurants in the US, but in Italy they’re only found in tourist cities.
If espresso is too strong then you can order cappuccino instead. Bear in mind that cappuccino is only acceptable after breakfast in Italy and usually not available for other meals.
Italian food is one of a kind and the dining experience is one to remember. It may seem overwhelming if you’ve never been to one but really it’s fun and something you’ll look forward to.