... eat the Italian way

ciboFood is everything in Italy, it's what brings the family together to sit around a table after a long day working or at the beach. Meal times are where extended families will sit for hours discussing life, family matters, Italian politics (always popular) and the world as a whole.
The Italian lifestyle is defined by a love of good food, a passion for flavor, and a vibrant lifestyle.

Breakfast is the first meal in Italy, and traditional Italian colazione is continental in style. The traditional breakfast in Italy is simply Caffè e latte (hot coffee with milk) or coffee with bread or rolls, butter, and jam—known as prima colazione or just colazione. If breakfast is eaten in a bar (coffee shop), it is composed of cappuccino e cornetti (its French and European equivalents are brioches, or croissant like pastries) or espresso and pastry. For Italians breakfast at bars means social life and conviviality: this is why they love it. Do not miss the chance to get out of your hotel by nine am on a workday and order a cappuccino at the counter with a cornetto and eat it standing at the bar with the rest of the crowd.

Lunch is traditionally regarded as being the most important meal. Most shops close down in the pausa pranzo (lunch break) between 13.00 and 16.00; until recent times, most people, even workers, came home to have a meal with their family, often inviting friends and relatives to come along. Abroad, Italians are often stereotyped of having long meals, however this is not always the case, and as the country has become more modernized, there is often less time for long meals. Despite this, most Italian families still get together for a big family meal on Sundays, special occasions and Saints' and Holy days. In most schools, children are given a lunch break where they can choose to go home and have lunch, or stay at the school canteen/cafeteria or eat a packed lunch. Italians at lunch-time usually, even in normal days, have a layout: a first course, a second course and usually dessert or fruit. With the introduction of fast-food restaurant chains, many workers or commuters tend to eat less at home and quickly have a meal at some restaurant like McDonald's or Burger King. Italy has got several foreign fast-food chains, and they are frequently found in big cities or along motorways. However, to conserve the tradition of Italian food, Italy has several Italian fast-foods such as Autogrill, which makes panini, little pizzas or more traditional Italian meals. Pizzerias are still very popular with people and many have lunch in them.

Dinner is usually and traditionally a light meal in Italy. When Italians dine out, they usually do so for dinner, or cena, rather than lunch, and pizzerias and restaurants are popular choices. For cena, people usually have lighter food, such as soup, broth, salad, cold meats, pasta, or the leftovers of lunchtime.


Traditional structure of an Italian meal

Aperitivo is a wonderful tradition that you should not miss out on. Bars that offer an aperitivo buffet will charge you for the drink, but not for the food, which will range from simple chips to sophisticated hot appetizers and parmigiano cubes sprinkled with balsamic vinegar. The buffet is all you can eat.

The antipasto is a slightly heavier starter. It is usually cold (not in all cases) and lighter than the first course. Affettati (sliced meats), charcuterie, salami, hams, cheeses, sandwich-like foods, vegetables; more elaborate dishes are occasionally prepared.

A primo is the first course. It consists of hot food and is usually heavier than the antipasto, but lighter than the second course. Non-meat dishes are the staple of any primo: examples include risotto, pasta, soup and broth, gnocchi, crepes, casseroles, or lasagnas.

A secondo is traditionally the heartiest course, sometimes called the piatto principale or the main meal. Foods consumed in this course include different meats and types of fish, including turkey, sausage, pork, steak, stew, beef, zampone, cod (baccala), salmon, lobster, lamb, chicken, or a roast.

A contorno, or plural contorni (side dishes) are commonly served alongside a secondo. These usually consist of vegetables, raw or cooked, hot or cold. They are always served in a separate dish, never in the same plate as the meat. If the contorni contained many leafy vegetables, the salad might be omitted. Otherwise, a fresh garden salad would be served at this point.

An entire course is dedicated to local cheeses and fresh fruit. The cheeses and fruit will be whatever is typical of the province one is in. Naturally, the fruit is whatever is in season at the moment.

Following the secondo comes il dolce, or dessert. Though not very common on a quotidian basis, desserts are popular after large, significant meals. Frequent dishes include tiramisu, zuppa inglese, panna cotta, cake or pie, Panettone or Pandoro (the latter two are mainly served during Christmastime). Though there are nationwide deserts, popular across Italy, many regions or cities have local specialities.

Espresso is usually ordered after dessert to help digestion and to finish off a meal. Coffee in Italy means Espresso, if you want a “watery” coffee you have to ask for an “Americano”.

The digestivo, is the drink to conclude the meal. Drinks such as Grappa, Amaro, Limoncello or other fruit/herbal drinks are drunk. Digestivo indicates that the drinks served at this time are meant to ease digestion after a long meal.


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