Italian food customs and traditions

Italian food customs and traditions. Italian culture is steeped in the arts, family, architecture, music and food. Italians place a high premium on their food, and much emphasis is placed on what to eat, how to cook it, and when to eat it.  Food is one of the defining characteristics of Italian culture, and it is taken very seriously.

Italian food is not only delightful to the senses, but it is also authentic and has a unique identity you can’t get anywhere else. It is about originality, and tradition and this rings through in everything Italian.

Many people are passionate about Italian food, however some of them are not aware of the customs associated with the cuisine. Italian food customs are many and they vary throughout the peninsula but there is consensus over some rules of Italian food culture. Understanding the traditions is the key to truly enjoying your experience while partaking in these culinary delights. To illustrate here are some of the Italian food customs and traditions you need to know.

Italian Food Customs and Traditions: Eating like an Italian

For the Italians food is not considered mere nutrition, it is above all else pleasure. Here is a brief overview of Italian food customs and traditions.

Meal Timing

Timing of meals is crucial. Lunch is served at 1.00 PM and dinner at 8.00 PM. In northern Italy it can be a little earlier and a little later towards the south but don’t dream of eating at 4.00, the restaurant kitchens are closed until dinner time.

Italian Food Menu

A typical Italian meal begins with an antipasto (starter), followed by a primo (pasta, risotto or polenta, depending on the region and season), a secondo (meat or fish), a contorno (cooked vegetables or salad) and dolce (dessert). However nobody is capable of such a feat on an ordinary day. Most meals are composed of two courses, a “primo” and/or a “secondo” and a “contorno”.

Not every meal contains all five courses, but many do. If you want the full, five-course Italian dinner, here are the parts you need:

The antipasto

A traditional Italian meal starts with something to nibble on, called an antipasto, which translates into English as “before the meal.” This dish usually consists of a variety of cheeses, olives, vegetables, or fried items such as zucchini flowers or croquettes. In the same way, Bruschetta is a very popular antipasto option.

The primo

The first course will traditionally consist of a risotto, polenta, soup, rice, or pasta dish. Furthermore In Italy, pasta is a first course, or primo, served as an appetizer, not as the main event.

The secondo

The main course is called il secondo, or the second course. The main course will historically feature chicken, meat, fish, or a hearty vegetable. A fresh salad could also be used here.  These main courses are usually fairly simple, especially if a rich pasta or rice dish precedes them.

The contorno

This is the side dish to the main dish. It consists of either cooked vegetables or a salad. Traditionally this is served at the same time as the main dish. Moreover the word contorno loosely translates as “contours” and refers to the fact that the vegetable course helps shape and define the meal.

The dolce

A dolce (or sweet) ends a traditional Italian meal. The Dolce consists of sweets, cheese, or fresh fruit. Cakes, mousses and crèmes brûlées are for tourists who long for sugar at the end of a meal. Pastries and sweets seen in pasticcerias are most often eaten as a snack in the afternoon or as a special occasion dessert.

Never in the same plate

It is not customary for all types of food to be served together on the same plate. Every dish is served in a different plate, mixing is strongly discouraged. Even if you are being served bread alongside your meal, it should never rest on the same plate as your entree. 

Salad is a side

While some countries offer Antipasto salad and refer to it as a meal, this is not something that occurs in Italy. Salad is considered a side dish and, even if you order it as a starter, your request will be totally ignored.

Fruit and Cheese

Meals are generally closed with fresh fruits, often cheeses and coffee. Fruit and cheese, something for everyone. The cheeses will be whatever is typical of the region.

Coffee

No authentic Italian meal is complete without a cup of coffee afterward!. Coffee is often drunk at the end of a meal, even after the digestivo. Italians, unlike many countries, do not have milky coffees or drinks after meals (such as cappuccino or caffè macchiato), but strong coffee such as espresso, which is often drunk very quickly in small cups at very high temperatures.

Beverage Customs

When you are looking for a beverage to have alongside your meal, you must select red or white wine, beer or mineral water if you want to be traditional. Other beverages are not acceptable (children are exempt of course). In that case, soda is an option for kids. 

Moreover Drinking milk at lunch or dinner is simply unheard of, it will kill the flavor and change the entire food experience, and not in a good way.

Most Italians drink wine. It is very important part of the Italian gastronomic culture and Italy is home to some of the world´s most famous vineyards.

Soffritto

Most of the best Italian dishes start with a “soffritto.” It is generally made with onion, carrot and celery, finely cut and lightly fried in a little olive oil.

Cheese on fish?

Both of these are extremely important when it comes to authentic Italian cuisine. Even so, they should not be served together. 

Italians prize the fresh fish and shellfish from the sea. It’s intended for you to enjoy that heavenly aroma. For this reason, you will never see Italians putting grated cheese or sprinkling parmesan on top of any seafood or fish dish.The strong cheese flavor would murder the seafood aroma.

Lunch

In Italy, the main meal is Lunch. The Italian word for Lunch means “il pranzo”. In most cultures, lunch is seen as merely a way to nourish yourself in the middle of the day. It is usually seen as less important and formal than the evening meal.

An interesting thing to remember is the fact that lunch is always eaten at a certain hour that is set aside for that purpose. Ideally, lunch includes courses; a primo piattoor first course, such as pasta, gnocchi, or rice, a protein, and vegetables. Normally, lunch is Italian’s biggest and most sustaining meal of the day. If not in a rush, Italians sit down and enjoy their lunch for at least an hour, either at home or in a restaurant or bar.

Therefore if someone happens to miss it, it is totally skipped since it is not considered acceptable to eat this meal at an undesignated time.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. You have taken the time to learn more about all of the traditions and customs that are part of this cuisine and that means a great deal.

Therefore if you are looking for an authentic Italian dining experience, you don’t need to travel all the way to Rome. At Italian Villa, we offer an Italian dining experience with service that is second to none. Moreover we have a variety of authentic, homemade Italian favorites that can expand your palate and introduce you to Italian food. Contact us today to make a reservation.

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