Italian cuisine is laden with rich regional variations and almost every town and village has their own specialties. The north of Italy displays a greater influence of French and Austrian cuisine with emphasis on richer and creamier meat and rice dishes.
The south features lighter fare dominated by ingredients like fish, tomatoes and olive oil. To get you better acquainted with the intricacies of the country’s cuisine, here is a short guide to food and drink for expats in Italy.
The terms ristorante and trattoria are often used to describe eateries in Italy. A ristorante usually refers to a more upmarket eatery, while a trattoria is more affordable and serves up home-style cooking.There are also the osterias that serve simple food and wine and the ever-popular pizzerias known for their traditional wood-burning ovens.
The Italian menu
A traditional Italian lunch or dinner menu begins with antipasto, which consists of an assortment of appetizers ranging from seafood to cold cuts. This is followed by a course of soup or pasta or risotto, and then meat or fish dishes.
Contorni are the side dishes of salads or vegetables that may be served separately. These are mostly green or mixed salads, boiled vegetables or potatoes, either fried or roasted.
Fruits and desserts come next and there is usually a choice between seasonal local fruits. Dolci (desserts) range from the renowned tiramisu to trifles. Cheese is an important part of the Italian cuisine and a selection of local cheeses often finds a place in a traditional meal.
If you’d like to start your day the Italian way, then your breakfast should consist of a coffee and a cornetto, a type of croissant with a filling of chocolate or jam. And for a quick bite during the day, there is of course, pizza. The classic Italian pizza is thin and flat with few toppings. The best pizza comes out of wood-burning ovens with the cheese bubbling on top and the faint taste of charcoal in the crisp crust. Other popular Italian snacks include Panini (sandwiches) with different types of fillings, focaccia (flat oven-baked bread), arancini (deep-fried rice balls) and calzone (folded over dough usually with a ricotta filling).
Italy is also a great food destination for vegetarians as fresh seasonal produce is always available in local markets across the country. Most restaurants serve excellent fresh salads and vegetarian pasta sauces.
Italy is known the world over for its excellent coffee. Espresso is the most popular type of coffee, served in small cups and taken black. You can also opt for the cappuccino, which has milk added to it and a characteristic froth on the top. Those who like their coffee with a bit more milk can try the caffè latte or latte macchiato. A caffè corretto is a shot of espresso with a small amount of liquor added, either grappa (grape flavored brandy) or Sambuca (an anise flavored colorless liqueur). Caffè freddo (cold coffee) is perfect on a hot summer’s day.
For the tea drinkers too, there are options such as tè freddo (iced tea) or tè caldo (hot tea), to which one can add lemon or milk. Most cafes also offer different varieties of herbal teas like chamomile or peppermint tea.
Italian meals are usually served with a half-liter carafe of house wine. Italian wines such as Prosecco and Chianti are famous around the globe. Restaurants usually offer a choice between red or white wine, and sometimes rosé.
Italian liqueurs like limoncello, a lemon liqueur from southern Italy, and amaretto, an almond flavored liqueur, are also popular among the locals and expats. Many Italians like a shot of grappa along with their coffee while limoncello is specially served in chilled cordial glasses. Strega is another Italian drink found in almost every bar. It is a yellow-colored herbal liqueur with a sweet, minty taste.
For those who like soft drinks, there are the freshly squeezed fruit juices, of which lemon, grapefruit and orange are the most popular. Granitas made from crushed ice is also an Italian favorite and is eaten more as a dessert. They come in different flavors and are sometimes served with whipped cream on top. Another popular soft drink is chinotto, a carbonated drink made from myrtle-leaved oranges.