One of the classes I am most eager to take this semester is called “The Discovery of Italy through its Culinary Traditions.” The class meets twice a week, once for an in-class lesson about the history and culture behind Italian food and once for a cooking lab practical in the cafeteria. We’ll learn about food and wine pairings and how to make fresh pasta once we make it to the more advanced lessons, but we started off with the basics. In a lesson titled “Rules for Eating in Italy Without Scaring the Italians,” my professor outlined how to pass off as a true Italian in a restaurant (or at least not be so obviously American). If you find your way to an authentic Italian restaurant, here’s what NOT to do.
- Go to a restaurant that’s open for lunch at 11. Italians don’t eat until at least noon, so if you like having lunch at 11:00 a.m. or dinner at 5:30 p.m. like me, you’re out of luck. Restaurants will normally be open from 12-2:30 p.m. and will reopen for dinner from 7:00-11:00 p.m.
- Ask for “Italian food” like Fettucine Alfredo, Spaghetti Bolognese, or Spaghetti and Meatballs. My professor asserted that there is no such thing as Italian foodー Italy has 20 different regions with vastly different cuisine, so when you travel around even an hour away, there might be little overlap in what dishes you will find at a restaurant. Secondly, if you’re not at Olive Garden, don’t even think about ordering the items I listed above because they are dishes that originated in America. If you find them at a restaurant in Italy, they are likely just trying to cater to what tourists want, so it’s likely not the authentic experience you may want.
- Order your beverage first. A waiter in an Italian restaurant will ask you for your beverage first only if a) they are asking about water, b) you’re at an Italian aperitivo (happy hour), or c) they can tell you’re a foreigner. Italians order drinks after they choose what they would like to eat so that they can find something that would pair well. Also, they drink wine and water with a meal with the occasional exception of beer. Ordering soda or milk is a clear indicator of being unfamiliar with Italian eating habits.
- Ask for a Caesar salad or any salad with dressing. Caesar salad was invented by an Italian, just in Mexico. You will have a challenge finding dressing anywhere in Milan, apart from a nine euro bottle of Ranch in an American store. Insalata mista, or mixed greens, are typically tossed with lemon juice, black pepper, salt, olive oil, and vinegar.
- Order a “peperoni” pizza while expecting to get meat as a topping. “Peperoni” translates to “peppers” in Italian, so be warned. If you would like the American form of pepperoni, ask for “salame.” If you’re feeling adventurous, some restaurants have “American” pizza that comes with hot dog slices and french fries on top.
- Use bread to wipe up leftover sauce (sort of). As a general tip for politeness, this is against table manners. However, even the Italians break this ruleー I mean, when the food is this good, who can resist?