8 Ways to Eat and Drink Like an Italian

City Travel, Food & Wine, Italy, Studying Abroad — By on June 18, 2009 at 8:00 am

Patty HodappBy Patty Hodapp

My study abroad trip to Italy is approaching its three-week mark. Just by living with an Italian family-and being a tourist-and I’ve learned a lot about the local culture. My Italian has improved vastly and I’ve definitely eaten my weight’s worth in both gelato and olive oil!  For all you backpackers, Italophies and Euro-culture connoisseurs, I’m sharing a few pointers I’ve picked up by talking to other tourists, my Italian host family and by learning lessons the hard way…on my own.

Today’s lesson: 8 Ways to Eat and Drink like an Italian
1. Avoid gelato from gelaterias around the touristy places like the city center. It’s often overpriced and not even “genuine” gelato anyways. Skip the molded gelato (like the kind in the picture) gelatoI met an Italian man who told me that this variety has been infused with extra milk and dairy products. Instead, you can find gelato places outside the city center where you get twice the gelato for your Euro-and it’s real. Trust me, I’ve hit up almost all of the gelaterias in Florence and the best stuff I’ve tasted comes from little hole-in-the-wall places on random corners and streets where only locals go. A good rule of thumb: If the tubs are elaborately decorated with fruit and whipped cream or mounded to stand very high above the tub itself, it’s probably an gelato impostor.

2. Get a great bottle of wine at the supermarket for 2 Euro. Expensive over here doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. Getting glasses of wine and bottles of wine at restaurants is very expensive and unless you have a lot of cash to drop you’ll only want to do this occasionally.

3. When buying olive oil look at the year on the bottle. Unlike with wine, the more recent the vintage, the better-and that’s because it’s fresher. Incidentally, Italians put olive oil on everything. I became a fan pretty quickly and am inches away from literally pouring it on my breakfast cereal. It’s just that good.

4. Adjust your eating schedule Italians have their dinner around 8:30 or 9:00pm Just be prepared to eat alone if you’re sitting down at a restaurant at 6:00pm.

5. Don’t expect to order your old menu standbys I was devastated to find out from my Italian host mom that chicken Parmesan and chicken alfredo does not, in fact, exist in Italy. When I told her I love those “Italian” dishes she had no clue what I was talking about. The upswing is, you’ll have to branch out and try new dishes-and you may realize that you had no idea what you were missing.

6. Sit and stay awhile Italians eat a few courses, typically starting with salad and bread dipped in olive oil or balsamic, then a light pasta dish, and afterwards moving on to prepared meat or fish (seasoned with home grown herbs in their little tomatoes gardens) and ending with a piece of fruit and coffee. They don’t eat dessert often here.

7. Give the green and white cups a rest There’s no such thing as Starbucks in Italy. For a caffeine and coffee addict like myself, I thought I would pretty much die of caffeine-withdrawal headaches the first week. But then I learned to hit the bars.

8. Get your drink on Unlike America’s watering holes, a “bar” here is a coffee place where you can get a sandwich or a small pastry. There is no such thing as a “to-go” cup. When you order a café at a bar in Italy you will get a little tiny tea cup with a shot of espresso, sometimes with water or milk added, and you stand at the bar and drink it. Italians don’t actually brew coffee so the closest thing you can get to an American cup of coffee is called “un café Americano.”  It’s essentially a shot of espresso with hot water and steamed milk.

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  • Brooke says:

    Great tips Patty! Can't wait to put them to use in August. Especially the one about gelato!

  • spanishteacher83 says:

    Another way to tell if a gelateria is authentic is to look at the banana flavor. If it's yellow, it has been artificially colored. Banana gelato should be a grayish color!

  • jody says:

    wow, that's great Patty. Are you studying the language? I wish you well and hope you enjoy your stay. Look forward to your next post!

  • Theresa says:

    Thank you so much for this post. Especially about the olive oil!! Pls keep posting on this.

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