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Embark on a journey to explore Italy like a local, diving into the vibrant world of food, restaurants, snacks, and aperitivos. Join me as I share with you some useful street-smart words, cultural intricacies, and hidden gems that will enrich your travel experience in my homeland.

 Italian Lunch/Dinner Courses Unveiled: If you’re accustomed to American dining, where the main dish and sides arrive together, be prepared for a different experience in Italy as people take their time when eating. No worries though, Italian restaurant are very flexible and they will adjust to the guests needs. When dining with children, inform your waiter (Cameriere) that you’d like everything to come at the same time – “TUTTO INSIEME” in order to avoid long waits.

Italian Lunch and Dinner Courses/Items:

  • Antipasti (appetizers)
  • Antipasti misti (mixed appetizers, including salami, prosciutto, and cheese)
  • Primi Piatti (first courses – pasta, gnocchi or risotto are good example)
  • Secondi Piatti (second courses – typically meat, fish or seafood)
  • Insalatone (Large salad-this has become a good alternative to a Primo or Secondo Piatto)
  • Contorni (side dishes which are normally veggies)
  • Dolci (desserts)
  • Caffe (post-dinner espresso)
  • Digestivi (after-dinner liqueurs)
  • Sgroppino (this is a lemon gelato, prosecco and vodka sorbet and it is more common in the North East of Italy)

 Useful Expressions or Rules:

  • “Tutto insieme” – All at the same time referred to the food delivery
  • “Il conto per favore” – The bill please
  • “Paghiamo in contanti” – We pay in cash
  • “Senza Fatture” – No invoice which if you are in a restaurant, it will signal that you don’t need an invoice/receipt and often will result in a discount
  • “Vino della casa per favore” – House wine, please
  • “1 litro” – 1 liter, usually served in a carafe
  • “Buon Appetito” – Enjoy your meal.
  • La mancia- (tip) Tip are not expected as waiters are paid more than in the US. Only leave it if you had an extraordinary experience.
  • Coperto-This is the service charge and it will often appear in the menu at restaurants
  • Conto unico-One bill/check, referring to the fact that you don’t need to split the bill. Splitting bills are not very common in Italy and not appreciated.
  • Carta di Credito-Credit Card. Please note that American Express is not accepted in many places due to its high service fees.

Bars in Italy: In Italy, the “bar” is a social hub where locals, friend and families gather for a quick caffe or a bite on the go. While alcohol is served, these bars are also breakfast joints. Most items are enjoyed standing at the counter, but if you sit down, expect an additional fee for table service if you are in a touristy place. Ordering multiple beverages often comes with complimentary snacks like olives, chips, and small pizzas which in Italy we call Pizzette.

Common Offerings at Bars and Cafes:

  • Espresso/Caffè
  • Cappuccino (local people often call it Cappuccio and they never order it after lunch)
  • Pasticcini (breakfast pastries)
  • Cornetto (croissant)
  • Panini (hot or cold sandwiches). Remember if you want only one you should ask for UN panino-not UN PANINI as that is plural
  • Tramezzini (cold sandwiches which are delightful and the classic are with mozzarella tomato, eggs asparagus, and prosciutto and mushroom)
  • Pasta dishes
  • Alcohol
  • Spritz
  • Gelato in cono o in coppetta (in cone or cup)
  • Grappa (dry Italian brandy)
  • No eggs nor bacon are offered at caffes

Useful Expressions:

  • “Cameriere per favore?” – Waiter, please?
  • “Per mangiare e per bere?” – Are you here for eating and drinking?
  • “Il conto per favore?” – The bill, please
  • “Il bagno per favore?” – The restroom, please
  • Siete aperti? Are you open?
  • Posso pagare con la carta? Can I pay with a credit card? While most places accept credit cards, cash is always preferred.

Understanding Italian Aperitivo: Aperitivo, Italy’s beloved early-evening tradition, is akin to a “happy hour.” It’s more about socializing than drinking, offering a delightful array of snacks for the price of a drink. Generous food offering with Aperitivo is more common in Milan and in other Northern Italian cities. From saucy pastas to fresh mozzarella, it’s a feast that accompanies light drinks. In most places across Italy, purchase one drink, and you’ll likely receive chips, nuts, olives, and small pizzette.

Typical Aperitivo Drinks (from lighter to stronger):

  • Prosecco
  • Spritz
  • Americano
  • Aperitivo della casa (house drink). Ask to the waiter (cameriere)
  • Negroni
  • Mojito
  • Moscow Mule

Useful Expressions:

  • Snack per favore?” – Requesting a snack with your aperitivo
  • “Noccioline e patatine” – Nuts and chips
  • “Un altro giro” – Another round (when ordering the same again)
  • Offro Io! This is my treat!
  • Un bancomat per favore-An ATM please?