No doubt you’ve eaten Italian. After all, pretty much any place in the Western world these days has an ‘Italian’ restaurant, and dishes and ingredients are widely available in supermarkets. But have you really, truly eaten Italian? It’s an absolute pleasure to do so – but in authentic Italian dining don’t be expecting pizza slathered in toppings and accompanied by garlic bread and a large Coke!
Whenever I’ve travelled to Italy, it has always struck me that the Italians take eating very seriously. Dining appears to be governed by a host of unwritten rules that are common sense to Italians and yet unexpected to travellers. Here are ten tips for dining etiquette for ‘when in Rome’…
- Forget the salt and pepper. And the mustard, salad dressing and ketchup! Add vinegar and olive oil for flavour.
- Take it easy on the bread. Use bread to mop up the sauce left from your main meal – don’t munch on it throughout the meal. And don’t ask for butter for the bread.
- Only drink wine or water with your meal. Not lemonade. Not beer. Never cappuccino!
- Drink coffee, not tea, between meals. Opt for espresso-based drinks. Forget frothy coffee-chain milkshakes!
- Twirl your spaghetti. Don’t even dream of cutting it up! And use a fork only, not a spoon.
- Don’t add parmesan to fish dishes. For Italians, the two go together about as well as jam and ham.
- Don’t ask for spaghetti with meatballs, fettucine Alfredo or Caesar salad. These are American, not Italian, dishes.
- Don’t expect a pasta dish to contain chicken. In Italy, never the twain shall meet.
- Respect the simplicity of the dish. Many dishes contain no more than three or four ingredients. Really, you don’t need chicken and bacon and courgette and onion and peppers and mozzarella and tomatoes and anchovies and olives on your pizza!
- Slow down! Take your time to enjoy your meal or drink. You’re on Italian time now.
And finally, don’t expect red-chequered tablecloths. Just as Frenchmen don’t generally swan about in berets, striped shirts and garlands of garlic, Italian restaurants don’t feel the need to live up to the stereotype.