When trying to adapt to Italian culture, I have found that my biggest challenge presents itself in the language barrier that I have yet to cross. I have under appreciated the value of communication without language barriers prior to coming to Rome, and like the saying goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got, ‘til it’s gone.” While I may not be able to ask for things such as directions or time due to my limited Italian, we humans all possess a universal tool which has helped me tremendously in the preliminary stages of adjusting to this new style of life. That tool is our senses. They help us communicate regardless of what language is being spoken. We can all touch a map to signal a need for directional help, or see a landmark in order to orient ourselves, both without saying a word. Perhaps my favorite senses to use in order to get what I want are smell and taste.
The big question whenever I contact friends and family from home is “How is the food?!” I guess there is indeed some sort of preconception in the States that Italian food trumps all, so it’s understandable why this question might be posed before someone even asks how I’m doing (I’m fine, thanks for asking). My advice? Follow your senses, specifically smell and taste. In my experience so far, these are enough to literally reel you into a café as you are walking along the street.
If you’re asking yourself why I’ve written two paragraphs without yet addressing THE question, I promise that I’m doing you a favor. Here’s my warning before continuing to read: Don’t read on an empty stomach! Go make yourself a large portion of your favorite food and don’t continue reading until you’ve finished it. I realize that many may think that I’m joking here; to those I would just like to say that it’s not my fault if your stomach is growling or your mouth is watering by the end of reading this post. That being said, let’s dig in!
It would probably make sense if I started with breakfast because it’s my favorite meal of the day, and just because it simply makes sense in the order of many typical daily routines. Nope! Not here in Italy, at least, because breakfast is pretty much nonexistent. Of course, you can always make eggs, or have cereal, but I have yet to see someone going out to breakfast. My day usually starts in a cafe, sipping on a cappuccino and eating those delicious apple croissant things that you see above. That’ll hold you over though. Moving on, then!
Sure, I miss out on that diner special with 3 pancakes, 2 eggs, bacon, and a side of home fries, but when you get to eat lunch and dinner later in the day, it makes up for the loss of the American breakfast very quickly. In fact, many places in Rome shut down from the hours of 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. which gives Italians time to eat their awesome lunch, enter their immediate “food coma” as we call it back home, and return to work. By the way, the answer to that question with-in THE question that’s forming in your head right now, is yes, the pizza is, in fact, quite life-changing. It’s not a greasy, floppy mess that folds in half. Rather, you either order it by weight (this is dangerous) and are served a rectangular piece of art that has delicious marinara topped with fresh mozzarella, or order a personal pizza. Toppings vary too, but they’re all delicious. But please, don’t make pizza a habit. I like to think that those who eat pizza for lunch, dinner, and dessert (because remember, there is no breakfast) are being too lazy to immerse themselves into a culture that has so much more to offer. For example, fresh pasta, as in the kind that doesn’t come in a box. Fruit and vegetables without preservatives, such as oranges that still have vines on them from just being picked hours before being sold. Meals that wow you, like a chicken parmigiana dish like you’ve never had before. Gelato in the best flavors imaginable that taste exactly like their name, not like some artificial production. “Pics or it didn’t happen!” Fine…but please, refer to the above warning before viewing.