Food in Italy is worth a visit just on its own. The pizza tastes so much better, the produce is fresher and the pasta and sauces are all unique. This isn’t Papa John’s, Olive Garden or your mother’s spaghetti and meatballs. The food is an experience. The Italian ritual and food habits are very different from America’s poor interpretation of it. Get adventurous and try as many different things as you can while you are in Italy. Here is an overview of what to expect while dining out in Rome from the beginning to end of the day.
Americans love their big cups of Starbucks coffee and walking around snacking. Shocker: there is no Starbucks in Rome, not even in the train station. If you see an Italian walking around and eating, it’ll most likely be pizza, a pastry or some delicious gelato. Italians don’t seem to eat a big breakfast of eggs and bacon with multiple cups of coffee. The routine instead consists of a cappuccino or espresso and pastry such as la cornetta (croissant). As for lunch, it usually doesn’t start until one in the afternoon or after. Italians eat later, so be prepared to change your eating schedule. Many businesses shut down for a few hours in the afternoon just to accommodate this late and elongated meal. Italians love to take their time while dining, so don’t be surprised to see them drinking a glass of wine and enjoying a plate of pasta instead of a quick sandwich like in the United States.
For dinner, restaurants are usually empty of diners until after eight at night. If you can’t wait that long, be like an Italian and stop in for an aperitivo. This includes a cocktail (try the classic spritz) or soda of your choosing accompanied by snacks such as nuts, olives, potato chips and even savory pastries. Enjoying an aperitivo with a friend is a great way to hold off until dinner, since you may not end up eating until ten if you’re feeling more Roman.
The order of the different plates for dinner can be confusing initially; it’s somewhat opposite of the States. Salads aren’t the first thing to be eaten, but often last if ordered. There are many different courses to an Italian menu; usually people just stick to two different servings. The first is the antipasti (appetizers), followed by primo. This consists of pasta, soup or risotto and be aware that the pasta does not include any type of meat. Yes, spaghetti and meatballs is not actually a thing in Italy (they’re separate). The secondo is next, where you will be able to get your meat, fish or chicken. Usually vegetables aren’t served with this portion, but are another order called the contorni. After all this, it’s time for dessert, dolce. Expect a fantastic sweet or cheese to tie your meal together.
As for the check, that won’t be coming until you ask for it. Very different from America, where waiters will rush you out and expect a large tip. When you are ready to pay at a sit down restaurant, catch your server’s attention by making eye contact or holding up a finger and say il conto, meaning the check. Most times the service is included, so tips aren’t necessary or leave a few euros for their effort if it’s not included. Servers aren’t as attentive in Italy, so speak up if you have questions about the menu or the specials listed on a nearby chalkboard. When in doubt ask for their recommendation; after all, they know what is best at the restaurant.