Ciao from Roma! I’ve filled orientation week with lots of making new connections, sightseeing, and, of course, food. I’ve already been struck by the differences in dining customs between Rome and the US, and have been compiling a list of tips to prepare any future Italy travelers for what to expect when dining here.
- Get used to lukewarm water, because ice is not really used here. According to my orientation week Italian crash course professor, Italians don’t like anything that alters their internal body temperature too much, like air conditioning or ice.
- Bread is going to cost you. At many restaurants, waiters will unassumingly put down a basket of bread and, whether or not you eat it, charge you per person at the table when you’ve finished your meal. If you don’t want to pay for bread, stop them before they even put the basket down.
- Coffee culture is a whole new ball game. Don’t expect to get a hearty cup of American drip coffee to start your morning. For Italians, “caffè” means espresso, and even “caffè Americano” just means espresso with extra hot water added after brewing. Although an Italian espresso shot has stronger flavor than a cup of American drip coffee, its caffeine content is actually lower.
- Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. A typical Italian breakfast consists of “cappuccino e cornetto,” or a cappuccino and a croissant, served at a “bar,” which is like an American coffee shop that serves panini, pastries, and alcohol in addition to a range of coffee drinks. It costs extra to drink your coffee there, so either have your drink standing at the bar or ask for it “porto via” to take it to go. Whether you pay to sit or stand, coffee in Italy is generally much more affordable than that in the US–in local bars all over Rome, you can find a delicious espresso shot for less than a euro.
- Treat meals as a socializing opportunity. Italians love to unite around food, and sharing a large, multi-course meal with family and friends is a beloved celebratory tradition here. We got to experience such a meal at Castello di Titignano, where the Temple Rome program took a day trip to dine in a beautiful castle. Wine is artfully paired with food based on flavor, and meals are drawn-out affairs that consist of antipasti (appetizers like bruschetta—toasted bread with toppings—and arancini—fried rice balls stuffed with meat, cheese, or vegetables), primi (first course, typically pasta), secondi (second course, typically meat or fish), contorni (side dishes, like vegetables), dolci (dessert), and caffè. Needless to say, be sure to pace yourself and eat slowly if you get to experience one of these Italian food fests.
- Restructure your eating schedule. Italians usually eat a light breakfast, lunch around 1-3pm, aperitivo (like an American happy hour consisting of drinks and light bites) in the late afternoon, and dinner no earlier than 8pm. Many American students use aperitivo as a cheap and early dinner option to avoid paying for a full meal later at night. For the price of a drink, you get access to an unlimited buffet of foods, which can range from chips and salumi to pizzetta, pasta, or even sushi, depending on the restaurant.
Although Italian dining culture is strikingly different from that of the US, I’m excited to immerse myself fully and adopt these new norms as I adjust to life as a Roman resident for the next four months. Trust me, the food quality is surely worth the culture shock that comes with it!