Much passion and pride are derived from wine, food and most importantly family in Italy. Dinner is a daily celebration of all three things. Tables pile with dishes, tongues loosen with wine and rapid conversation spills forth.
Compared to America, lines between family, work and pleasure blur in Italy. What that means for Tourists is the simple act of dining out, allows you to dive into the culture as if you’ve been invited by Italy herself to the family table.
10 Tips for Americans Eating In Italy
In my case, an American who married an Italian, I’ve had the advantage both of eating in Italy’s best restaurants and eating at a true Italian family table to help me understand the culture of food in Italy. Over time, I’ve developed a series of observations turned tips to help the first time tourist when stepping into Italy’s shoe.
1. Wine is Shockingly Cheap
In Italy, restaurants do not count on making money on the wine. It’s seen more as a service. It is common to see bottles on the menu at cost. For New Yorker’s it’s downright shocking coming from a city where bottles are marked up 3 to 4 times their value. An 11€ bottle in Italy is on par with a $50 bottle in New York City.
2. Best App for Finding Where to Eat in Italy
Download the Slow Food App! You simply can not go wrong with anything Slow Food recommends. The Slow Food organization is a Non-Profit with lofty goals they deliver on. Defending what they call “True Food” made for pleasure, not profit. They promote biodiversity and sustainable agriculture and respect the producers as the custodians of local tradition and land. While the App costs $7.99, I can tell you from personal experience it’s a true guide to eating the best food Italy has to offer.
3. Italian Food is Best In the Countryside
If you have access to a car, get thee to the country. Italy’s the inverse of the US where the best food is found in big cities. In Italy, it’s all about rationality. You’ll find the best meal of your life on a farm, off a winding road you get lost on twice.
4. Agriturismo Serve Quality in Quantity
In Italy, there is a long, strong tradition of stuffing your company silly with the best food you can cook. A tradition both in homes and in restaurants know as Agriturismo (Agricultural Tourism). If you find an Agriturismo anywhere near you on the Slow Food App, GO! Just plan on it being your only meal for the day, maybe two.
5. Tipico Cibo is Adventurous Food in Italy
Americans perceive Tipico (translations: typical) as boring, in hyper-regional Italy, Tipico is remarkable. We’re talking local recipes perfected through time, that echo the ingredients and traditions of the region. An example: Quinto Quarto (or offal typically of tail, intestine, tripe) is Tipico of Rome and it’s splendid.
6. Salt & Pepper Are Not On Italian Tables
Most restaurants in Italy do not have salt and pepper sitting on the table. In fact, if you see it, it is likely there for tourists. Chances are good, the salt will not shake out, it will be stuck together in a big clump, that’s settled in for the ages.
7. You Have to Ask for the Check in Italy
Your Waiter is not being lazy. It’s normal to linger over a meal, so plates will not be whisked away quickly, sometimes not until visibly licked clean. When you’re ready to head out, signal your Waiter by signing the air “check please” or “il conto” (the check.)
8. Italian Waiters Do Not Push You to Order More
Split dishes is normal. Sharing a tasting menu is possible. Waiters in Italy are respected and their salary does not depend on a tip. As they do not depend on your table racking up the bill to put food on their own table, you will not be pushed to order more. At least not outside tourist traps in Rome.
9. Gratuity & Tax is Already Included in Italy
Gratuity is included in your bill, so tipping is not expected and leaving 2€ is enough to give an extra “Thank You.” It feels odd for us American’s but in Italy it’s a respected job and the salary is not dependent on tips.
10. When to Tip in Italy & How Much
Fawning over ‘Nduja instantly breaks down any language barrier a tourist might encounter. Why? Chances are good, you just complimented a family recipe and the work of your waiter’s momma, who is in the Slow Food recognized kitchen. A simple “complimenti al cuoco” or “compliments to the cook” is appreciated. Leaving a euro or two in appreciation of large meals is a perfectly acceptable way to thank your waiter.
Italy is the inverse of America when it comes to food. Many, many things are the exact opposite of what’s great about American Cuisine. Wine is rarely the most expensive thing on the check. Waiters are mostly men, not teenagers and few are ever women. The best dishes come from the parts of the animal American’s cringe over.
In America, the best food is found in the city, while in Italy, It’s in the countryside near vineyards and farms where the food is freshest. New, modern, shiny and expensive indicate quality eats in America while Italy’s best meals are served on tables older than your Parents. Americans revere TV’s famous Chefs and Cookbook Authors. Italians, their Grandma.
With that I say mangiamo!