Eating in Italy

I’m sorry I’ve been MIA for the past week or so. I’ve begun to plan for my summer. I leave here at the beginning of May, so I’ve been researching accommodations and transportation.

Today I want to talk about eating in Italy. The food has been fantastic. In addition to the food itself, the culture of food in Italy is wonderful.

Meals are consumed in courses. First you have the “primo,” which, more often than not, is pasta. Then you have the “secondo” which is usually some type of meat or fish. After secondo can be insalata (salad) or contorno which is some type of cooked vegetables. Sometimes at that point, you eat a little bit of cheese, cut right off the hunk of cheese and consumed with a fork and knife. Then a bowl of fruit is put on the table. (I usually have a delicious orange) After the fruit is dolce (desert) and last is a quick espresso. Sometimes a chocolate at the very end, with the coffee.

Below are the main courses of our large meal on Easter. (There was a bunch of extra food, I didn’t take pictures of everything)

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Sometimes certain parts of this process are skipped, depending on how busy the day is. But, primo-secondo-salad-fruit-coffee has been the pattern for 80% of my meals I’ve had so far with my host family. Courses are not mixed. You finish one before going to the next. Bread is always on the table, usually torn or cut off in little hunks you can help yourself to.

This was more or less a surprise to me when I arrived. I remember my first few meals, being shocked when the next course came out, and then the next course. I’ve read a decent amount about Italy, but somehow I missed the memo on the courses. We eat a lot of Italian(-American) food in the USA, but somehow this tradition was mostly lost. When we eat pasta, we eat pasta. When they eat pasta, it’s generally only the first thing they eat. They don’t gorge themselves with it like you can do at many pasta restaurants in the USA.

The meals, at least with my host family, are really quite simple. The pasta usually has either pesto or tomato sauce. (Pesto originates from Genova, the seaside city two hours away, so it’s popular in the North of Italy.)  The meat is also cooked simply… Just a hunk of meat usually sauteed on the stove in olive oil. But always flavored well. At the end of the meal, after the fruit or the dolce, I feel incredibly satisfied. It takes longer to eat here – you sit down, relax, and enjoy your meal.
Another Primo. Note the Parmesan Cheese, which is always freshly grated straight onto the food. It’s absolutely fantastic. Do yourself a favor and go to the store and get real, imported Parmesan. Spend a few bucks, you won’t regret it.
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During my five years living alone and working in Columbus, I struggled with cooking and eating well. I was busy and it was hard. Sometimes I went grocery shopping and didn’t use all the food before it went bad. Sometimes I struggled to find good recipes. I assumed that to eat well I needed to always be finding new things to cook or to use complicated recipes that ended up being more expensive than eating out. My experience with this family has taught me that simple is best, and I will try to emulate their style of eating in the future. I’m excited to explore the rest of Italy and find variations in regional cooking styles.
The last thing I wanted to discuss on about how Italians eat is the times of day. Breakfast is small. Usually a brioche and a coffee. Often they have cookies for breakfast (biscotti) which is absurd but true for Americans. (When I arrived, I brought Oreos as a gift for the host family, because they don’t have them here. I was somewhat confused when my host mom took them out the following day at breakfast. Oreos for breakfast!)
Breakfast cookies “Prodotto in Italia”:
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Lunch is around 1 or 2 PM and Dinner can be as late as 8 or 9 PM. Both follow the courses I described at the beginning of the article.Sometimes an early evening snack is in order. Also, Lunch is traditionally a bit bigger than dinner (though modern life has interfered with this tradition for many Italians who work office jobs and commute long distances). This was strange to adjust to at the beginning but now I’m used to it.
I read that the further South you go in Italy, the later they eat. This is due to the weather. For a Sicilian farmer, it was so hot at mid-day that it made sense to go inside and eat a big lunch and relax for a few hours. Then you could go back outside as it got cooler, and work until nightfall and then eat dinner.
More to come on food…

 

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