Here is what to keep in mind once you have the pleasure of sitting down:
Aperitivo comes from the Latin term ‘ aprire’ which means ‘to open’. It relates to the opening of the stomach in preparation for dinner to stimulate the metabolism and work up hunger! In Italy, we literally eat and drink to eat and drink! There are a few go-to aperitivi in Italy to really get into the cultural vibes, like an Aperol Spritz, but fine bubbles always do the trick. Franciacorta is my poison, the real Italian champagne. Aperitivo is usually served with bites of complimentary food— depending on where you, a fusion of local ingredients. I do my gastronomic background check in advance as much as possible and always leave room for surprises from chefs!
Remember that each region in Italy has their own twist. Aperitif is naturally upon us up to twice a day, before lunch and before dinner. What do you think?
Pick the wine, save the bubbly for before or after dinner, even both. Hehe. Red and white wines are naturally serious business. Try to drink a wine from the region that you are in. When confused, go for something labelled D.O.C.G. and ask to try ‘vorrei assagiare’! If the wine has be bottled for more than of a pair of years it is to be left out to breath in a decanter, if one is not available the biggest glass possible, swish and swirl and let it sit for up to 25 minutes causing an actual chemical reaction in front of you.
Water in Italy doesn’t come free of charge to your table. You order bottled water, and must specify between acqua frizzante (sparkling) or acqua naturale (still).
The antipasto is the appetizer. Sometimes the menu will be divided by antipasti di mare (from the sea) or di terra (from the land). Since Italian food is regional, sweeping generalizations on what you’ll find don’t work, but that’s the idea!
On the menu, the “first plate” is the opening act, and carbs are center stage: pasta, risotto, gnocchi, polenta, etc.
The “second plate” is the featured performer, the proteins are where it’s at: fish, meat, and cheese.
Contorni are side plates. Think grilled vegetables, fried zucchini blossoms, braised greens, fresh tomatoes.
After dinner, families ritually head out and gather together for some gelato. It goes without saying, go gourmet, or go home.
When you ask for a caffè in Italy, it means espresso. After dinner, it is common to drink an espresso or a macchiato (espresso stained with milk). However, if, you order a cappuccino after dinner, or after lunch, the waiters will scorn you; here, cappuccino is considered strictly a morning drink. Tourists, therefore, shouldn’t be shocked when the waiter refuses to grant their cappuccino requests “for your own good”. You also might order a corrected coffee—caffè corretto is spiked with something like sambuca, or grapa!
Just when you thought, ‘mama mia! I could not possibly ingest anything else,’ you can. There’s a special cavity you grow when in Italy, it’s a third stomach, and it holds the ammazzacaffè. The word ammazzacaffè means “coffee killer.” It’s a little downer after your upper. A coffee killer is a strong spirit or liquor, like grappa (40%; made from grape skins), limoncello (the yellow stuff; made of lemons) or amaro, my favourite (bitters; aids in digestion). Preferably it is better to not order a cocktail—it’s too much cold liquid after dinner. The idea here is short and strong.