Eat Italy: Discover Italian Food Culture with Lonely Planet’s New Book
While the Italian food scene has grown increasingly sophisticated over the past decades, incorporating new food trends such as food trucks and raw bars, the family-run trattoria remains the most popular restaurant in the country. Traditional culinary habits also remain strong and the different places retain clearly defined roles. One thing to remember: don’t judge a place by its decor. Fantastic food can be served anywhere in Italy. But how do you know that a enoteca of tavola calda, and Which one is right for you?
Lonely Planet’s New Book Eat Italy is the complete companion of Italian cuisine and culinary culture, covering everything from regional specialties to restaurant etiquette and essential phrases, helping visitors to get the most out of their dining experience. From the frenetic energy of pizzerias to warm trattorias run by the third generation, chic bars loaded with aperitif modern banquets osterie restaurants, this excerpt from Eat Italy will help you choose your dining experience according to your mood and pocket.
A agriturismo is a working farm offering accommodation, as well as food made from farm produce (some serve meals only to tenants). They are generally very reasonably priced and rustic, serving typical local dishes that the farmer’s family has been making for years. Most are only open for dinner and weekend lunches.
Bar / cafe
The Italian bar / caffè is a wonderful institution, open all day (usually 7:30 am-10pm), serving pastries for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, spuntini (snacks) and aperitif next to coffee, soft drinks, basic cocktails and wine. When ordering at a busy bar, do so at the cashier (broke), then take your receipt and repeat your order to the bartender. If the bar is quiet and / or you are familiar there, the bartender will have your order taken and you pay at the end. There is no hard and fast rule about it – just look at what the locals are doing.
Usually observed in the north of the country, a birreria is a bar specializing in selling beer (usually local labels) alongside the usual coffee offerings. In the Far North, don’t be surprised to see someone leaning on the bar and having a beer for breakfast.
Braceria and rosticceria
A bracelet serves a meat-focused menu, often with a counter displaying different cuts of meat. The selected portion is then cooked to order on an open grill. In the south, many bracelet adjoins the local butcher’s shop. A rosticceria (roasting) is a similar concept, but instead serves roast meat and also offers the ubiquitous roast chicken takeout.
Italians rarely drink without eating, and you can eat well in many enoteche, wine bars that usually serve snacks such as bruschette (toast topped with tomatoes), Crostini (toast with toppings) and platters of cheeses or cold cuts, salads and a few simple hot dishes.
While eating ice cream is as much a part of Italian life as morning coffee – in Sicily, ice cream in a brioche bun is a favorite breakfast snack. In artisanal gelateria, the flavors are strictly seasonal and the ingredients come from the best places (pistachios from Bronte, chocolate from Turin, etc.). In summer, sorbet (sorbet) and grattachecca (literally “scraped ice” topped with fruit and syrup) also hit the menu. Most gelateria open from noon to 1 a.m.
In the past, osterie were family places specializing in a dish and a casa wine (House wine). Similar to a trattoria, they focus on traditional food at a good price. Modern osterie can be quite trendy and usually offers short menus for dinner only, offering deceptively simple dishes made with regional ingredients.
With a rough translation like a bun (panino) in law (-teca), it is a specialized sandwich shop. Even the simplest toppings, such as prosciutto and pecorino, can be a pleasure to eat. Most pannoteche are open during normal daytime hours.
Italian sweets and pastries have many influences. Baking was a traditional pastime of the nuns, who sold their products on festive occasions. The Sicilian sweet tooth is influenced by flavors from the Middle East, while chocolate was brought to Sicily and Naples by the Spaniards. In the north, pastry are inspired by French pastries and Austrian pastries. Pastry also serve as cafes, with sweet and savory pastries. Most are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Every Italian’s favorite casual (and inexpensive) meal is a gloriously simple pizza with a bubbling topping. Most Italians precede their pizza with a starter of bruschette (toast topped with vegetables, usually tomatoes) or fritti (mixed fried foods), and wash it with beer. Pizzerias often only open in the evening, as their wood-fired ovens take a long time to start. For a quick snack, pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) places are open every day.
For Italians, restaurants represent fine dining venues with set tables, smart waiter service, sophisticated menus, extensive wine lists, and correspondingly higher prices. Italians generally reserve restaurant meals for dates or special occasions rather than everyday meals.
Spaghetterie are simple places that originated in the street stalls of Naples, where punters could buy simple bowls of spaghetti with a choice of sauces. The name implies unadorned but generally delicious pasta and second, with low prices as a result. Spaghetterie are mainly found in the south, but are less common nowadays.
Old-fashioned fast food, a tavola calda (literally “hot table”) serves inexpensive pre-prepared pasta, meat and vegetable dishes that you queue up for, usually with a tray, cafeteria style. Most are open all day from around 11 a.m.
Traditionally, trattorias are family-friendly places that offer a basic and affordable local menu. The food is home cooked and plentiful and the service down to earth and friendly. Quality can vary in major tourist towns, but outside of these hot spots the food is generally good and reliable. The trattorias are generally open for lunch and dinner.
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