Why do we travel? History and culture for sure, but let’s face it, local food always plays one of the biggest roles in our holidays. And the pleasure of eating in Italy is one of the main reasons travelers from all over the world book their trip to the Belpaese.
Italy is renowned for its exquisite cuisine. From pasta to pizza, there’s something for everyone.
But before you book your ticket and start planning your restaurant itinerary, there are a few things you need to know about eating in Italy.
Whether it’s your first time or not, these Italian dining culture tips will help you learn how to order like a pro and avoid any embarrassing mishaps.
Every tip and piece of advice about the dos and don’ts of eating in Italy is based on our own experience living in Italia: of my husband who moved to Rome from Afghanistan and myself born and bred here.
Are you ready? Let’s see what you should and shouldn’t do when eating food in Italy.
Dos of Eating in Italy
Do try the typical Italian dishes
Italy is a renowned culinary destination, and for good reason – the food here is simply incredible. Whether you’re tucking into a dish of freshly made pasta or indulging in a slice of rich tiramisu, eating in Italy is an experience you’ll never forget.
We know that when traveling and out of our comfort zone, it can be tempting to stick to familiar dishes from home. However, eating like a local is one of the best ways to truly immerse yourself in the culture of your destination. This is especially true in Italy, where food is quintessential to daily life and culture.
From regional specialties to homemade pasta, there are endless opportunities to sample the flavors of Italy. And while McDonald’s may be convenient, it can never compete with the rich culinary traditions of this country. So next time you’re in Italy, resist the urge to eat familiar McDonald’s meals and explore the delicious world of Italian cuisine instead.
Do go local
There’s something about the compulsive quest for fresh, delicious ingredients, and the leisurely pace of meals that makes dining in Italy a truly special experience. While you’ll find plenty of familiar dishes on menus across the country, be sure to try the local specialties of the region you are visiting.
From creamy polenta to thin-crust pizzas, each region of Italy has its own unique culinary traditions. So next time you’re planning a trip to Italy, make sure to leave room in your suitcase – and your stomach – for all the delicious foods you’re going to eat (and shop) in every city and region!
Make sure you read our extensive article on Italian foods region by region!
Do ask locals for recommendations
One of the best ways to experience a new culture is through its food. When traveling to Italy, be sure to ask the locals you meet or your even hotel staff for recommendations about the best places to eat in the city. While there are many great restaurants that serve traditional Italian cuisine, sometimes the best meals are found in local cafes and trattorias.
These smaller eateries typically use fresh, local ingredients, which makes for a more authentic and delicious dining experience. In addition, the staff at these places are often more than happy to give you a tour of the menu and make suggestions about what to order. So next time you’re in Italy, don’t just head to the overpriced tourist traps — ask around and discover the wonderful world of local food.
Do get ready to spend a little more time when eating in Italy
If you’re used to wolfing down your meals, be prepared to change your eating habits when in Italy. Meals are definitely an event and can last several hours (not in your case, don’t worry, just on big events such as weddings). Italians tend to start with a light starter, followed by a first course (usually pasta or soup), then a second course (fish or meat) with a side dish. And of course, no meal is complete without dessert!
The good news is that all dishes are delicious, so it’s definitely worth taking your time to enjoy them. Just be warned that you might need to loosen your belt a few notches by the end!
Do order coffee at the counter if you’re on a budget
If you’re traveling on a budget, keep in mind that when ordering your coffee at a bar, you should always prefer the counter rather than sitting at a table. In Italy, drinks, coffee, sandwiches, or whatever you are having at a bar are often more expensive when you sit down and order at the table.
This is especially true in touristy areas and around major landmarks, where prices are generally higher. By ordering at the counter, you can save yourself a few euros because prices are fixed.
Don’t miss our article on drinking coffee in Italy!
Do ask the waiter for recommendations if you’re not sure what to order
If you’re eating Italian food for the first time, you may not be sure what to order. Luckily, most restaurants have waiters who are happy and able to give recommendations. When in doubt, ask the waiter for their favorite dish or what they recommend for someone eating Italian food for the first time. They should be able to point you in the right direction and help you find something that you’ll enjoy. You might just find your new favorite Italian dish!
Do let the waiter know if you have any dietary restrictions
When traveling to Italy, it is important to mention any dietary restrictions that you need to apply. Many restaurants in Italy serve food that contains meat, dairy, and other ingredients that may not be suitable for those with food allergies or intolerances. One of these is certainly gluten, widely present in Italian menus, so if you are celiac, make sure you ask about gluten-free options before ordering food in an Italian restaurant. You can also ask the waiter what ingredients are in every dish and ask them to remove certain ingredients.
Additionally, it is important to remember that Italian food customs and habits vary from region to region. For example, some Italian regions may not have as many options for vegetarian or vegan cuisine. As a result, it is always best to research the food options in each region before traveling. By doing so, you can be sure to enjoy all the delicious food Italy has to offer.
Do try the pasta and pizza – a must-eat in Italy
Pasta and pizza are two of the most popular dishes, and they are definitely worth trying when you visit Italy. Pasta is typically made with wheat flour, water, and eggs, and it can be served with a variety of meat and seafood sauces. Pizza is made with yeast dough, topped with tomato sauce and cheese, and then baked in an oven. In the best pizza places, you are likely to find long-risen sourdough pizza and trust me, that’s the high-quality treat you are looking for.
Both pasta and pizza are staples of the Italian diet, and they have been enjoyed for centuries. If you’re looking for a truly authentic Italian experience, be sure to try the pasta and pizza. You won’t be disappointed, as long as it’s not a low-quality touristy restaurant!
Do eat pizza with your hands
Italians always use cutlery when eating, but when it comes to pizza, using your hands is totally allowed. We usually use fork and knife to cut the round pizza into triangular slices and then fold them and just eat with our hands.
This is especially true in pizzerias and unpretentious places, maybe in high-end restaurants, I would still use fork and knife for my pizza. This, if in high-end restaurants you will still want to order pizza!
Do order a cup of coffee after the meal
Not before, not during your meal. Coffee is an important part of Italian culture. Italians typically drink espresso or cappuccino with breakfast, and coffee after lunch and dinner.
While coffee is typically served black, it’s not uncommon to add a drop of milk (macchiato), especially for breakfast. So go ahead and order your favorite post-meal coffee when eating in Italy – you’ll fit right in with the locals. Remember to order “caffè americano” if you prefer a longer coffee: if you order a simple “caffè”, you will get an espresso!
Make sure you read our article on how to order coffee in Italy.
Do enjoy a glass of wine with dinner (or lunch)
One of the best things about traveling to Italy is getting to experience the food culture first-hand. From world-famous pizza and pasta to more obscure regional dishes, there is something for everyone to enjoy. And of course, no Italian meal would be complete without a glass of wine. In fact, wine plays such an important role in Italian cuisine that there are even specific rules about when and how to drink it.
For example, red wine is typically only served with heartier meals like steaks and stews, while white wine is reserved for lighter fare like fish and seafood. Of course, these are just general guidelines – ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what you prefer when eating in Italy.
Do tip the waiter when eating in Italy – Not an Italian dining custom but appreciated
Italian eating etiquette is different from what you may be used to in the States. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to make noise while eating and drinking. Italians tend to use their hands a lot while eating, so don’t be surprised if you see people gesticulating while they talk.
When it comes to tipping, too, the rules are a bit different. While it is customary to tip 15-20% in the States, tipping is not as common in Italy, especially when the bill already contains 10% extra for the service. That said, if you have received exceptional service, it is always appreciated to leave a few extra euros.
Do choose the right gelato
When eating in Italy, definitely enjoy good gelato, but make sure you go for the artisan treat. Some ways to spot real gelato from fake stuff? It doesn’t come in bright, fluorescent colors and on display, it’s not a giant, fluffy mountain, better if kept inside a covered wall so that the temperature is the same all over and the air doesn’t ruin it. Instead, when it’s real gelato, pistachio is pale green fading towards light brownish, and strawberry is pale pink, not scary purple. Blue flavors? They don’t exist!
Don’ts of Eating Italy
Don’t be afraid to order a dish that looks strange or unfamiliar
Italians take their food seriously. And while visitors to the country might be tempted to stick to dishes they know and love, they would be missing out on some of the best cuisines Italy has to offer. So, next time you’re in Italy, don’t be afraid to order a dish that looks strange or unfamiliar – you might be surprised at how delicious it is.
Eating like a local in Italy is one of the best ways to experience its culture, and it’s an essential part of the Italian way of life. By trying new things, you’ll not only discover some incredible new flavors, but you’ll also get a deeper insight into the country’s rich culinary heritage. So go ahead and take a chance – after all, that’s what Italian cuisine is.
Don’t leave any food on your plate
One of the most important food traditions in Italy is the concept of “finire il piatto” or “finishing your plate.” This tradition is based on the belief that food should be respected and not wasted. It’s not because it’s considered rude to leave food on your plate, but because it would give the impression you didn’t enjoy your food.
To avoid this, I suggest ordering your dishes gradually and not all together. If you are feeling hungry, go with antipasto and primo (usually pasta or rice), or primo and a side dish (contorno) such as salad or grilled veggies. Still feeling hungry? Check out the secondi, usually meat or fish.
Don’t clean your plate
I know “that” sauce was so good, but cleaning your plate with a piece of bread is not seen as a good thing in Italian eating etiquette. This is especially true if you are in a restaurant, but if you are at your friend’s house and really can’t resist, just tell them and make it a reason for a good laugh.
Don’t order food from Calabria region before asking
Before you order food from the Calabria region of Italy, make sure you ask how chili it is. The food in this area can be extremely spicy and hot for some people. If you are not accustomed to eating spicy food, you may want to order a dish that is less spicy. The Calabrian chili peppers are some of the hottest peppers in the world, so be careful when you order dishes that contain them.
When in doubt, ask the waiter or waitress for advice on how to order your food. They will be able to tell you which dishes are milder and which ones are spicier.
Don’t be surprised if your pasta arrives with the sauce
Italian cuisine is rich and varied, with each region boasting its own unique dishes and specialties. However, there are some commonalities that can be found throughout the country. One of these is the way in which pasta is typically served. In most Italian restaurants, the pasta will arrive at the table already dressed with sauce.
This may seem unusual to some outsiders, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Pasta is a delicate food that can quickly become overcooked and mushy. By dressing it with sauce before it hits the plate, chefs can ensure that it remains perfectly al dente. So, if you find yourself surprised the next time you order spaghetti in an Italian restaurant, just remember that it’s all part of the experience.
Don’t be afraid to order a dish that looks too complicated – chances are it will be delicious!
Italian food is some of the most delicious in the world, and there are so many different dishes to try. While it can be tempting to stick to familiar favorites, part of the fun of eating in Italy is trying new things. So, if you see a dish on the menu that looks a little too complicated, go ahead and order it!
Chances are good that it will be absolutely delicious. After all, Italians know a thing or two about food. In fact, food is such an important part of Italian culture that mealtimes are often considered an opportunity for socializing and catching up with friends and family. So, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone when ordering food in Italy – you might just end up discovering your new favorite food in Italy.
Don’t hesitate to ask the waiter what ingredient to add or remove from your or your child’s dish
Italian food is world-renowned for its delicious flavors and fresh ingredients. However, if you’re eating out in Italy, it can be tricky to know how to order food that’s both tasty and healthful. Fortunately, most restaurants are happy to accommodate special requests, so don’t hesitate to ask the waiter what ingredient to add or remove from your or your child’s dish. This will help ensure that everyone enjoys a pleasant and satisfying meal. And who knows? You might just discover a new favorite flavor combination in the process.
Don’t order the same food every day
Known for its use of fresh ingredients, simple preparation, and robust flavors, Italian food has something to offer everyone. When you arrive in Italy, don’t order the same food every time. Try to sample as many different dishes as you can. Traditional Italian meals are typically composed of several small courses, each designed to showcase a different flavor or texture. Start your meal with a light antipasto, then move on to a hearty pasta dish or risotto, or a soup if the menu includes it.
For your main course, choose between grilled meat or fish, or a classic Italian stew. And of course, don’t forget to save room for dessert! Whether you’re indulging in a rich chocolate gelato or a slice of tiramisu. After all, part of the Italian food tradition is enjoying a wide variety of dishes. From ratatouille and lasagna to chicken parmigiana and bruschetta, there is an Italian dish to suit every taste. So when in Rome, or any other Italian city, be sure to try something new each day from the local cuisine.
Don’t order cappuccino with food – it’s not common in Italy
If you’re looking to eat like a local in Italy, there are a few things you should keep in mind. One is that cappuccino is traditionally only drunk in the morning, generally served before 11 AM, and never with food unless it’s a croissant. So if you want to order like a true Italian, stick to espresso or “americano” after lunch or dinner. Italians also tend to eat their meals later in the day than Americans. So, if you’re used to having an early lunch, you might find yourself feeling a bit peckish by the time dinnertime rolls around.
Don’t drink red wine with seafood or white wine with meat
Eat like a local in Italy and you’ll never go wrong. When it comes to food and wine pairings, the Italians know best. That’s why you should always try to follow their lead and avoid drinking red wine with seafood or white wine with meat. Red wine is best paired with hearty dishes like pasta Bolognese or grilled steak.
The bold flavors can stand up to the richness of the meat, while the tannins help to cut through the fat. White wine, on the other hand, is the perfect partner for lighter fare like grilled fish, lobster, or seafood salad. The delicate flavors won’t overpower the delicate flavors of the seafood, and the acidity will help to bring out the brightness of the dish. This is really a general rule, though, nobody will judge you if you do otherwise!
Don’t put drinks in the glass with the left hand – some Italians might find it disrespectful
Italians take eating and drinking very seriously, and there are a number of etiquette rules that should be followed in order to avoid offending someone. One such Italian eating etiquette is to never put a drink in the glass with the left hand – this is considered to be disrespectful. At least in some places like Sardinia.
This rule is especially important to keep in mind when eating at someone’s home, as it is considered rude to not follow their eating customs. However, it is also important to be aware when you are eating out in a restaurant, even though more casual eateries may not have the same strict rules.
Don’t eat in crowded touristy restaurants
Touristy restaurants in Italy are usually overpriced and the quality of food is often not as good as what you would find at a local eatery. These establishments typically rely on visitors who are not familiar with the area and are willing to pay more for an average meal. In addition, they may not use fresh ingredients or follow traditional cooking methods. As a result, you may be disappointed with your meal if you eat at a crowded tourist restaurant in Italy.
It’s best to avoid restaurants that have employees standing on the street and forcing people to eat. A good high quality authentic Italian restaurant doesn’t need to grab customers from the street. And if menus are only in Italian, all the better: you can also use Google translate or ask the waiter for help.
It’s best to avoid these places if you’re looking for a truly authentic Italian dining experience. Instead, seek out smaller restaurants that are off the beaten path. You’re likely to find better food at a better price.
Italian Eating Habits, Foods, and Custom
Italian phrases about food
Italian is a beautiful language, and since food is an important part of Italian culture, we can go over some food-related Italian expressions to make your eating in Italy experience smoother and more pleasant.
- “Buon appetito!” This phrase means “enjoy your meal” and it’s the perfect way to start an Italian meal. It’s how you say good appetite in Italian.
- “Grazie altrettanto!” This is simply the answer to buon appetito.
- “Posso avere il menu, per favore?” means: Can I have the menu, please?
- “Posso avere il conto?” means: Can I have the bill?
- “Quant’è?” This is usually
- “Mancia” is the tip.
- “Quali sono i piatti senza glutine? Means: Which are the gluten-free dishes?
- “Mi porta un calice di vino bianco/rosso?” Means: Can I have a glass of white/red whine?
- “Può portarmi dell’acqua liscia/gasata?” Means: Can I have still/sparkling water?
- “Cappuccino e cornetto, grazie” This is a typical bar breakfast, cappuccino and croissant.
- “Mangiare” is the word for eating in the Italian language.
- “Ti piace?” This means “do you like it?”
- “Delizioso!” This simply means “delicious,” and it’s the perfect way to go.
- “L’appetito vien mangiando” Means that even if you don’t feel hungry at the moment, you will once you start eating.
- “Quando si mangia non si parla”. This is an old saying not to eat with your full mouth. Obviously, being Italian tables so loud, we all agree that Italians do talk while eating. Just not with a full mouth!
What do Italians eat for breakfast?
When it comes to breakfast, Italians tend to keep things simple. A typical Italian breakfast consists of a piece of bread or a roll, often accompanied by coffee or milk. Sweet pastries are also sometimes eaten for breakfast, and so are fresh fruits or yogurt is also a common breakfast food in Italy.
At home, many Italians begin their day with a quick espresso at the kitchen counter. However, on weekends and holidays, Italians often enjoy a more leisurely breakfast with family or friends. This may include fresh juice, croissants, cookies, homemade cakes, bread and jam, and even porridge. That said, Italian eating habits vary depending on the region, but there are some staples that are found throughout the country.
Don’t miss our article on breakfast in Italy.
What do Italians eat for lunch?
Italians take their food seriously, and lunch is no exception. In fact, lunch is often the largest and most important meal of the day typically served between noon and 2 pm. The typical Italian lunch consists of several courses, including an antipasto such as bruschetta or Caprese salad, a primo such as pasta or risotto, a secondo such as roast chicken or beef, grilled fish, or vegetables, and a dessert.
This is usually at a restaurant because, at home, we hardly have several courses. I normally have one dish and a salad.
What do Italians eat for dinner?
While there is no single dish that all Italians eat for dinner, there are some common staples. Usually, dinner is lighter than lunch because it’s shortly before bedtime. Some of the dishes we prefer for dinner are soups, a light rice dish, or some chicken breast or fish with some veggies or a salad.
What time do Italians eat dinner?
Many people believe that Italians eat dinner late at night, but the reality is that meal times in Italy depend on the region and season of the year. In northern Italy, for example, dinner is typically served between 7 and 9 pm. In southern Italy, dinner is usually later than in the northern part of the country.
In northern Italy, the climate is cooler and daylight hours are shorter, so people have traditionally eaten dinner earlier in the evening. In Trentino Alto Adige, for example, it’s not uncommon to have dinner around 6 or 7 pm.
It’s one of the very general Italian food rules but depending on where you are, do check restaurants’ opening hours to avoid surprises.
Italian eating etiquette
The Italian eating customs refer to the larger umbrella of social norms known as Galateo. This is a bit of a complicated set of rules that goes over everything related to manners and naturally, food and Italian eating habits play a big role in it.
Let’s be honest, not everyone in Italy remembers and applies all the rules. According to the Galateo, for example, smoking and using your phone when eating are a big no-no. Also, your napkin should go on your knees folded, you should never use the toothpick, your elbows shouldn’t be on the table, and you shouldn’t talk and your mouth is full.
How many courses of dishes do Italian order?
How many courses of dishes do Italians order is a question that often confuses visitors to Italy. The answer, like most things in Italian cuisine, is simple but nuanced. A traditional Italian meal typically consists of five courses: antipasto (appetizer), primo (first course), secondo (main), contorno (side dish), and dessert.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule — a light lunch might only have one or two courses, while a lavish feast could include five or more. Even though five courses are the norm, I never manage to eat them all, so I typically order either a primo or a secondo. Let’s see each course.
- Antipasto consists of bite-size appetizers, a wide range of amuse-bouche such as deep-fried fish or veggie patties, tartare or carpaccio (very thin slices of raw meat), or marinated fish. They are usually so delicious that you need to be careful not to order too many or you will risk getting to your main course already full. I suggest you order one or a maximum of two unless you share a platter with the rest of the table.
- Primo is usually pasta, rice or it can be a soup, depending on the region and the type of restaurant. If you are following a vegetarian or plant-based diet, you should order this course and if you are still hungry, either an appetizer or a side dish. Primo is usually cheaper than the main course.
- The main course is called “secondo” and it almost always consists of a meat or fish dish. Sometimes, you can find a main made with eggs or cheese and veggies as the main ingredients, such as a frittata, or parmigiana with eggplants. Some new restaurants with a more contemporary menu might offer also a plant-based main course such as a vegan burger, but that’s definitely not the rule.
- Contorni is the list of side dishes and includes fresh salads, grilled veggies, sauteed or marinated greens (in Rome they love puntarelle dressed with vinegar and anchovies when in season), or even French fries or potatoes in the oven. The side dish usually comes together with the main (secondo). When salads are large, rich dishes that include also cheese or fish such as tuna or salmon, and are more like a bowl than simply fresh greens, it can totally be a full meal.
- Desserts need very little introduction. From tiramisu to panna cotta to the pie of the day, if you have a sweet tooth, I suggest you leave some room for it because it’s going to be worth it.
- Coffee. As I mentioned earlier, strictly after the meal, not during your lunch. If it’s dinner and you are not used to strong coffee, you can order a decaf.
There are some exceptions to à la carte menus, typically during holidays such as New Year, Christmas, Easter, and Ferragosto. Usually, these days restaurants have a few fixed menu options, meat or fish-based. Higher-quality restaurants can provide also a vegetarian choice.
If you happen on one of these occasions, don’t be surprised if the waiter brings out a steady stream of dishes. It’s a large meal but usually, portions are less copious. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy your meal.
How to order food like an Italian?
If you’re hoping to enjoy a truly authentic Italian meal, it’s important to know how to order food like an Italian. Typically, when you enter a restaurant, you wait for the waiter to accommodate you depending on how many people are you with.
Once you grabbed your table, the waiter will bring you the menu and give you time to go through it. Normally, they will ask you right away if you would like some water and you can choose between still and sparkling. Some restaurants serve filtered tap water for a cheaper price than mineral bottled water, and when they do, don’t worry about it, because it means that it’s drinkable.
For wine, you can order either a glass (calice) or a bottle of a liter, half a liter, or a quarter. Same for beer, you can either have a bottle or draft beer.
When it comes to ordering food, you can totally ask the waiter for recommendations and also if they do half portions or tell them that you would like to share your plate with your dining companion. I often do this with my husband if we order the cake.
How to find the best places to eat in Italy?
With so many great restaurants to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start. To help narrow down your options here is how to find the best places to eat in Italy: Look for non-touristy and authentic restaurants that you see Italian dine at.
If you are in Italy’s capital, Rome, be sure to stop by Bonci’s “Pizzarium” for a slice an authentic pizza. For something more Roman, check out Felice a Testaccio, where you can enjoy traditional dishes like cacio e pepe, carbonara, and amatriciana. Or head to Tempio di Iside for some truly amazing fish-based delicacies.
Where to shop for food in Italy?
When it comes to food shopping in Italy, there are a few different options. The first option is to go to a large supermarket. These supermarkets usually have a wide variety of food, including both international and local brands.
The second option is to go to a local market. These markets usually sell fresh produce and other items from local businesses. The third option is to go to a specialized food store. These stores usually sell a specific type of food, such as cheese or olive oil. When it comes to take-home gifts, the best place to shop is at a specialty store. Delis typically sell unique items that cannot be found at supermarkets or local markets.
Street food vs restaurants in Italy
Street food and restaurants in Italy offer different experiences for the hungry traveler. Restaurants are usually sit-down affairs, with a menu of multiple courses, table service, and often a more formal atmosphere. Street food, on the other hand, is casual and quick, served from a cart or stall and meant to be eaten on the go.
In terms of prices, street food is definitely cheaper than restaurant fare. When it comes to quality, it depends – some street food is as good as what you’ll find in a restaurant, while other vendors are just trying to make a quick buck. If you’re looking for an authentic taste of the local cuisine, a restaurant is the way to go, especially if traditional or family-run.
Do Italians eat pizza?
We definitely do and we are so proud of it. If it was me, I would eat pizza every day. While I like to try every time different toppings, my favorite always remains the classic Margherita.
Whether or not all Italians eat pizza is still up for debate, but it is clear that this delicious dish is loved by many people in Italy and around the world. As for the Italian way to eat pizza, it’s usually paired with a cold beer or soft drinks.
Are you ready to eat in Italy?
So now that you have a general understanding of the Italian way of eating and some helpful phrases, it’s time to order your food. The main thing to remember is that Italians love their food and they take great pride in their cuisine. There are a few basic rules to follow when eating out, but once you know them, you’ll be able to enjoy your Italian dining experience without any problems.
When in doubt about what and how to eat in Italy, always remember that pizza and pasta are two safe bets. But if you’re feeling adventurous, go for something more obscure!
Following these few dos and don’ts of eating in Italy, you’ll be on your way to enjoying some of the best authentic Italian cuisine! Let us know what are your do’s and don’ts of eating in Italy!