I have discovered Italy to be a country with a mysterious culture that somehow remains rigidly straightforward. Sounds contradictory, but trust me, as soon as you hop off the train or jump out of your taxi, you’ll understand what I mean.
Its people and practices are deeply rooted in tradition, tradition that has barely budged for centuries. However, each city and small town follows its own, sometimes unique, set of cultural food “laws.” Not laws of a legal system, but laws that, if broken, elicit a deep disrespect and look of absolute astonishment from your waiter. So, to save you dear travelers such embarrassment that comes from ordering a cappuccino after 11 am, I have compiled a list of particularly Italian cultural “laws” that govern their food culture.
- Be aware of the coperto, or “cover charge.” This is considered the price for your place at the table, and is present at almost every restaurant. The coperto can range anywhere from 1 to a bank breaking 5 euro per person. It’s not a scam towards vulnerable tourists. But, it can be argued if it is not written on the menu.
- Don’t tip unless it is not included in the bill as a service charge.
- Ordering a rice dish, like risotto, with meat is A-OK, but ordering a pasta dish with meat, unless the meat is cooked in the sauce, you will raise some eyebrows and you will face the furry of the oh-so-frightening scorn of your Italian waiter.
- Ordering a meat dish before a starter or pasta is considered a crime against humanity.
- Never ever order a cappuccino after dinner, unless offered, as some more westernized restaurants do. Stick to ordering an espresso or shot of the infamous Lemoncello.
Last, but not least: Set aside two hours or more when you go out to dinner. Italians like to take it more slowly than we do. Don’t let your American impatience get the best of you. Just sit back, enjoy your company and munch on freshly baked bread and local olive oil until your meal comes.
Enjoying and exploring the food culture in Italy is an experience no one should miss out on. Food is so ingrained in Italian culture, that an offense towards food is an offense towards the entire nation. Be open-minded, relax and trust what’s suggested. You really can’t go wrong in Italy.
Visiting Roma and don’t have a clue where to start your gastronomic adventures? Do some research online, and trust a food lover.