Like many students going abroad, I chose Italy to be my new home for a semester. I found out pretty quickly how Italians eat, and it was definitely different from how we eat in America. The Italian lifestyle can be very different depending on the region you're living in, and I happened to live in Florence, which is in Tuscany, and it had plenty of its own traditions just waiting to be experienced.

Caitlyn Colton

Where We Buy Food

In the USA, when you want to buy some groceries, you go to a supermarket. Some of us choose to shop at Wegmans, Whole Foods, Kroger, or maybe Walmart. What they all have in common is dozens of aisles filled with thousands of products. You usually don't get much information about what you're buying other than the price and the nutrition facts.

While supermarkets like these do exist in Italy, it's more common to buy your essential groceries at a daily food market. The two food markets in Florence are the San Lorenzo and the Sant'Ambrogio, and both are lined with vendors selling meats, produce, cheese, and pasta. They buy their food straight from the producer, and can always ask for recommendations and more information about the products.

pepper, tomato, pasture, vegetable, lemon, Fresh, farmer's market
Caroline Ingalls

How We Cook

In America, it's not uncommon to find a recipe, or create a weekly menu, and buy ingredients specifically to make those meals. We usually add lots of different spices and condiments to our food, which really speaks to the diversity of all the cultures within this country. 

In Italy, it is more common to see what is fresh and in season at the market, and base your meals around what products look best at the time. For example, you never eat fish on a Monday because the fish at the market is leftover from last week, and the fresh catch doesn't come in until Tuesday morning. If the tomatoes are looking perfect, you might prepare a tomato sauce for your pasta, and the list goes on and on. There are endless possibilities and always room for spontaneity.

When We Eat

Another major difference between Italy and America is meal times. Everything in Italy is just about two hours later than it is in America. Italians eat lunch around 1-2pm and dinner around 8-9pm, whereas in America we eat lunch around 11am or noon, and dinner around 6-7pm. 

For the first two months, most of us hadn't adjusted to eating dinner so late, which of course gave us another great reason to eat some gelato.

Caitlyn Colton

How We Eat

Eating together and enjoying time spent with friends and family is incredibly important to Italians. They even have a phrase for it: "stare a tavolo," which literally translates to "stay at the table." I lived with a host family during my time abroad and loved the never-ending dinners we would have, with multiple courses of amazing foods all cooked by my host parents, Mara and Paolo. 

Another important difference is that there are some food taboos to be aware of while dining in Italy. One very important one is that pasta is never treated as a side dish, so it usually won't be served with meat. You have a pasta or soup for a first course, and a meat and vegetable side dish for your second course.

pizza, mozzarella, crust, spinach, mushroom, sauce
Jaclyn Puccini

How Italians eat is definitely different from how Americans eat. But, I had the time of my life in Italy, and loved every moment of eating how the Italians do. We all could learn something from their appreciation of fresh foods and quality time with loved ones.