Ciao Ragazzi! I just landed back on American soil after having the pleasure of studying abroad for seven weeks in the food capital of the world, Italy.

Before I left for this experience, I was so excited to try all the cuisines, coffees, cheeses, and wines Italy had to offer. Prior to my arrival, I had no idea what to expect regarding their food culture, because honestly, the most authentic Italian meal I ate in the US was brought to me by the local Olive Garden

In Italy, while the enjoyment of their delicious dishes itself is extremely important, the whole food experience is much greater than that. The Italians have seriously mastered their food culture from the social aspect to the relaxing environment and much more. 

Buongiorno, café?

Mara Soverinsky

I thought I was going to struggle without Starbucks for seven weeks, which was absolutely ridiculous because look how gorgeous this cappuccino is from Bar Amore in Trastevere, Rome.

Bars and cafes are family-owned in Italy. The families of these businesses pursue personal connections with their customers, which makes their bar or café's atmosphere so much more enjoyable. Once you become familiar with the bar or café that you get your beautiful cappuccino and little breakfast pastry, you might notice that these workers/family members remember both your order and your name. Unlike some places in the US, no one rushes you out the front door; you have the pleasure of staying as long as you would like in these bars and cafes that feel like coming home. 

There are set meal times.

Mara Soverinsky

This took a bit of getting used to, but honestly, the set meal times helped put us on a beneficial schedule and not sit at a restaurant every hour. Here is a quick view of what my meal schedule looked like:

Breakfast: 7 - 11 am

Lunch: 12:30 - 2 pm

Dinner: 8 - 10 pm

Italians have a very clear mind that there are three main meals of the day. Therefore, around most cities of Italy, you will find that restaurants will only serve you during these set meal times. Italians eat a very light breakfast, a large lunch, and a late dinner, which they often don't have until 9 pm or later. The set meal schedule that the Italians have established promote good time management, prevent mindless snacking, and keep bellies full of wholesome meals. 

Italy truly made me appreciate "wining and dining."

Mara Soverinsky

Something I immediately noticed when I arrived in Italy is how the Italians love to wine and dine. They love to enjoy the company of the people around them at dinner and lunch, while relaxing, and indulging in the pleasures of their food and drink.

No waiter is rushing you out because they don't want to interrupt your conversation; you have to call them over to take your food order when you're ready.

After receiving your food, again, no one is rushing you out with a bill. You have to ask the server for the bill. They will not bring it to you automatically, so no one feels rushed and you can enjoy the people you are with and the conversation. It was crazy to realize that we would go out for dinner around 8 pm and not leave restaurants until 10:30 or 11 pm, simply because we would get lost in conversation while enjoying the atmosphere and the food in front of us. 

I also seriously don't think I ever saw smart phones around me while I was at restaurants, which was so nice and so refreshing. This was such a nice break from the virtual vortex we sometimes get lost inside of in the United States. 

Wine is for taste, not to get drunk.

Mara Soverinsky

One important part of Italian food culture is the wine (duh), but it's not for you to get hammered off of at the dinner table. On the contrary, you're supposed to simply sip a few glasses with your food and once your food is gone, it's uncommon to even finish the glass in front of you. 

On several occasions at dinner, we found the waiters actually cutting us off on bottles because they felt our table had enough wine for the night. The enjoyment of wine at dinner is truly meant for taste rather than the head buzz we tend crave in America.

You can't find artificial sweetener anywhere

salt, cereal, sweet, rice
Aakanksha Joshi

I am so grateful Italy kicked this nasty habit of mine, because seven weeks without Splenda and Sweet'n Low showed me that 1. brown sugar is AMAZING and 2. just how bad this stuff is for you

In any café or bar, the only packets you can put in your coffee are brown or white sugar. There is no fake stuff as we see here in America. This is so much better for you and gets rid of so many of the nasty carcinogens that comes with artificial junk! I am so grateful Italy allowed me to get hooked on brown sugar in my coffee too, because it's actually so delicious, and not common in the states. (You guys should all try to take this step with me.) 

Also, there are no artificial treats or candies. Instead there is real food in Italy with real calories; what a concept! Instead of eating fake-tasting "healthy" ice cream that we have in the US, enjoy GELATO! It's freaking unreal and makes your stomach feel so much better than whatever artificial stuff is in that non-fat, sugar-free frozen froth we are used to over here.

Portion control is key.

Mara Soverinsky

In Italy, it's all about portion control. They are not trying to feed you to the point of no return (epic bloating). Instead, if you order a pasta, you are getting what looks like the American side dish, which is great because you aren't eating too much, and so you don't feel bad about finishing your whole plate. In Italy, it's all about tasting and enjoying the food you get and not overeating.

There are no preservatives.

Mara Soverinsky

All of the fruits, vegetables, and cheeses in Italy were incredibly fresh and delicious. That's because there are no preservatives in any of the food. When you come to Italy, you may find yourself actually enjoying a tomato (when you never had in the states) due to the fact that these tomatoes are cultivated so much better in Italy. This is due to the fact that good health and  destroying the possibility of carcinogens in their food are key for Italians. No preservatives in their produce makes it super fresh and delicious.

So after studying abroad in the best country on earth, with amazing food, and great atmospheres, I realized a few things:

1. In America, we like to really rush, which is a shame. We should try to slow things down and really appreciate the company around us, especially when out for a good meal. 

2. The drinking culture in Italy is meant for enjoyment rather than binge drinking, which is so much healthier and enjoyable.

3. We should eat REAL food rather than artificial BS because it tastes and makes us feel so much better.

4. Enjoy everything and anything around you because you only get to live and eat your way through a country once. So if you ever get the chance to go to Italy, I highly recommend you (eat) and take everything in.

Arrivederci, and buon appetito!