Italian food customs, the unwritten rules that will drive you mad

Italian food customs are the unwritten rules that may drive you crazy should you visit Italy unprepared...

Many italian waiters are both entertainers and good teachers!

My Italian identity suddenly exploded years ago in London when I saw an English friend adding Parmesan to his seafood dish, while drinking cappuccino.

We may be easygoing and friendly, but when it comes to food Italians are quite unflexible!

Below are a few dos and don’ts which can be always useful in life.

Relax... We would not stare at you as if you were an ET if you have cappuccino at 9PM!

The more common rules include…

General rules

  • The words “fast” and “food” can’t go in the same sentence. “Slow” and “food” are a perfect match, instead.

  • Enjoying your meal slowly and comfortably at the table, more or less at the same time every day, is something given for granted.

About pasta

The famous Italian comedian Toto'

  • Pasta is never a side dish as is rice in many Asian cuisines. This implies that you can’t put pasta next to your steak.

  • Every shape of pasta is good for some sauces: olive sauce is great for penne or rigatoni, but doesn’t match spaghetti which, on the other hand, are perfect with shellfish. Sauce with peas goes with pipe, not the most common pasta to be found abroad. Luckily ragù, also known as bolognese sauce, is pretty versatile.

  • Spaghetti should never be cut. Instead, learn the basic skill of twirling.

  • Never overcook pasta, make sure it’s al dente.

  • Ketchup is not a sauce, especially a pasta sauce!

  • Meat based dishes do not go with pasta, do not ever mix them in the same dish! Eat pasta first and then meat or fish. Meatballs with spaghetti, although quite popular in America, is as much Italian as shepherd’s pie. Some meat based pasta sauces like Bolognese are acceptable.

About pizza

  • Many are concerned about good manners when they sit in a restaurant thinking this applies to pizza as well! Most of the people (including italians) use cutlery... Here is a big revelation: you must eat pizza with your OWN HANDS! Pizza is a street food and you can appreciate fully only if you feel it as well.

About coffee and breakfast

espresso sign

  • For Italians coffee means espresso, yet we accept variations: espresso can be macchiato, with hot or cold milk, with or without foam. It can also be short, tall or corretto (with added liquor, such as grappa). You can combine all these variations, but other kinds of coffee are not admitted.

  • Cappuccino is strictly for breakfast or afternoon break but totally forbidden during meals!

  • Take away coffee is a no no! We would never drink our cappuccino walking in the street... a break at the cafe having coffee in a proper cup is a religious morning experience.

About dressings and condiments

  • Never add parmesan to a fish-based dish.

  • Olive oil, vinegar, lemon and salt are the only ingredients for dressing salads.

About drinks

  • During a meal, only wine and water are admitted (sodas and beer are ok if you are having pizza).

There are endless unwritten rules, but these are the fundamental Italian food customs.

Do your best to follow them when you are in Italy and people will literally love you!

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Did an Italian waiter remove your parmesan off the table because 'it's not right with fish'?

Italian food customs are somehow irrational and strongly rooted to local traditions. We humbly think our ways in the kitchen are the best...

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And feel free to mention any habits not included on this page.

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