VISITING ITALY

 

So you’ve come to have a look around Italy?  You’re in for a unique experience.

Family, food, faith and friendship are what drives the Italian heart.

Family is all important. With papa at the head of the chain, but mama is the neck who can turn the head anyway she wants.                                 Sons are given a Jesus likes status, while the daughters are sometimes overlooked, even though very capable.
Families quite often live close together and may stay in the same town all of their lives.

 

Food is everywhere. Eating is a pleasure which unites the friends and family, and demonstrates love.
Breakfast is a non-event so you can save room for the big lunch.
If you are in a hotel, expect a roll with coffee, known as the continental breakfast. This is when you have your milky coffee or cappuccino. Only children drink milk after breakfast.

Lunch, being the main meal of the day, is followed by a nap when it gets too hot to work.

If you are in a sit down restaurant you will notice that everything is listed on the menu in categories  and are meant to be shared.

  • L’antipasto : before the meal or starters
  • Il Primo: first course, soup and pastas
  • Il secondo: main course and meats
  • Il contorno: side dishes, vegetables and salads
  • Il dolce: desserts
  • finish off with an espresso cafe

Tourist restaurants will offer us pizza and pasta as the only dishes, but this is not the Italian way.  They may pick up a slice of pizza from a pizza bar (where they cut a slice off a huge tray and weigh it) for lunch or a snack, but not as a main course.

It is a huge faux pas to ask for extra cheese, unless the waiter offers it.  Never put extra cheese on pizza or a seafood dish.

You will notice what we call pasta is ‘pastes’, while a pasta is a small pastry eaten for breakfast or a snack.

Expect simple flavours; with each dish to be savoured as close to its natural form as possible. Spaghetti with a sprinkle of basil and olive oil.  Pizza with a smear of tomato, a slice of ham and a single olive.  Pure and simple.

By Italian law, the gratuity is included in the bill, and extra tipping isn’t necessary. If the service is exceptional, leave your change or about 5-10% extra.

 

We go out for a drink with friends, while the Italians may meet for a gelato.  This fresh ice cream comes in an array of flavours and colours. One famous gelato bar has 150 different flavours all made on site.

Some gelaterias cheat and get their ice cream factory made.  The thing to do is to look at the colour of the pistachio.  If it is neon green, avoid.  If it is a brownish green colour, as in the colour of pistachios, then order anything.  It will be good.

The fast food café system works in a unique way.  You must figure out what you want, then go to the cashier and pay for it, before returning to the food/gelato counter holding your receipt, in order to collect it.  This way the people who handle food are not also handling money.

 

Also watch for the three tier system.  If you order for instance, a coffee, and drink it standing at the bar, it might cost one euro. If you order that same coffee and sit down at a table, the price will go up slightly. If they have outside seating and you chose that, the price goes up again.  All prices should by law, be listed on a menu, and usually displayed on the wall.

 

Faith is everywhere, as you would expect, with Catholicism being the predominant religion.
Mary adorns street corner shrines and you can’t walk a block without tripping over a church.   Rosary beads are sold from market stalls. Shops specialising in Nun’s habits and pointy hats, embroidered capes and fancy candle holders, are found near the Vatican.

Instead of calendars filled with pop-stars and playboy bunnies, look for the black and white calendar filled with hot priests.  Do you want a crucifix pen holder, a Messiah snow globe or a bottle of holy water for the folks back home, then you are in the right country.

The Vatican is the home of the Pope, who is God’s messenger on earth.  Cross the street with a nun, and you may not get hit by a car.

 

Friendship is terribly important.
Many friends are also relatives, but Italian hospitality knows no boundary.
They are used to living in small villages, even within a city. You have to fix things and get along. They may gossip about each other but are quick to overlook disagreements for the sake of harmony.

Italy is a country who wears its’ heart in its sleeve. Emotions are flung about like leaves in the wind. But don’t take an explosion seriously. Just wait it out and soon you will get a pat on the back and a warm smile, as long as you remain calm.

 

Shopping

Italians don’t go shopping for fun, like we do.  They have limited time, go to the shop, ask for what they want, the sales lady gives it to them and they go home to cook pasta.

When we wander into a shop without saying hello,( or asking permission to come into the independent premises); then proceed to amble around, feeling the cloth and have no particular purpose, they think we are odd.

In older shops, you will see a full display of every single item for sale, crammed into the window. This is so you can see if they have what you need, before you step inside.

They have become used to our strange ways, but never be rude if the sales lady or proprietor says hello to you as you walk in, or proceeds to follow you around trying to help you.  That is how they do things in Italy.   The sales person is always right.

 

HOW TO ORDER COFFEE IN ITALY 

Coffee bars in Italy are wonderful places to people watch.  First of all, go to the cashier and order your drink.  They will hand you a receipt and tell the barrista what you are having.  Stand at the granite counter and a saucer and spoon will clatter down in front of you.  Watch how effortlessly they make your drink.  It will be placed in front of you at precisely the right temperature to drink.  The most common order is the espresso, which should be drunk with a sachet of sugar.  Locals will come and go from all sides of you, just like cars at a petrol station. When you are done, take you receipt to the cashier and pay them.

Caffè – In Italy, the word “caffè’” naturally implies an espresso.

Macchiato –  macchiare means to “stain” – and this espresso in a demitasse cup is stained with some hot milk, probably frothed, though no attention is placed on serving foam. This is not a mini-cappuccino.

Caffè Macchiato Freddo – An espresso served in a demitasse cup with cold or lukewarm milk on the side. It looks like a normal caffè next to a carafe of milk. Many bars provide a communal container of milk on the bar, so often someone can just order a caffè and add the milk themselves. It’s best to order the caffè macchiato freddo and let the barman direct you. If you absolutely want to add the milk yourself, you can make sure to specify, “il latte a parte”

Cappuccino – Probably the most well-known and loved coffee drink, it has a long history. Espresso and steamed, frothy milk added so that there is a clean layer of milk foam in a larger cup.

Marocchino – Also called an Espressino or Mocacchino.  It is a shot of espresso served in a glass demitasse with a sprinkling of cacao (added either before or after the milk, sometimes both!) and milk foam spooned on top.

Latte Macchiato – Milk “stained” with coffee, and served hot in a glass cup as shown or in a tall glass, larger than a cappuccino.

Caffè Corretto – An espresso in a demitasse cup, with a “shot” of liquor of your choice. Popular liquors are grappa, sambuca, cognac, rum or Irish cream.

POPULAR VARIATIONS ON CAFFÈ ESPRESSO 

Caffè Doppio – Two shots of espresso, served in a larger cup (tazza). 

Caffè Americano – A shot of espresso with hot water added.  Often referred to by Italians as dishwater. 

Caffè Lungo – A setting on most espresso machines, more water is being run through the filter, resulting in a “longer” coffee. The consistency and strength is not the same as an espresso. 

Caffè Stretto or Ristretto – Made with less water than a normal espresso, this caffe’ is more concentrated and strong and served in a demitasse.

Caffè Freddo – Cooled or chilled espresso 

Caffe HAG – Not only is this the most popular brand of decaffeinated coffee in Italy, it can also be a way to indicate a decaffeinated coffee when ordering. It can be ordered as a single, double or macchiato like a normal caffè.   (Pronounce: Ahg – the H is silent).