When traveling in a foreign country some customs can be confusing. In our last post we tried to help you make sense of the various types of Italian eating establishments (trattorias, pizzerias, etc.), but when you sit down at table, the menu might seem a bit intimidating. We are including some helps culled from the handouts we give to our Arts Sojourn participants as part of our in-country orientations. Next to the Italian words you will find the best phonetic pronunciations we could come up with. DINING CUSTOMS Coperto (coh-payr-toh): The service charge or cover for the setting. This charge is in addition to the price of the food, but is always clearly stated on the menu. Bars will charge you for sitting at a table with whatever you order, but if you choose to just have a quick bite or beverage you may stand at the bar for no additional charge. Tipping: Nearly every food bill includes from 10%-15% charge for service, but it is customary to leave an additional amount on the table for the waiter – about a euro per person is usually fine. A little more if you choose to and the service was excellent. a fuori (ah foo-OH-ree): If you wish to be seated outside, asking this in the form of a question will get your point across. il conto (eel kOHn-toh) : The bill or check. In Italian eateries waiters are never in a hurry to bring the check. You may linger for as long as you like and even when asking for il conto it will not be brought quickly. Be patient. It is the Italian way of dining. la menu (lah meh-nOO) – la lista (lah lEE-stah): Two ways of saying menu. MAKING SENSE OF THE MENU – You will find the menu broken down into courses in the order that Italians eat them. It is not necessary to order every course, simply order whatever combination you like. An antipasto and either a primo or secondo is just fine almost anywhere, but be sensitive as to the time of day and the quality of the establishment. For example, do not go into an upscale restaurant during the dinner rush and order only an antipasto. COURSES Antipasto (ahn-tee-pAHs-toh): Appetizer Primo (prEE-moh): The first plate is the pasta and zuppa (tsOOp-pah) or soup. Secondo (say-kOHn-doh): This consists of a meat or fish dish which can be broken down into sub-categories. Pesce (pAY-sheh) fish, or Frutta di Mare (frOOt-tah dee mAH-reh) seafood Carne (kAHr-neh) meat You may find the meats and fish can be prepared and ordered in the following ways: * cotta al forno (kOHt-tah ahl fOHr-noh) baked * lesso (lAYs-soh) boiled * brasata (brah-sAH-tah) braised * ai ferri (AH-ee fEHr-ree) broiled * alla griglia (AHl-lah grEE-ly-ee-ah) grilled * bollita (bohl-lEE-tah) poached or boiled * fritto (frEEt-toh) fried * affumicata (ahf-foo-mee-kAH-tah) smoked * ben cotta (bEhn kOHt-tah) well done * cotta a puntino (kOHt-tah ah poon-tEE-noh) medium * al sangue (ahl sAhn-goo-eh) rare * misto (mEEs-toh) mixed – This can be a sampling of meats, fish, appetizers or a mixed salad. For example mixed fried fish, or fritto misto di pesce. An antipasto misto is a sampling of the house appetizers. ** Some meat and whole fish are sold by the gram. Be careful when ordering and check the menu!! If the price seems very cheap for a meat or fish entre it is likely the price per gram. This should be quite clear, but we have known people to make mistakes and be surprised when the check comes. SIDE DISHES – You will often find side dishes are not included with your primo. It may indicate on the menu if any side dishes come with your main course. Contorni (kohn-tOHr-nee): Side dishes or vegetables and salads are usually ordered separately. These can also be listed under the following sub-categories. Verdure (vAYr-doohr-ray) vegetables Insalata (een-sah-lAH-tah) salad – usually just greens unless misto Legumi (lay-gOO-mee) dried beans, lentils, chick peas, etc. THE LAST COURSE Dolci (dOHl-chee): sweets or dessert – used generically and may include items such as Torta: cake, Gelato (jeh-LAH-toh): ice cream, Frutta (frOOt-tah): fruit, or Formaggio(for-MAH-jeeoh): cheese We hope these hints are helpful to you on your next visit to Italy!
Matthew Daub is a professional artist and university professor with works in major public and private collections throughout the United States and Europe. He has been leading plein air painting workshops in Italy since 1994. In 1999, Matthew and his wife Barbara formed Arts Sojourn as “a vacation for artists and their friends.” The program is designed to appeal to artists of all levels as well as non-artists who enjoy the company of creative people in a slow travel format.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.