Saturday, November 5, 2016

How to eat well in Italy: some advice from a blogger (and) abroad

Since there are so many incredibly good food establishments in Italy, this may seem like an obvious topic with obvious answers, but there are some Italian terms that can be baffling to the uninitiated. It took us a while to figure all of this out, but you can save some time and learn from our experiences.

La Terrazzo in Montecarlo advertises itself as both a ristorante and a pizzeria.
First, though, an explanation of Italian meals: Formal lunches or dinners served on special occasions in Italy can include many courses, including the antipasto (pre-meal appetizers and drinks), the primo piatto (first course, which is usually a pasta dish or soup), the secondo piatto (second course, usually meat or fish) and then a contorno (vegetables) with insalata mista (mixed green salad). The dolce (dessert) can either be fresh fruit or a sweet pastry or custard. Then comes the caffè, usually an Italian espresso, but you can request your favorite variety. Some restaurants also offer a sweet wine, grappa or limoncello to help digest your meal.

Having explained all this, a meal like the one above is the exception, not the rule. Feel free to order whatever you want from the menu. As a couple, we often order one plate for two people (dividiamo in due). That way we can sample many items without getting too stuffed to finish. Or we may just order a single antipasto to share and then we each order a primo, or each order a primo and then split a secondo. It’s your meal, and you can do what you want.

On to the definitions:

Ristorante: Of course, this is the word for restaurant. Make an effort to pronounce it correctly: REES/tohr/ahnt/teh, not REST/tohr/ahnt/tee. You can expect full service, with someone to seat you and an experienced and polished waiter who knows the food and wine well. The menu will be printed with fixed prices for all the courses, and the variety will be wide.

You can get a fantastic meal at the Trattoria di Montecarlo.
Trattoria (Trah/tohr/EE/ah): Basically the same as a ristorante, but the different word indicates that it is family owned with a more casual or rustic environment that might be found in a small neighborhood. The menu may be smaller. However, now some trattorie (plural of trattoria) are essentially the same as ristoranti, so you may not notice any difference.

Another of our favorites, Osteria alla Fortezza.
Osteria: These are wine bars that have lately evolved to serve simple but full meals. They may have no menu and offer few or no choices for each course. The offering changes daily, according to the market, and two or three courses are offered for a fixed price, including wine.

Bar or caffè (sometimes caffetteria): You probably think you know what these are because we also have them in America, but they’re not at all the same thing in Italy. They are places to get coffee and a pastry in the morning. Some also serve panini (sandwiches) at lunch. Others will also have wine and cocktails starting in the afternoons (happy hour), with potato chips or nuts on the counter.

You get a lot more than wine now at an enoteca. Here is a
sampling of local treats at the Piccola Enoteca in Montecarlo.
Enoteca: The word literally means “wine repository,” but these have also evolved. Historically, an enoteca gave visitors the possibility to taste local wines at a reasonable fee and possibly to buy them. Snacks could also have been served, and in recent times the snacks have become more varied and plentiful, also showing off local specialties.

Rosticceria: If the place where you live has a kitchen, this is a great way to dine on authentic cuisine for an excellent price. Food here can be compared to “fast food” because it is ready to take away and eat, but it has been prepared with traditional slow methods. At a good rosticceria, the food is restaurant quality. Wine is often sold too, so you can save money and bring home a complete meal. Some rosticcerie go by the label tavola calda.

-eria or -ria: Some eating establishments are
self-explanatory. A gelateria sells gelato. A pizzeria sells pizza. A
Enjoying a gelato at the Chiardicrema gelateria in Montecarlo,
which also sells excellent crêpes and waffles.
birreria is a beer-focused bar. An ending can be added to almost any food to show the specialty of the establishment.
A few final words about paying at the end of your meal. Many establishments will not bring your bill until you ask for it. You can say, “Il conto, per favore.” Tips are not expected and are not normal practice. Many meals will include a cover charge (coperto) that includes bread and service (although some add separate coperto and servizio charges). If you want to show extra appreciation, you can leave one or two euros on the table, but again, it’s not usual.

Buon appetito!

1 comment:

  1. Good to know! I was always a little unsure about the difference between a ristorante, a trattoria, and a rosticceria.

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