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Eat like an Italian: FAQ

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There is a lot of useful information that can help tourists who want to eat at an Italian ristorante or pizzeria. For example, it’s advisable to reserve a table, it’s not necessary to leave a tip, it’s possible to smoke inside the restaurant only if there is a specified smoking area, it’s usually possible to pay the bill by credit/debit cards, etc.


Here follows useful information that can be helpful to tourists that come to Italy and want to eat at an Italian ristorante (“restaurant”) or pizzeria.

FAQ

Do I have to reserve a table?

It depends on the kind of ristorante/pizzeria, but in general it’s advisable to call the place in advance (for example late morning for dinner) to reserve a table.

Can I pay by credit/debit card?

It’s generally possible to pay in cash or by credit/debit cards. Cards accepted are Visa, Master Card, American Express, Maestro, etc.. A few old fashioned restaurants will only let you pay in cash.

Do I always have to leave a tip?

Customers are not obliged to leave a tip in Italy. However, it’s true that nowadays it’s quite normal to leave a few euro (not less than 3/5!!) depending on the amount of the bill. For example if you pay € 70 it would be reasonable to leave a € 5/7 tip.

Should I be given a receipt after I pay the bill?

Unfortunately, some restaurant owners try not to print receipts especially if the client is a foreigner. Thus, remember that you always have to ask for the receipt before you leave the  ristorante/pizzeria, because you, as well as the owner, risk getting a fine!!n1

Can I smoke in a ristorante/pizzeria?

It’s prohibited to smoke inside a ristorante/pizzeria unless it has a specified smoking area. If you are sitting at a table outside the ristorante/pizzeria, it’s not “polite” to smoke near someone who is having lunch or dinner, even tough it’s not prohibited.

Can minors drink at a ristorante/pizzeria?

Italian law establishes that minors are not allowed to buy alcoholic beverages, and that anyone selling or administering alcohol to minors shall be punished with a fine that goes from € 250 to € 1,000, unless the fact constitutes a crime. Therefore, it is forbidden to “provide” such beverages to a person under the age of eighteen, without any distinction between sales, administration or consumption. However, considering that minors do not incur in any administrative penalty or criminal charge for drinking alcoholic beverages at home or in public, unless they are drunk, in reality, very often it happens that minors are seen drinking alcoholic beverages in restaurants or pizzerias.

What does an Italian pizza really look like? 

First of all, when Italians go to a pizzeria they ask for an entire round pizza, and not for a large pizza with two/three/four different toppings to be shared like in some other countries.  Everybody usually eats his/her own pizza, with its own topping (generally one, like margherita, or prosciutto, or salsiccia, etc.). Regardless of the possible toppings, an Italian pizza can be made in three different ways. As a matter of fact some pizzerias make pizza napoletana which has a thick crust. Others make pizza romana which has a thinner crust and is a little crunchy. Lastly, some pizzerias make pizza all’italiana which should be something between the above two (even though if you try it you’ll see that it’s more similar to the napoletana). A real Italian pizza should look like the ones pictured below:

          

The pizzas in the pictures above are the classic Italian pizza called “margherita” (pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, olive oil, and a leaf of basil). However, in Italy we have many different toppings, most of which you can find in every pizzeria, like marinara (tomato sauce), prosciutto (ham), mozzarella di bufala, capricciosa (tomato sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, raw ham, olives, artichokes, extra virgin olive oil), salsiccia (sausage), diavola (spicy salame), and many others.

On the contrary, this is what a pizza shouldn’t look like:

 

The above pizza, that you should find only in supermarkets, is frozen. In Italy no  pizzeria should serve frozen pizzas, and no tourist should eat one at a pizzeria!! Therefore, we suggest checking with your specialized food apps, looking at some other customers’ pizzas before you sit down at the table, or asking a local person for information, in order to avoid a frozen pizza that, unfortunately, some tourist-trap pizzerias like to serve. We believe that it’s disrespectful of the customer and of our food culture for a pizzeria to serve frozen pizzas. Italy is where the pizza was born and where a tourist should eat the best pizza of his/her life, not a meaningless frozen pizza that it’s possible to buy almost everywhere in the world, and that has nothing to do in terms of quality with a high-quality homemade pizza.

Italians love to drink beer when they eat a pizza, although we can say that a good glass of Italian wine can be an excellent choice.

Here is a list of some of the best pizzerias in Italy according to the famous Italian food guide  Gambero Rosso.

Is frozen food common in an Italian ristorante/pizzeria?

It’s better to ask if what you’re about to eat is frozen, especially if it’s seafood or pizza. An asterix (*) in the menu means frozen food. We do not use frozen food except for a few things like fried food which would be too complicated for chefs to prepare at the moment (e.g. supplì, fiori di zucca, olive ascolane, mozzarelline fritte, etc.). Besides that, we do not eat frozen pizzas or seafood or similar at a ristorante.

How do I choose the wine?

Well, to give an idea, the general old rule is that sparkling wine (like Franciacorta, Trentodoc, Prosecco, Alta Langa, Champagne, etc.) or white wine (e.g. Arneis, Chardonnay, Riesling, Vermentino, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Ribolla Gialla, Traminer, Sauvignon, Verdicchio, Trebbiano, Falanghina, etc.) can go with starters or first courses (pasta with white or delicate sauces, risotti, and similar) but also with seafood and white meat. Red wine (Barbaresco, Barolo, Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Amarone, Nobile di Montepulciano, Merlot, Sagrantino di Montefalco, etc.) goes with pasta with red sauces (like tomato sauce with or without meat), soups, or second courses (especially meat, strong cheeses, and similar). Sweet wine (Moscato, Spumante Dry or Demi-Sec) goes with desserts. However, wine is something very personal. Therefore, although it is still not very common to see someone drinking red wine while eating seafood or sushi, everyone should feel free to drink whatever they like the most when they are enjoying a good Italian meal. For example, there is nothing wrong with drinking white wine with pizza, or red wine with cold cuts like salame, prosciutto crudo, mortadella, etc..

Are there many food or fast food chains in Italy?

In Italy we do not have many Italian food chains. We have some chains, not so many, like  Eataly, Rosso PomodoroChef Express, Autogrill, Roadhouse Grill, BaladinCa’puccino, Obicà, la Piadineria, etc..

In some cases you can find more shops of the same restaurant but only in one city.

Here it’s very different from, for example, the US where you can find the same restaurant in almost every city. Everywhere you go you can find local restaurants, where, in general, Italians usually go. In fact, the tradition here in Italy is to go to a local place, even though in recent years some of these chains have gained a lot of trust among Italians.

There are chains in the ice cream sector. For example, you can find Rivareno, La Romana,  Grom, etc.. in many different Italian cities.

In the last few years we’ve been witnessing the birth of several chains of french fries shops (Queen’s Chips, Amsterdam Chips, etc.) or other take-away foods (Alice Pizza, etc.).

As for foreign food chains, the most common ones are certainly McDonald’s and Burger King.  The first one you can find almost anywhere. Burger King is widely spread although it is more likely to be found in major cities. Recently, KFC shops have opened in Italy, and there are about 15 Subway throughout the country. However, there are no Dunking Donuts, Krispy Kreme, or similar. Starbucks should open in Milan in 2017. 

n1 Authorities occasionally make rounds to enforce the requirement to provide receipts, giving fines to both owner and customers in case no receipt has been given after a purchase.

Download this guide eat-like-an-italian-faq and read it offline!!!

Claudia

Claudia

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