Italian food: One day eating like an Italian

Oh Italy, the city of history, love and of course… Italian Food!

I had the chance to live in Italy since 2013 and to be honest. I must say that food-related matters occupy 90 per cent of the days in the Italian’s life.

When Italians are not eating they are talking… About food, and when they eat they talk about the food they ate yesterday and the new dish they discovered the other day or the excellent lasagna their grandmother used to cook to them when they were little.

In this article you will find:

Italianised food dishes in Italian food
Alfredo sauce
Hawaiian Pizza
A one-day real Italian traditional food diet
Italian breakfast means coffee and pastries
What do the Italians eat for breakfast?
Italian breakfast menu
Italian food meals consist of four steps
Primo piatto or the first dish
Secondo piatto is the main dish
Il dolce, the desserts
Let’s go to the menu for our Italian food lunch
Taking a snack and a coffee in a corner bar
Aperitivo? Martini anyone?
Italian food dinner
Our Italian dinner menu

Alberto Sordi Spaghetti scene, from the 1954 movie An American in Rome

Italians are the food, the food for them means warm, care, mother, la Bella vita and il dolce far niente. So food for Italians is friends gatherings and family time. Insomma: Tutto (In short: Everything).

Italians are also very proud of their gastronomic culture. They don-t like copycats and most of all they hate the Itali

Italianised dishes

In the 19th century, there was a great migration of Italians to many parts of the world: especially the United States, Australia, Argentina and Brazil.
These migratory flows helped to forge the identity of these countries, and although today these countries do not speak Italian, the love for Italy as a certain homeland is present.
That maybe is why in several countries we find dishes that we can consider ‘Italianized’.
There are two cases, in particular, two recipes that the Italians themselves are averse to because they are a bad interpretation of Italian gastronomy. These are Alfredo Sauce and Hawaiian Pizza.

Alfredo sauce

Although invented in Rome, Italy in 1914 by Alfredo di Lelio, this sauce is practically unknown in Italy, so much so that many people believe it was invented in the United States.

The original Alfredo sauce has nothing to do with the one we see today, it consisted only of butter and parmesan cheese. Today it can be made with cream, onion, oregano and parsley and the first recipe is known in Italy as ‘fettuccini alla Romana’.

Hawaiian Pizza

Hawaiian pizza is a variant of pizza usually prepared with a cheese and tomato base and topped with pieces of ham and pineapple in syrup. Other versions may also include mixed peppers, mushrooms, bacon and other ingredients.

So the use of pineapple as a pizza filling generates conflicting opinions. On the one hand, it is despised and judged as a real insult to the Italian culinary tradition. On the other hand, it appears to be highly appreciated in various countries around the world. For example, in England, it leads the way in sales of delivery pizza and in Australia it is the favourite topping.

In 2017, Iceland’s president, Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, joked that the filling of pizza with pineapple should be banned by law. The goliardic joke generated a real international media controversy that impacted on social networks with the viral hashtag #pineappleonpizza.

A one-day real Italian traditional food diet

Today I would like to talk about the daily Italian food diet. Have you ever wondered how a real Italian Family breakfast is?

Well, there is where we start.

Italian breakfast means coffee and pastries

What if we take a coffee? Italians love coffee and you may have heard that they have the best coffee in the world. With centuries of coffee consumption, it has become part of their culture. 

Coffee does not grow in Italy but Italians have developed the best machines to do the ‘torrefaction’ (toasting) of the coffee.

But when we are outside of Italy and take a cappuccino or an espresso, is it really an Italian coffee? Well, probably not.

Italian coffee
Espresso, macchiato, ristretto, mocha, americano, latte, capuccino

For an Italian espresso, we need 5 to 7 grams of coffee per 30 ml of water. If we add milk foam it is called caffè macchiato, which literally means stained coffee. It is a small drink, very concentrated, it can be heavy on the stomach if you are not used to it.

Italian coffee for espresso and for Moka is not the same, the size of the coffee granulate for the espresso machine is smaller. If you want to know more about Italian coffee here is my article Italian coffee, the ultimate guide.

What do the Italians eat for breakfast?

If you go to a bar and take an espresso, probably you will accompany it with a brioche in Milan and a cornetto in Rome. Cornetto is not the same as the french brioche or a croissant, it is similar to a croissant but a different recipe. If you want to learn how to bake brioche here is a recipe I recommend to you.

The cornetto or brioche can be filled or ‘vuoto’ (empty). The filling can be made of pastry cream, Nutella, or different jams. 

Italian breakfast menu

  • Cappuccino: It consists of espresso with milk and milk foam in equal parts, sprinkled with cocoa or cinnamon.
  • Cornetto. My advice: filled with pastry cream.
A typical Italian breakfast

Italian meals consist of four steps

Cosa vuole per primo? E secondo? (‘What do you want as a first dish? And second?’) A typical question a waiter will pose to you if you’re in an Italian restaurant. In Italy, there are four parts in every meal: antipasto, primo, secondo and dolce with coffee.

You might be thinking, how am I gonna finish four dishes? 

But usually, the portions are small, so it’s no problem

Il primo or the first dish

It is usually pasta (gnocchi, spaghetti, lasagna), rice (risotto), minestra (soup) or a polenta. 

It has no meat or if it does, the portions are not large. Usually served on a deep plate, the portion is quite small. This is done to make room for what is coming: ‘il secondo’ and not end up vomiting as in Roman times.

Il secondo is the main dish

It is usually composed of meat or fish. 

  • Meat dishes: Ossobuco, Steak alla Fiorentina or Vitello tonnato
  • Mushroom dishes: Boletus edulis
  • Fish dishes: Gilthead bream, prawns, swordfish

Il Contorno is a side dish that can be either salad or vegetables. In a typical menu, the salad comes after the main course.

Il dolce, the desserts

The most typical are tiramisu, gelato, pudding, zabaione, macedonia.

Let’s go to the menu for our Italian lunch

  • Vitello tonnato. The vitello tonnato (or vitel’ tonné) is a typical Piedmontese dish, served chilled, prepared from slices of veal, covered with a sauce based on tuna, egg yolks, anchovies, capers, olive oil, mixed with lemon juice. It is often eaten in summer, on the terrace.
  • Primo Risotto allo zaferano. This first course best enhances the aromatic qualities of saffron with a pleasant and captivating golden colour that makes this dish so special. A little magic that combined with the creamy touch of the mantecatura, inevitable in the preparation of risottos, will give you a risotto with a unique and unmistakable taste.
  • Secondo Cotoletta alla Milanese. A tender beef steak, covered with breadcrumbs, fried in butter, Cotoletta alla milanese is one of the iconic dishes of Milan, the capital of Italian style and design.
  • Dolce Tiramisù. It is a dessert made with ladyfingers soaked in coffee and stuffed with a cream of mascarpone egg and sugar, covered with a layer of cocoa. The Etymology of the word Tiramisu is simple and intuitive: TIRA-MI-SU’ which means it lifts, strengthens my body. The original name of this delicious dessert comes from the Venetian dialect Tiremesù, then Italianized in Tiramisù.

Taking a snack and a coffee in a corner bar

If some hours after lunch you feel like a coffee. Let’s go to a corner bar. 

In Italy, it is very typical to see very small bars with no chairs at all. People are used to taking the coffee so quickly that they don’t even sit down, it’s just a sip. 

But on our Italian day, we are going to sit down and take a caffè macchiato! 

This is a coffee with a bit of milk foam on top. So delicious that you will say Buonissimo and you will feel more Italian than ever.

And to accomany our coffee, what about a Cannoli?

We will drink our coffee with a typical pastry from Sicily, called cannoli. These sweets were among the favourites of the legendary Inspector Montalbano. 

Cannolo is a typical sweet from the Italian region of Sicily, where it originated. It consists of a dough rolled up into a tube with ingredients mixed with ricotta cheese inside. It is so popular in Sicily that it is very rare to find a pastry shop where a tray of cannoli is not displayed.

Aperitivo? Martini anyone?

Milan, the most international city in Italy has an amazing ritual called aperitivo. Since ancient times, many people used to precede their dinner with an aromatic drink, more or less alcoholic. ‘Aperitif’, which derives from the Latin ‘aperire’: to open, to begin.

Italian food: Aperitivo
Italian aperitivo
Credit By Lasagnolo9

In Milan and its surroundings, young people flock to fashionable bars and outdoor squares to sip alcoholic cocktails, often accompanied by appetizers. There are buffets of pizzas, focaccia, fried vegetables, salads, but also cold and hot pasta. 

Our Italian cocktail choice is going to be a Negroni

Before taking the first sip, it is necessary to raise the glass to the sun, so that its rays burn this liquid pomegranate that moves among the ice.

A red sea of icebergs and music by Nino Rota. 1/3 of Bombay Sapphire, 1/3 of bitter Campari and 1/3 of Martini Rosso.

In a medium-sized glass of Old Fashioned with ice, well mixed and an orange peel or in a cocktail glass cooled in a mixing glass adding a red cherry.

And to eat Pizza Margherita!

No introduction needed. Italian pizza is one of the most famous dishes in the world and with the hamburger the most widespread. Although it has been proven that the modern classic pizza (mozzarella and tomato) existed at least since the 1830s, an undocumented traditional story places the date in June 1889 when, to honour the Queen of Italy Margherita of Savoy, the chef Raffaele Esposito of Brandi Pizzeria created the Margherita pizza, whose seasonings (tomato, mozzarella and basil) represented the colours of the Italian flag.

Italian dinner

Our Italian day is coming to an end, but before this, we are going to try some novel but traditional dishes.

Our Italian dinner menu

  1. Antipasto Tagliere. The tagliere is an entry that, as you can see in the photo, consists of cuts of different Italian cured meats and cheeses. It is a good opportunity to try traditional specialities such as prosciutto di parma, copa piacentina, bresaola or culatello, and cheeses such as gorgonzola, robiola, talegio or parmigiano reggiano.
  2. Primo Spaghetti al pesto. Pesto is a typical Ligurian condiment or sauce. Its main ingredient is Genoese basil. In addition to basil, pine nuts and garlic are ground, all seasoned with parmesan and/or sheep’s cheese, and olive oil.
  3. Secondo Lasagne alla Bolognese. This is a typical second course of the Italian cuisine, especially the Bologna region. It is lasagna with two sauces: a meat sauce (the ragù) and a white sauce.
  4. Dolce Zabaione, also called zabaglione, is a basic pastry preparation based on eggs, sugar and an alcoholic beverage, which can be a wine (typically, Marsala) or a liqueur.
  5. Limoncello is the very popular liqueur made with the peel of citrus fruits from Campania, traditionally prepared with lemons typical of the Amalfi Coast.

Today we had a blast of Italian food, do you feel like more?

All the ‘primo’ and ‘secondo’ on each menu can be replaced with different specialities to explore other regions of Italy.

I have no more to say so… Buonanotte


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1 Comment

  1. Isabella,

    Wonderful article.

    When I was six, I went to Mexico with my family. My next trip out of the U.S. wasn’t until I graduated from college, age 22. I went to see my younger brother, who was studying in Rome. We went through Europe together for six weeks, but not before diving into Italy (Rome, Tivoli, Florence, Venice — the typical places, but must-sees).

    It was in Rome that I learned about Il Primo and Il Secondo; I’d had no idea!

    It also dashed my preconceptions about pizza. My brother and I had grown up literally over a pizza parlor on New York City’s upper east side. We thought we knew what “real pizza” was. (Just like we think we know what real bagels are LOL.)

    One last thing: when I go to an Italian restaurant these days, I always get the tiramisu if they have it. If it’s good, the restaurant gets a good mark in my book. Our favorite Italian restaurant in our old NYC neighborhood is Celeste, on 84th/85th and Amsterdam Avenue. The host would visit tables in this tiny restaurant, put his hand on your shoulder and ask you how you were doing.

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