the appetizer:

Though there are many individual regional cuisines in Italy, northern and southern Italian cuisines are primarily differentiated by the cooking fat and style of pasta commonly used. Northern Italian cuisine (other than on the coast) favors butter, cream, polenta, Mascarpone, Grana Padano, and Parmigiano cheeses, risotto and fresh egg pasta. Southern Italian cuisine tends toward Mozzarella, Caciocavallo and Pecorino cheeses, olive oil and dried pasta. Southern Italian cuisine also makes greater use of the ubiquitous tomato.

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When To Eat

Breakfast (La Colazione or La Prima Colazione)

Hotels and pensione usually serve a Continental breakfast that consists of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, fresh rolls, butter, and preserves. Sometimes juice and cheese are included. Cheap Eaters should try to get their hotel to deduct this cost—which can be as much as $15 per person—from their bill and eat their breakfast at a bar or caffe. It will cost half of what a hotel will charge, and the coffee will be better, the pastry fresher, and the local scene far more interesting. Remember: If you sit down, the price will increase by 50 to 250 percent more per person than if you stand at the bar with all the other Italians.

Lunch (Pranzo or Colazione)

Lunch usually starts at 12:30 P.M. And lasts anywhere from thirty minutes (stand up) to three hours. Last order is supposed to be the time the restaurants lists as closing, but more often the last order will be taken about thirty minutes before closing.

Lunch can be anything from a quick sandwich eaten standing at the corner bar to a full-blown four- or five- course meal ending with a strong coffee under the umbrellas on a busy piazza...which has to be one of the true pleasures of eating in Italy. Time, cost, calories, location, and hunger are the factors that will help you decide what to do for lunch.

Sandwiches are available in a paninoteca, a bar selling sandwiches either made to order or ready made and found displayed under napkins in a case. If you are staying in one place for a few days, it is fun to become a "local" by eating your lunch each day in the same small restaurant or trattoria. The first day you will be treated with politeness. The second, your waiter will be pleased to see you back, and on the third, you will be treated as a "regular" and your waiter will already know what type of wine you like. Try will be surprised. In most places, the menus for lunch and dinner are the same, and there is no price break offered at lunch.

Dinner (La Cena)

Dinner is usually served from 7:30 P.M. on. If you want to eat with other foreigners, reserve a table for 7:30. If you want a more Italian experience, dine at 8:30 or later.

Cheap Eats in Italy
by Sandra A. Gustafson
Paperback, 206 pp, $10.95
Chronicle Books, 1996
ISBN: 0-8118-1070-4
Reprinted with permission


Italian Recipes

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This page modified January 2007