[pic is from the post on drink me bar]
this is going to be quite a long wordy post haha. it’s mainly all my anecdotes (and a chance for me to whine about how annoying it is haha) which shaped my understanding of the italian food culture. but if you’re coming here, i believe it will be useful to know!
1. Meal times
In our first 3 days in Italy, poor sam spent everyday starving because we couldn’t find food. irony #1 here is that even if you have money, you can’t buy food if it’s not the right time. italians (or maybe Europeans in general) eat dinner REALLY LATE. and note that in italy, the further south you go, the later dinner starts. for milan it starts around 8pm. lunch probably is somewhere between 12pm-3pm, but in between lunch & dinner, it is almost IMPOSSIBLE to find a restaurant that will serve you a decent meal when you’re hungry.
Being typical singaporeans who eat at every time of the day, we were STUNNED to find that at 6pm, no food places were open (usually you can find pizzerias open in the city centre, but we were in the residential area so no food at all) and we were starving!!!! but in italy, too bad. suck it up xP
A saving-grace is their concept of apperitivo! (: probably one of the things i loved most about italy. this is a really cool version of happy hour (and this usually starts around 6/7pm so you can get your food fix here if you’re hungry) where you buy a drink (can anything from €5 to more than €10 if you’re in some really posh bar, though i’ve never tried those before) and you will have access to a buffet line of food where you can stuff yourself silly haha. of course it’s not like a proper buffet (because it’s so cheap). typically it’s bar snacks, like sandwiches, chips, hams and things like that. but if you know where to go, you can get places which serve pastas and more substantial food. sometimes even dessert!
italian dining has MANY courses. and it’s simply mind-boggling for foreigners to comprehend this sometimes. i was doing a project about Slow Food, and i was reading about this whole multi-course thing that is part of italy’s culture of enjoying food. pretty interesting, if they actually practice it nowadays, but as you’ll see in my next point, they seem to have almost completely lost it -.-
these are the courses of a full italian meal: antipasto (appetizer), primi piatto (first course – pasta/rice), secondo (second course – meat/fish), contorni (side dish – vegetables), dolci (dessert). throw in a couple of drinks at the beginning (apperitivo) and end (digestivo) at the end of the meal, and you get a grand total of 7 courses!! *.* so complicated.
what i really don’t like about italian food is how they have to separate every.single.part.of.the.meal.into.a.different.course. like the meat, veg and carbs are all in separate portions! which makes is ridiculously expensive, and way too filling. on the other hand, simply eating, let’s say a pasta, on its own just seems like a terribly unbalanced meal. and i really dislike how their veggies are in such a small portion and are often cold -.- gosh…how i missed my caifan 2veg+1meat when i was there!!!!
good service in italy is interpreted as FAST service. this was something i didn’t know at the beginning and i was getting really annoyed with the service staff who seemed to always be chasing us away – attempting to clear our plates even before we’d finished eating, presenting us with the bill once everything was cleared. it was really getting on my nerves! so much for Slow Food yeah? -.-
after that i realised that it was simply because that was what they were conditioned to do. not that i liked it any better, but i guess the understanding just made it easier to swallow. i suppose it’s really important to manage your expectations when it comes to visiting a new place. there were definitely instances where we had outstanding service though (: even though most italian staff aren’t able and aren’t willing to speak english, it makes us appreciate it even more when we meet staff who are ever-so-willing to help.
another thing that really irked me (not just in italy…france was like this too) was how in restaurants you’re always expected to get a drink with your food. i just feel that they’re so stick-in-the-mud sometimes and there is no freedom at all! >:( i think it’s just an absolute waste of money to have to pay for bottle of water, just because it’s presented to you in a pretty bottle, when i have perfectly drinkable water in a bottle in my bag -.- it’s not like their water there is cheap. it’s sometimes even more expensive than buying a beer, but so, i don’t like beer and i wouldn’t order it. sometimes they even expect customers to order wine. and yes, of course i would LOVE to, if i had the money, but unfortunately i carry a bag of gold with me tyvm. us poor students on a shoestring budget often have to suffer under the dirty looks of the service staff when we dine out. which is why i’d much rather cook.
6. What Italian food is about – regional & simple
kk enough complaining already :P haha i just didn’t have a fantastic experience with italian food. but one thing i really appreciated was the freshness of their ingredients! :)) because italian food focuses heavily on regional cooking, each part of italy is special for a different way of cooking pasta, and the second courses are very much dependent on what is available in the region for harvesting. for example, seafood in rome is awesome! while you should definitely try the steak in florence ^^ things like that. you can check out this website to find out what are the must-eats in the region you’re going to, and enjoy your dining experience in italy! ^^