Many times people travel to Italy without much preparation. With a language that distinguishes between 'penis' and 'pasta' with only one letter, it's extremely easy to make mistakes when ordering food. If you want to get the best out of your Italian food experience, there are a few things to avoid when ordering and eating food in Italy.
- No cappuccinos after 12 pm
Italians take digestion very seriously. Certain foods must be eaten at certain times, with a specific beverage to accompany each phase in the day. Cappuccinos are for the morning, as a part of a light breakfast with maybe a pastry or toast and marmalade on the side. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, with a pasta dish followed by a fish or meat dish and later an espresso to help digest the large meal. You have to relax after lunch, and during this period between lunch and dinner, multiple caffes (espressos) are highly encouraged. Dinner tends to be a light meal of vegetables, salad, meat or fish, unless you didn't have a large lunch. At no point after breakfast is milk ingested and if you order a cappuccino at a bar after 12, you will be looked at with concern because how will you digest milk after lunch?!?
- Eat outside of the tourist center
This is a pretty general tip that most people know, but eating outside of the tourist center is the best way to find great food in Rome. As with any tourist destination, Rome has its share of restaurants taking advantage of people who don't know any better. Food in the center tends to be of lower quality and double the price as food elsewhere. This also goes for coffee and gelato. Even better than heading outside of the city center is to exit the city entirely and find a small town outside of Rome. If you have the time and ability to rent a car or take a train outside of Rome, the restaurants and food in the small towns of Lazio are incredible.
- You have to ask for the check
Many travelers come to Italy, enjoy a nice meal, and then sit around waiting for a check to be brought to their table. Unlike in the other countries, it's considered a sign of rudeness to rush people out of the restaurant and customers are allowed to relax after their meal with a post-dinner drink or coffee for as long as they like. If you want to leave, you have to ask your waiter for the check ("Posso avere il conto, per favore") or signal with your hands that you're ready to leave.
- Tipping: welcome but not necessary
As in other European countries, tipping is not required in Italian restaurants. Waiters and waitresses are paid full salaries (though much lower than many people consider fair) and do not expect to be given a tip. However, it is common for Italians to leave their leftover change or a couple of euros on the table for the staff. Leaving up to 5 euros will make your waiter very happy and helps to supplement their small salary. Keep in mind that if a service charge of 5-10% is included, you should not leave any extra.
- False friends in English and Italian
Certain words seem to be pretty simple to understand in Italian. If you want pizza, spaghetti, or pasta, you can easily make yourself understood. But there are a few words that are a mistake to use in Italy and you have to be careful of them.
If you order a pepperoni pizza, you will receive a pizza with bell peppers on top and some strange looks. If you want a pizza with American "pepperoni" you have to order a pizza margherita con salsiccia o salame (sausage or salami).
If you go to a bar and order a latte, you will receive a cup of milk, steamed if you're lucky. Latte literally means milk in Italian and to get an American latte you have to order a caffe latte or a cappuccino, both of which contain espresso and steamed milk.
Pecorino cheese is an Italian specialty and very delicious. If you mess up, however, and say that you would like some pecorina, you are asking for a specific sex position in Italian and would probably be laughed at by every Italian in the restaurant.
Finally, if you pronounce penne the wrong way, you could be asking for penis with sauce, rather than pasta with sauce. Penis is pene in Italian and to clarify that you do indeed want the pasta instead, you have to emphasis the "n" sound in the middle. Double letters in Italian are pronounced stronger than a single letter so penne sounds a bit like "pennnnay".
I've made many of these mistakes when ordering food in Italian and while it's definitely embarrassing, a little bit of practice beforehand can save you a lot of effort when you're trying to order dinner at a restaurant later. Has anyone else ever made a huge mistake when ordering food in Italian?