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Facts About Italian Food

Part 1

1.  Food is a very important topic in Italy!

There is a well-known Italian saying - 'l'appetito vien' mangiando.'  This literally means: appetite comes by eating.   In other words, even if you aren't feeling hungry, just by eating something tasty your appetite will increase and you will want to eat!


2.  In Italy, the main meal of the day is at lunchtime.  The word for 'the lunch ' is il pranzo.  On the table there will be il pane - bread, l'acqua - water, il vino - wine.

An Italian meal begins with l'antipasto: this is a selection of appetisers available on the table whilst you wait for the food to arrive, such as olives, cheese and salami, followed by -
il primo piatto (the first course) which is pasta or minestrone, then -
il secondo piatto (the main course) which can include carne (meat) or pesce (fish) with insalata (salad) or verdure (vegetables).

Next, there is la frutta (fruit) and / or  un dolce (a dessert).

Finally there is espresso coffee and perhaps un liquore - a liqueur.


3.  Before eating a meal, Italians say 'Buon appetito!' to each other.  This is wishing everyone a good appetite so that they will enjoy their meal.

4.  There are many types of Italian bread.  The most well-known ones are la focaccia and la ciabatta.   
The word ciabatta actually means 'slipper' because of its shape.  This is the bread used in hot sandwiches known as 'panini.'

In Italy, it is expected to eat with bread by dipping it into the food and any sauce on your plate.  To do this is called - fare la scarpetta.

5.  Italians only drink milky coffee, like il cappuccino and il caffellatte, first thing in the morning for breakfast.  It is served in a large cup called una scodella.

The word for 'the breakfast' is la prima colazione for which it is normal to dunk pastries and biscuits into the milky coffee.  You can also make a breakfast 'soup' - una zuppa - by crushing your biscuits into la scodella and eating the mashed mixture with a spoon. 

6.  At the end of a meal, or simply on its own, the coffee that is drunk is called espresso.  It is served in a very small cup called una tazzina.  An Italian coffee-making machine is called una caffettiera.   A cup of espresso coffee with a little bit of frothed milk on top is called il caffè macchiato - literally meaning 'stained coffee.'  It is 'stained' by the milk.


Above is a photo of il caffè macchiato and of una caffettiera moka which was an invention of Alfonso Bialetti in 1933.  This is the traditional Italian coffee-machine found in every Italian home!

7.   Italians eat many things that may be considered unusual in other countries, for example, snails, horse, donkey, goat, rabbit and hare, wild boar, sea urchin, sea snails, octopus, squid, peacock, ostrich.......and much more!   You can find out more about foods eaten in Italy in the Scary Restaurant!

There is an Italian saying:  Tutti i gusti sono gusti.   Literally, this means 'All tastes are tastes' therefore all tastes should be respected.

8.  Here are the names of some foods:

Trifle is called la zuppa inglese - literally, it means 'the English soup'.
Swiss roll is il salame farcito -  literally, it means 'the stuffed sausage'.
Plain sponge cake is il pan di Spagna - it means 'the Spanish bread'.
Fruit salad is la macedonia di frutta.
Seafood is i frutti di mare - fruits of the sea.

The dessert called il tiramisù actually means the 'pick me up.' 
The Italian dish called il saltimbocca (slices of veal rolled up with ham and sage) actually means the 'jumps into mouth.'

9.  The pizza was invented in Naples during the 18th century.  Originally, it was just a dry, flat bread and was considered food for poor people.

During a tour of her country in 1889, Queen Margherita of Italy tried some of the flat bread.  She liked it so much that she ordered her chef to prepare various types of pizza for her.  He decided to make a pizza containing the three colours of the Italian flag with:
la mozzarella  (
il pomodoro / tomato  (
il basilico / basil (verde-green). 

He named the tricolour pizza in her honour - la pizza Margherita.   It became one of her favourite foods and nowadays it is enjoyed all over the world!

Below: la Regina Margherita - Queen Margherita

Margherita Pizza

Mi piace la pizza!

Italian food ingredients forming the ita

10.  At Christmas - Natale, Italians eat a special bread-cake called il panettone. 

On the 1st. of January, Italians eat lentils - le lenticchie - for good luck in the new year.

At Easter, they eat a special bread-cake in the shape of a dove.  It is called la colomba. 

11.  Pasta is the most important food in Italy.  Literally, it means 'paste' because it is a paste of water, flour and sometimes egg.  It can be either 'dried' or 'fresh.'   Dried pasta is called la pastasciutta and freshly made pasta is called la pasta fresca.   You can read more facts about pasta here.

There are hundreds of different shapes and types of pasta.  Pasta dishes are normally eaten as a first course (un primo piatto).

Here are some pasta shapes and the meanings of their names:
farfalle = butterflies
penne = quills / pens
fusilli = spindles
spaghetti = little strings
capellini = little hairs
capelli d'angelo = angel hair
cappelletti = little hats
vermicelli = little worms
conchiglie = shells
tortellini = little pies
fettucine = little slices
tagliatelle - cuttings

Fresh Homemade Pasta

12.  Before the existence of pasta factories, people made their own pasta and would hang it outside to dry.  Below is a photo of people in Palermo, Sicily, hanging out spaghetti to dry.


Photograph: 'Palermo. Fabbrica di maccheroni' by Giorgio Sommer, 1834-1914.

13.  The Agnesi family opened the very first pasta factory near Genova in 1824.   A few years later, the Buitoni family opened their pasta factory.  Both companies still exist today!

14.  There is a belief that the long pasta known as 'tagliatelle' was created in 1502 by a chef in honour of Lucrezia Borgia's long blond hair.  Lucrezia lived from 1480 till 1519.  She was also known as Lucrezia d'Este and she was Duchess of the town of Ferrara.


15.  There are different types of premises serving food in Italy.  For example:
Ristorante - serves all foods but not pizza.
Trattoria - serves all foods but not pizza. This is an 'informal' restaurant where you may be expected to share your table with strangers.
Pizzeria - specialises in pizza.
Agriturismo - a restaurant on a farm, serving home-produced food.
Tavola calda - self-service restaurant, literally meaning 'hot table.'
Rosticceria - a 'take-away' serving roast meat, especially chicken.
Paninoteca - a sandwich shop bar.
Spaghetteria - specialises in pasta.

Often, an eating place is a combination of categories, for example:
Ristorante-Pizzeria,  Bar-Paninoteca,  Bar-Pizzeria, etc.....

16.  On the dining table in Italian homes there is always water, wine and bread.   It is usual to have a tablecloth - una tovaglia.  An Italian superstition is not to place bread upside-down on the table as it is considered to bring bad luck!  It is also considered unlucky to spill salt or oil or to have thirteen people sitting at the dinner table.    More Italian superstitions can be seen here.

Here is some vocabulary:  il vino bianco - white wine     il vino rosso - red wine     il vino rosato - rosé wine
il pane - bread    l'acqua - water    l'olio - the oil        il sale - the salt


17.  Italy produces famous liqueurs, often made from herbs and fruits and sometimes prepared with secret recipes from hundreds of years ago!  Some of the most well-known ones are:
Limoncello - made from lemon zest.  It is often made at home.

Frangelico - made from hazelnuts.  It has a very interesting bottle in the shape of a monk who is dressed with a rope tied around his waist.  According to the legend, it was a monk called Fra Angelico who first prepared this liqueur.


Una bottiglia di Frangelico

Strega - made from herbs.  Its name means 'witch' because it is prepared in the town of Benevento which is famous for its history of witches!  It is yellow in colour because saffron - lo zafferano - is added.

Amaretto - made from bitter almonds.  Its name actually means 'a little bitter' and it was first prepared in the town of Saronno.  For that reason, the amaretto considered the best is the one produced in the original town and it is called Amaretto Disaronno.

18.   Tomatoes - i pomodori - are used extensively in Italian cookery.  They make the basic tomato sauce that coats pasta.   This sauce is called il sugo di pomodoro.  The tinned plum tomatoes that make the sauce are called i pomodori pelati.  There is always a large pan of this basic tomato sauce in Italian homes!  It is used daily with pasta and it is also added to other dishes such as meat or fish stews and vegetable dishes. 

Another way to use tomatoes is by drying them.  They are sliced in half and laid out on trays under the hot sun for approximately one week.  They are covered at night time though, in order to protect them from any humidity.  These are called i pomodori secchi - sun-dried tomatoes.   


19.   La mozzarella is an unripened cheese made from the milk of buffalo.  Its full name is la mozzarella di bufala.  It is most commonly formed into the shape of a ball but can also be found in the shape of cherry-sized balls known as ciliegine (little cherries).  La mozzarella is kept in a liquid of whey and brine in order to keep it fresh.

It is produced in the Campania region of southern Italy.  In this area, the land is damp and the buffaloes were found to be good at walking on the marshy fields because of their big hooves.  They were used for pulling the ploughs.

The production of la mozzarella di bufala is very important in Italy.  It is a product that is sold all over the world but in order to be considered 'genuine' it has to be produced in the area of Campania,  be made with buffalo milk and made with milk that is no older than 48 hours.


La mozzarella that is produced according to the traditional methods has a special protected status called la denominazione di origine protetta or DOP for short.  This label confirms that the product has been produced in the required traditional manner and is of the highest quality.

La mozzarella 'melts' and becomes very 'elastic' when it is heated.  Cheese that melts and forms 'elastic strings' when it is heated is called il formaggio filante.   

La mozzarella is used on the top of pizzas - le pizze - and in other hot dishes such as baked pasta - la pasta al forno - and baked, layered dish of aubergines - le melanzane alla parmigiana.  

Salad Caprese

Fresh mozzarella is used in a salad called l'insalata caprese. The word 'caprese' means 'from Capri'.  The Italian island of Capri is where the recipe comes from.

The salad is a simple combination of:
1. Fresh, sliced
2. F
resh, sliced tomatoes  - i pomodori freschi,
3. Basil leaves - 
il basilico
4. A drizzling of olive oil  - l'olio di oliva.      

Buon appetito! 
Photo:  l'insalata caprese.

19a.   In addition to the salad above, the island of Capri is also famous for a cake called la torta caprese.  This cake is gluten-free (senza glutine).  It is made from ground almonds and chocolate.  It is believed that this recipe is the result of a mistake!  Around the year 1920, a chef called Carmine del Fiore was preparing a cake but he forgot to add flour!  When he tasted the already-baked cake, he found it was delicious even though the flour was missing.  A new recipe was born! 

20.   The regions of Modena and Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy are famous for producing balsamic vinegar.  This is called l'aceto balsamico in Italian.  It is made from grape must - mosto (a crushed mixture of grape juice, seeds and skins) and it is a very dark brown colour.   

The genuine, traditionally-made vinegar must be created with local grapes -Trebbiano and Lambrusco.  The product must be aged in wooden barrels for at least 12 years!  The best balsamic vinegar is called extravecchio (extra old) because it has been aged in barrels for over 25 years!   The traditionally-produced and therefore best balsamic vinegar will be labelled DOPDenominazione di Origine Protetta.  


Due bottiglie di aceto balsamico tradizionale, DOP

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