Eating in Italy

How Italians eat

Eating in Italy

Here's a quick guide on Italian eating habits

Breakfast (7.00 – 11.00)

This is always a light meal. May consist of a cappuccino or coffe & brioche (type of croissant) at a bar (often standing up) or coffee and biscuits and possibly a piece of fruit at home.The brioche can be plain ( liscia), filled with jam ( con marmellata) or confectioners custard ( con crema), even occasionally with chocolate ( con cioccolata).

Note: For Italians cappuccino is a breakfast drink and most do not drink it after 11 am. As a foreigner though you can do what you like!

Lunch (12.30 – 14.00 in the north, 13.30-14.30 South )

Antipasti (starters) light starters typically salumi (cold hams, salami)

Primo piatto (1st course) usually rice ( risotto) or pasta (or, more rarely, soup)

Secondo piatto (2nd course) meat or fish

Contorni (side dish) vegetables ( vedure) or salad ( insalata)

Needs to be ordered separately

Dolce (desert) includes cakes, ice creams etc but very

Often seasonal fresh fruit

Caffé espresso

During the week most Italians will eat at least a primo and secondo piatto and probably fruit as well.

For a special lunch all the above will be eaten.

For a very quick snack on the run, they will have a panino (filled roll) at the bar. Typical fillings are mozzarella cheese and pomodori (tomatoes) called "caprese" or prosciutto cotto (cooked ham) or prosciutto crudo (raw ham).

Merenda (16.00) snack for children (bread, fruit, yoghurt, or ice-cream)

Dinner (20.00 – 22.00)

Depending on the person, dinner may be a lighter meal e.g. salad or either il primo or il secondo piatto. Many Italians (especially if eating out) will have the full works again.Going out for a pizza to a pizzeria (where else?) is also very popular. Many places deliver or do carry out.


Bars are wonderful places. Usually open from 7.30, they serve breakfast in the morning, panini at lunch, ice creams mid afternoon, aperativi early evening and of course café throughout the day. Many are also sell cakes ( pasticceria).If it is also a tabaccheria it will sell stamps, telephone cards, bus tickets, parking, car tax, lottery tickets.

When ordering to eat at a busy bar, you usually have to pay for what you want at the till ( cassa) first, then take the receipt and repeat your order to the barman.If the bar is quiet and you are known there the barman may take your order and you pay at the end. There is no hard and fast rule on which you do – watch what the locals are doing!

By Helen Burgess, Insight Italy
Relocation and integration services 

Further reading

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