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ITALIAN FOOD

Seven surprising Italian food rules foreigners fall foul of

One of the things foreigners like most about Italy is the cuisine. But proceed with caution – there are some fairly rigid rules about what can be eaten and when. Break them at your peril.

Seven surprising Italian food rules foreigners fall foul of
Cheese on seafood pasta? Sacrilege! Photo: Ben Sutherland/Flickr

No cheese on your main course

When in Italy, the overwhelming urge to gorge yourself on Parmigiano Reggiano and the country’s other famous cheeses can be difficult to resist. But be careful.

I recently sparked bedlam at a food stand in Rome after spooning grated cheese from a dish over a hearty plate of beef stew. A public shaming ensued.

Ma che cafone!” yelled a stranger pointing at me. Translation: “What an oaf!”

Ask an expert: ‘What’s the difference between Italy’s Parmigiano Reggiano and parmesan cheese?’

What followed was a five minute exposition of why Parmigiano Reggiano does not go on your secondo – main course – from the stand’s owner and various customers.

Apparently the hard cheese’s famous flavour can easily overwhelm certain dishes and its use should be limited to pasta and risotto – but even then, there are other rules.

No cheese with seafood risotto or pasta

In much the same way you should never put grated cheese on your main course, you must also never add it to risotto or pasta dishes that are made with seafood.

The general thinking is – much the same as the main course rule above – that the strong cheese flavour will overwhelm the delicate taste of the fish.

Interestingly, most pizzerias still offer cheesy seafood pizzas, which can be eaten without fear of rebuke.

No cappuccino or caffé latte after midday

Nothing makes you look more like a tourist than ordering a long, milky coffee past a certain hour, generally regarded to be midday.

Why is midday the arbitrary cut off point? Well, cappuccino and caffé latte are generally viewed as breakfast drinks and are considered too voluminous, which can’t be enjoyed immediately before or after lunch.

READ ALSO: The common Italian food myths you need to stop believing

After midday, order yourself an espresso – or if you insist on adding milk, make it a caffé macchiato: that’s an espresso topped off with a tiny head of frothed milk.

No hot drinks with food

While we’re on the subject, tea and coffee are never drunk with a meal.

While in the UK, you might go into a ‘greasy spoon’ café and get a mug of tea with your fried breakfast, and in America a coffee with your apple pie at the diner is par for the course – but in Italy it’s not the done thing. At all. Order them at the end!

Tea drinkers be warned: whenever you order a tea in Italy, it may be served with lemon, but not milk. Italians – like most Europeans – generally find the British fixation with milky tea bizarre.

No walking and eating

Although in some countries the practice of walking and eating is commonplace, in Italy it’s a little bit taboo and almost always wrong. Indeed, the county’s famous slow food culture revolves around sociable sit-down dinners.

Even legendary street foods, such as Sicillian panelle (chickpea fritters) or Roman supplì (deep-fried rice balls ) are not eaten on the go – although they can be eaten standing up if a convenient sitting spot can’t be found.

READ ALSO: The ten ‘unbreakable’ rules for making real Italian pasta alla carbonara

There is one notable exception: gelato. One of the most enjoyable (and socially acceptable) ways to eat Italy’s famous ice-cream is during your evening stroll or passeggiata.

Photo: Tommaso Pecchioli/Unsplash

No salad as a starter

In what is a fairly steadfast rule, leafy salads are eaten last in Italy – not as a side dish or starter.

Salads are almost exclusively dressed with olive oil and vinegar and their position in last place is because they are thought to cleanse the palate and aid digestion.

One of the few exceptions is a crispy Roman salad of puntarelle, dressed in anchovies and olive oil, which is usually served as a starter.

No colourful foods when ill

Every culture has its own ideas about what to eat when ill.

Some swear by energy drinks, others by chicken soup, and bedouins heal themselves with camel’s milk.

Italians opt for ‘eating white’ or ‘mangiare in bianco‘ a practice which involves eating bowls of sauce-less spaghetti and white rice.

The idea is that these foods are less challenging for the body to digest. Without taxing your digestion you will have the energy needed to fight off what’s ailing you.

If you want some flavour you can season the bland dish with olive oil and mercifully, the rules even permit some Parmesan. 

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CRIME

REVEALED: The cities in Italy with the highest crime rates

From robbery and vehicle theft to cyber fraud and blackmail, where are you most likely to be a victim of crime in Italy? Here are the country’s latest crime figures.

REVEALED: The cities in Italy with the highest crime rates

While Italy is among the safest countries in the world – it ranked 32nd out of 163 in the latest Global Peace Index by the Institute for Economics and Peace – crime is a concern in many parts of the boot, especially in big cities. 

Milan is by far the Italian city with the highest crime rate, according to data from Italy’s Department of Public Security collated in a report by financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

Altogether, as many as 193,700 crimes were reported in the city in 2021 – that’s nearly 6,000 reported crimes for every 100,000 residents. 

But while Milan takes the unenviable title of Italy’s ‘crime capital’, things aren’t much better in other major cities as Turin (3rd overall), Bologna (4th), Rome (5th), Florence (7th) and Naples (10th) all figure in the top 10. 

Italy's crime map in 2021

Milan is Italy’s ‘crime capital’, followed by Rimini and Turin. Image: Il Sole 24 Ore

The top of the table is completed by smaller and, perhaps, slightly unassuming Italian cities, namely Rimini (2nd), Imperia (6th), Prato (8th) and Livorno (9th).

READ ALSO: What happens when a foreign national gets arrested in Italy?

That said, while the overall crime rate ranking shows us Italy’s crime hotspots, it doesn’t provide any insight into the types of offences committed, which is why it is worth looking into single-offence rankings. 

For instance, Milan, Rimini and Rome are the top Italian cities when it comes to theft-related offences, with all three locations registering well over 2,000 reported thefts per 100,000 residents in 2021. 

Crime card for Rome, Italy

Italy’s capital city, Rome, has the fifth-highest crime rate in the country. Image: Il Sole 24 Ore

But while these cities remain the country’s overall theft capitals, other Italian cities seem to have their own ‘theft specialisation’. 

For example, Ravenna ranks first for home burglaries, while Naples and Barletta are first for motorcycle and car thefts respectively. 

As for other types of offences, the northern city of Trieste is first for sexual violence (as many as 25 reported crimes per 100,000 residents) and attempted murder, whereas Gorizia is the worst Italian city when it comes to cyber fraud and online scams. 

Finally, Biella ranks first for blackmail and extortion, while La Spezia is Italy’s ‘drug-dealing capital’.

Trieste's crime card, Italy

Trieste is the worst Italian city in terms of sexual violence offences. Image: Il Sole 24 Ore

Il Sole 24 Ore’s report however shows that Italy registered far fewer crimes in 2021 than it did in 2019, especially in big cities.

Notably, in Florence and Venice the number of reported crimes was down by 24.6 and 17.8 percent respectively.

READ ALSO: Rome shooting: What was behind attack that killed friend of Italy’s PM?

It should be pointed out, however, how the presence of Covid-related social restrictions throughout the first half of 2021 likely contributed in some measure to the overall drop in reported crime. 

It’s also worth noting that, in spite of such measures, some smaller Italian provinces still experienced significantly negative trends, with Piacenza, Isernia and Rieti all registering higher crime rates compared to 2019.

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