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CULTURE

17 ways your eating and drinking habits change when you live in Italy

People's habits change in subtle ways when they move abroad, and in food-obsessed Italy the changes are most obvious when it comes to eating and drinking.

17 ways your eating and drinking habits change when you live in Italy
Photo: DepositPhotos

When you first move it’s likely you’ll still be craving foods from home or (if you’re like me) pouring milk into your tea for some time. But sooner or later you’ll find you’ve ditched your old ways and adopted Italian-style dining habits.

Here are just some of the ways your eating and drinking habits might change in Italy – depending on how resistant you are.

Eating better quality food

The biggest and most obvious change for most people is that you’ll be eating high-quality, fresh produce pretty much all the time, whether you eat at restaurants or cook at home.

Fresh food markets are common in Italy, so it’s easy enough to get hold of the best ingredients yourself. But even if you stuff your face with pizza and gelato, there’s a good chance even that will be handmade with fresh ingredients.

Who needs supermarkets? Photo: Clare Speak/The Local

Drinking tea without milk

If, like many of us Brits, you’re used to drinking big mugs of strong black tea with plenty of milk and sugar, you might think you’ll never be able to live without a proper brew. But once you’ve been in Italy for a few months/years (delete as appropriate for you) you might be surprised to find yourself turning your nose up at the very idea of putting milk in your tea – or just drinking coffee instead.

Forget about spicy foods

Lovers of chilli and all things hot and spicy won’t have much luck in Italy. Unless you’re in Calabria, the home of spicy ‘nduja, you can forget it. Those of us who love an Indian curry (or any other sort of international cuisine) will have to take time to hunt one down.

And you’ll probably also need to ask the waiter to spice things up (più piccante per favore) as dishes are toned down to appeal to Italian palates.

READ ALSO: Good curry in Italy? It exists, and it’s in Florence

No more heavy drinking

Despite moving to the land of aperitivo and endless varieties of (very affordable) wine, it’s time to put your binge-drinking ways behind you and become more civilised. At least if you’re from a country where big nights out are the norm. You’ll probably have a tipple a lot more often, including at lunch, but you’ll stop drinking until you drop on a Saturday night. (If you do, you’ll be the only one – drunk Italians are a rare sight.)

Warning: this one may take a long time to get used to.

Leave some for other people. Photo: Depositphotos

Eating a proper lunch

The two-hour lunch may be in decline in (some) Italian cities, but it’s far from a thing of the past. Taking time to eat lunch, or any meal, “properly” is paramount – you won’t find anyone here scarfing a sandwich at their desk.

Italian state employees also get food vouchers which can be used at restaurants or supermarkets, and some workplaces have full kitchens where employees can cook and eat together.

Nothing but wine (and water) with meals

You might be used to having a beer, soda, or something else with your lunch, but that’s all about to change if you’re moving to Italy. Here instead water is essential with every meal, and wine is practically seen as a condiment, essential to the enjoyment of food.

The excepton is pizza, which you can drink beer with.

Photo: Depositphotos

Eating offal

Ever thought you’d find yourself eating a tripe sandwich – and enjoying it? What about kidneys, or fried brains?

These dishes might not be on the menu at Italian restaurants abroad, but in Italy they’re very traditional and still popular today. particularly in areas like Tuscany. You’ll know Italy is truly your home when you start choosing offal at restaurants.

Eating a sugary breakfast

One of the strangest (and unhealthiest) things about life in Italy is the fact that you often can’t get anything for breakfast but cake. While this seems like heaven on earth when you’re on holiday, it quickly gets old when you live here and have to go to work – or think about the effect on your health. (Other popular Italian breakfast options seem to be sugary cereals, biscotti swimming in a big bowl of warm milk, or just coffee and a cigarette.)

Once you start ditching your once-healthy (or at least substantial) breakfasts for a quick sugar hit, you’ll know you’ve really gone native.

READ ALSO: Seven reasons why living in Italy can be bad for your health

Loving fruit and veg

One of the biggest myths about Italian food is that it’s all about pizza, pasta, and cheese. I mean, it is about those things, but you’ll also eat a huge amount of fruit and vegetables – all of it seasonal and locally grown. And delicious, especially if you’re used to it tasting mostly of water.

Even if you rarely touched fruit before moving to Italy you’ll soon find yourself dreaming of fresh fig season and going on about the tomatoes. They really do taste that good.

Photo: AFP

Dessert is a must

Even if it’s just a piece of fruit, there’s always something sweet to finish even the simplest meal. While back home dessert is seen as a bit of a treat, here it’s just standard – and soon you won’t be able to do without dessert.

Knowing all the food rules

Italy famously has quite a few food rules which foreigners inevitably get wrong. It’s not our fault – the rules just don’t make any sense to us, at least at first. Why can’t you put cheese on seafood pasta, or have meatballs and spaghetti on the same plate? And what’s wrong with salad as a starter?

The truth is that not all Italians follow these unwritten rules at home. But it’s good to know that asking for grated cheese on your seafood linguine in a restaurant won’t go down well.

Even if you thought they were nonsensical to begin wth, sooner or later you’ll be following all the rules yourself without thinking – and giving the side-eye to people who get them wrong.

READ ALSO: Ten ‘Italian’ dishes that don’t actually exist in Italy

 

Enjoying rare meat

Maybe you used to insist on having your steak well done back home, but Italian chefs wouldn’t do such a thing to their prized cuts of prime beef. Asking them to might cause serious offence.

But once you get used to having your steak cooked “properly” (pink in the middle, at the very least) you’ll never be able to go back.

Smothering food in oil and cheese

In Italy, those concerns we have in western countries about fats and oils just don’t even register.

I’m always being encouraged to pour more olive oil on my food, and to cover it in a snowdrift of grated parmesan. For the taste, of course, but also because both foods are believed to be full of health-giving properties – and your 90-year-old nonna probably swears by it.

It’s hard to prove whether this is really true or not, but since moving to Italy I’ve definitely relaxed my attitude towards fatty foods.

As for low-calorie cooking sprays – what are those? They’re hugely popular in some countries, but most Italians I know would dismiss such a thing as unnatural, flavourless, and overpriced. Why would you bother with that when you’ve got ten litres of homemade olive oil stored in the basement?

Photo: Depositphotos

Eating isn’t cheating

Back home in the UK, a (proper) night out doesn’t include eating – a rule which is so elegantly summed up in the phrase “eating is cheating”.

But in Italy, this would never happen in a million years. Bars always offer you a few little snacks (stuzzichini) with your drink: usually crisps and olives at least. Aperitivo “hour” involves a full-on hot buffet. Nope, there’s no danger of that spritz going to your head.

 

Say goodbye to fast food

While McDonalds does exist in Italy, I’m yet to meet an Italian who has anything less than a scathing opinion of it. Ready meals and pre-prepared foods in supermarkets are scarce. And you can forget about ordering a late-night takeaway, too.

As far as most Italians are concerned, take-out food is pizza – and that’s it. And everyone knows pizza is best right out of the oven, and sweats in the box, so why not just go to the pizzeria down the street?

And we’re talking about the fresh, handmade article, of course. The sight of the oily, cheese-laden version you can get in other countries could reduce many an Italian to tears.

After some time in Italy, you too will no doubt find the very idea of greasy takeaways revolting.

Photo: Depositphotos.

Coffee after dinner

While you might previously have avoided drinking coffee after dinner, thinking it would ruin a good night’s sleep, it won’t be long before you’re ordering a caffe after every meal. Dinner just won’t be the same without that delicious little shot of caffeine. (But not a cappuccino, of course – you’re not a heathen.)

No more filling your wine glass to the top

While it might not seem like a bad thing to slurp from a glass of wine that’s full to the brim at home, in Italy it’s a big no-no. So take your time, there’s plenty of wine to go around.

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CULTURE

Why Italy’s All Saints and All Souls days have nothing to do with Halloween

Spooky traditions haven’t really caught on in Italy where strong Catholic beliefs mean the country has its own way of honoring the dead, says Silvia Marchetti.

Why Italy’s All Saints and All Souls days have nothing to do with Halloween

Many Italians gathered last night to celebrate Halloween dressed as ghosts, witches, skeletons and zombies. Hotels, restaurants and pubs organised Halloween-themed events with spooky decor and music.

Each year I’m shocked by how Halloween penetrates Italian culture even though it’s a foreign import from Anglo-Saxon countries.

The real Italian festivities this week are All Saints’ Day (Ognissanti) celebrated on November 1st to remember all saints and martyrs during Christian history, and Il Giorno dei Morti o dei Defunti on November 2nd (the Day of the Dead, known elsewhere as All Souls’ Day) to commemorate the beloved deceased ones, mainly family members but also close friends.

While November 1st is a public holiday (and many Italians exploit it as an excuse for a ponte, a long weekend), November 2nd is a working day.

The entire week preceding All Saints’ Day sees cars queuing up to go to the cemetery, people rush to bring flowers and a few prayers to the tombs of deceased loved ones, and streets are often jammed.

For many Catholic Italians, it’s actually the only time of the year they remember to honor their dead, as if ‘imposed’ by their religion. A bit like going to mass on Sundays; if they fail to do so, they might feel guilty or even fear punishment from above. 

After spending an hour or so at the graveyards – places Italians usually tend to avoid – on All Saints Day, after the spiritual duties are accomplished, they might gather for lunch, bringing cakes and pastries.

People in Italy bring flowers to their loved ones’ graves on All Saints’ Day. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

In some southern regions so-called ossa di morto (bones of the dead) pumpkin-filled biscuits and raisin pan dei morti (bread of the dead) are bought, while in the north chestnut pies are baked. 

Ognissanti is a very private event that usually involves little or restricted get-togethers, brothers and close relatives share the graveyard trip but then each goes back home, with little feasting on fine food. 

Catholics don’t have any macabre ritual involving leaving an empty place at the table for a spirit to join us. It is a moment of sadness but also of joy because our dead loved ones have ascended to heaven and are all there waiting for us. It’s the celebration of love, rebirth over doom, and the promise of a future reunion with them in heaven. 

That is why November 1st and November 2nd in Italy really have nothing to do with Halloween, which I call the ‘culture of the grave’ and the celebration of ‘scary death as an end to itself’. 

Even though they may partake in Halloween as a mere consumeristic party, Italians are mainly Catholic and believers do not believe in the darkness of the night, in the damnation of the grave, in being haunted by wicked spirits who long to take vengeance on us, in witches flying on broomsticks and terrifying zombies coming out of tombs. 

Pumpkin is something we occasionally eat as a pasta filling; it’s certainly not a decorative spooky element.

Halloween, which in my view is imbued with paganism and the Protestant belief in an evil superior being and naughty spirits ready to strike down on sinners instead of forgiving them, is celebrated in Italy but lacks a religious or spiritual nature. It’s like the Chinese celebrating Christmas for the sake of buying gifts and acting western. 

Halloween deeply affected my childhood. I’m Roman Catholic and I attended Anglo-American schools abroad where Catholics were a minority and each year I drove my mom crazy by forcing her to sew me a ghost or witch dress. She’d take a bed blanket and cut open three holes for the eyes and nose, annoyed that I should be influenced by a celebration that was not part of my tradition. 

In elementary and middle school my foreign teachers would make us decorate classrooms with spooky drawings, bake skeleton-themed biscuits for trick-or-treating, and tell us ghost stories in the dark to create an eerie vibe. 

Once we were also taken to visit a cemetery and when I told my dad about it he got annoyed and did all sorts of superstitious gestures to ward off evil. 

Halloween has always freaked me out but I did not want to miss out on the ‘fun’ for fear of being looked down upon by other kids. And so I too started believing in vampires, zombies, and ghosts, particularly at night when I was alone in my bed and had to turn on the light. Still today, and I am much, much older, I have a recurring nightmare of an ugly evil witch who torments me and chases me up the staircase.

I soon learned that if for Anglo-Saxons a trip to the graveyard is a jolly event, like a stroll in the park, and ‘graveyard tourism’ is on the rise, for Catholic Italians it is a place accessible only during funerals, moments of prayer, or during the week of All Saints and All Souls days. 

Last time I visited Ireland the guide took us to a monumental graveyard with tombs as high as cars, and lavishly decorated. A few of my Italian male friends refused to enter and spent the whole day scratching their genitals to ward off jinx.

Halloween night is said to be when the barrier between the worlds of ghosts and humans comes down. But Italians don’t usually like to ‘party’ and mingle with the dead or other spirits. We instead honor the deceased with our prayers but the boundary remains firm in place: in fact, this is why our graveyards are placed outside of city centres. 

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