How do Italians eat spaghetti? The Local answers Google’s questions

How do Italians eat spaghetti? What do Italians eat for breakfast? In a series of articles, The Local answers some of the most common questions that appear when you start typing questions with "Italy" or "Italians" into the Google search engine.

A big bowl of spaghetti.
Which cutlery should you use with your pizza and pasta in Italy? Photo: Keriliwi on Unsplash

In this piece, we answer some of the most commonly googled questions about Italian food culture.

Read on to find out how Italians drink coffee, whether you need a fork to eat pizza in Italy, and whether you should tip in Italian restaurants…

How do Italians eat spaghetti?

According to the blog Roma gourmet, spaghetti or any other kind of long pasta should be eaten with a fork, and definitely not cut up into more manageable pieces with a knife.

In a sharp rejection of the technique demonstrated by Saoirse Ronan in the film Brooklyn, where Ronan’s character eats spaghetti with the Italian-American family of her love interest Tony, the blog’s authors say you also shouldn’t need the assistance of a spoon.

READ ALSO: Why is Italy called Italy?

Instead, if you want to eat spaghetti like an Italian, you should twirl your fork clockwise against your plate at an angle, picking up just a few strands to achieve a tidy ‘moderate bite’ that avoids leaving ‘slobbering threads’ hanging over the edge. Appetising.

full house eating GIF

What do Italians eat for breakfast?

As with all questions about food in Italy, the answer varies from region to region.

But as a general rule, Italians definitely tend to err on the sweet side for breakfast.

A common breakfast is a cornetto (if you’re in the centre-south) or brioche (if you’re in the north) that resembles a French croissant, but is much sweeter and denser, and is dusted with icing sugar and/or brushed with a glaze on top. 

READ ALSO: 15 things you’ll probably never get used to about living in Italy

The more indulgent variations are often filled with honey, jam, chocolate spread, or an almond frangipane or pistachio cream. Other popular breakfast options are crostata jam tarts or ciambelle donuts.

Sicilians will go one step further and have gelato in a brioche bun to start their day on a real sugar high.

Cornetti Cornetto Colazione Buongiorno Colazione Italiana Pappa Cappuccino GIF - Croissant Breakfast Italian Breakfast GIFs

Whichever region you’re in, you can’t have breakfast in Italy without a cappuccino; which brings us to our next question:

How do Italians drink coffee?

This question is deserving of a detailed article in its own right – but we can get a few basics out the way here.

Tourists and new arrivals to Italy are often dismayed to learn that it’s a faux pas to order a cappuccino in Italy after breakfast time.

READ ALSO: Seven surprising Italian food rules foreigners fall foul of

That’s because cappuccini mostly consist of milk, and so are considered a breakfast drink – a bit like how it would seem strange to order bowl of cereal after breakfast is over.

From this point in the day onwards, you should order an espresso or a caffe macchiato. Most Italians will knock back a quick shot at the coffee bar after lunch to keep their energy levels up.

The Simpsons GIF

After a dinner out, the waiter will usually offer you an espresso at the end to round off your meal. It’s common to have this with a shot of amaro liqueur or grappa, or in some southern regions, sweet limoncello, as an ammazzacaffè.

That all said, if you fancy a cappuccino beyond breakfast time, go ahead: these days most baristas will happily comply, understanding you’re a clueless foreigner who just has odd food habits.

Do Italians eat pizza with a fork?

Yes! Going to a pizzeria in Italy isn’t a fast food experience, but a nice night out.

Because it takes time and a lot of fuel to get a pizza oven up to the very high temperatures needed for that stretchy, elastic dough, many restaurants outside of tourist areas will only serve pizza in the evenings, judging that opening for a reduced lunch crowd isn’t worth it.

If you’re going for a sit down meal in the evening, it’s not really a finger food affair, and you’d look a bit uncouth tearing into your pizza with your bare hands.

READ ALSO: How to spot the Italian restaurants to avoid

However, if you’re ordering a couple of individual slices of pizza from a bakery to eat al volo, or on the fly, then it’s expected that you’ll eat with your fingers.

Similarly, if you’re going to one of the famous Naples establishments where most of the pizza is ordered to take away through a hole in the wall, it’s fine to eat by hand (after all, how are you going to use cutlery when you’re standing in the street).

But if you’re sat down in a restaurant, it’s generally expected you’ll use your knife and fork.

Do Italians tip?

A little – but Italy doesn’t have the tipping culture of the US, where a waiter might be dependant on your tip to make a decent living.

Most Italian restaurants will include a coperto (cover charge) of about two euros per person in your bill, so you’re already paying a bit extra for service.

If you really enjoyed your meal or want to thank your waiter, it’s a nice gesture of goodwill to leave another one or two euros on the table; and leaving anything more than this will definitely be appreciated.

But you won’t cause offence if you don’t leave anything, and it’s not expected that you will.

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Antipasto to amaro: What to expect from every step of an Italian dinner

Whether you're going out to dinner in Italy or have been invited to over to a friend or extended family member's home, here's what to expect from an Italian meal.

Antipasto to amaro: What to expect from every step of an Italian dinner

More humble and less fussy than French cuisine, Italy’s cucina povera (literally, ‘kitchen of the poor’) tradition employs minimal ingredients, prioritising fresh local produce over complex techniques.

But while it might not be as elaborate and formal as its Gallic counterpart, an Italian dinner is still traditionally a multi-course affair, often stretching over several leisurely hours and involving various stages.

If you’re invited into an Italian home for lunch or dinner, you’re likely to find it a fairly relaxed occasion that may include all or just some of the courses listed below – though you can expect it to be lengthy and copious.

As in many other countries, it’s polite in Italy to bring a bottle of wine or dessert to dinner in someone’s house; if in doubt, ask what your hosts would like.

Without further ado, here’s what you can expect from a full Italian dinner.


The antipasto (‘before-meal’) is the starter course.

Its remit is pretty broad, and might include anything from bruschetta to salad to a cheese or meat platter. If you’re in someone’s home, you might be served olives or savoury snacks such as taralli.

While you’ve probably heard of the tradition of the pre-dinner aperitivo drink and snack, this is separate from the dinner itself, and usually takes place in bars or cafes rather than in restaurants or homes.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What time do people eat dinner in Italy?

Primo piatto

A primo is a carb-based dish: almost always pasta, though it could also be risotto, gnocchi or polenta.

In line with the cucina povera, which describes the make-do cooking of poverty-stricken rural Italy in decades gone by, this dish serves to fill the diner up before moving on to a smaller (more expensive) protein course.

Because of this, while you might find small amounts of meat or fish in Italian primi in the form of guanciale in your carbonara or minced beef in your ragù sauce, you won’t be served large quantities of meat with your primo.

Polpette, or meatballs, are a separate second course, and you’ll never come across a chicken-based pasta dish in Italy.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why do Italians get so angry if you mess with classic recipes?

Secondo piatto

The secondo is, as its name suggests, your second main dish – usually meat or fish, though most restaurants will offer at least one vegetarian option in the form of something like an aubergine parmigiana.

If you want to round it out, you can order one or more contorni – side plates of salad or vegetables.

Italian restaurants will provide both primo and secondo options, but these days most places won’t expect you to order both, and it’s fine for one person to order a primo and the other a secondo to arrive at the same time.


Once the secondo is over, it’s time for dessert.

The type of dolce you’re offered will likely vary depending on region, but the list commonly includes cantucci biscuits to be dipped in vin santo dessert wine, panna cotta, a crostata tart, and, of course, tiramisù.

If you’ve got a hankering for gelato, you’re probably best off heading out to one of the many gelaterie that populate the piazzas and streets Italian towns, where you’ll have access to a wide range of flavours.

READ ALSO: The must-try foods from every region of Italy


Next comes the caffè, which in Italy is an espresso – definitely not a cappuccino or caffè latte, which are strictly breakfast drinks, though you might get away with asking for a splash of milk and making yours a caffè macchiato.

It might seem unwise to consume caffeine at the end of the evening, but you can always order a caffè decaffeinato (usually shortened to deca), and its effects are at any rate tempered by what follows:


At the very end of the night, you’ll likely be offered a bitter amaro liqueur or some other spirit-based digestivo (some restaurants will bring these for free along with the bill).

This could also be a distilled liquor grappa, or if you’re further south, a sweet limoncello.

Taken straight after or along with your coffee, these after-dinner drinks are known in Italy as an ammazzacaffè – literally, a coffee-killer, for its dampening effect on the caffeine.

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of an Italian meal! Now you just have to roll yourself off your chair or sofa and make your way home, where you’ll spend a good portion of the following day digesting your meal.