Dining out in Italy can be a pleasurable experience. This will probably be one of the first aspects of Italian culture you encounter here, especially if you are accompanied and are living in a hotel for the first few weeks after you arrive. Your sponsor will almost certainly take you to his or her favorite spot. If they don’t, ask them to do so.
Although authentic Italian cooking can be found in more and more places in the United States nowadays, you will find that what you get here is not what you get at most Italian restaurants in America. You will also find that there really is no such thing as “Italian food.” Instead, there is a great variety of regional styles – cooking in Milan is different, in general, from that of Bologna, Rome, Naples or Sicily. Many Americans think that Neapolitan cooking is some of the best Italy has to offer, and of course any Neapolitan will swear it is true.
In general, the cooking of the Naples and Gaeta regions features tomato-based sauces flavored with basil or oregano and the ever-present garlic, and like many other parts of Italy, seafood is a featured part of the cuisine. Many favorite Italian foods originated in Naples, such as pizza, spaghetti and parmigiana in addition to many varieties of local wines.
And, yes, there are several McDonald’s restaurants in Naples.
Types of Eating Places
There are several, distinctive types of places to eat in Naples, but the distinctions are blurring as U.S.-based lifestyles permeate Europe. The following are some terms you may see, and what they mean:
-Bar: This is usually not a U.S.-style bar, but rather a coffee shop or espresso bar. While you can buy beer, brandy or other alcoholic beverages at Italian bars, the central part of the bar is the espresso coffee machine. Bars are frequented throughout the day, but especially in the morning when they serve pastries to go with coffee. In bars, you must go to the cashier first, tell him or her what you want and pay for it (of course, you can look at what is offered before you go to the cashier). Then take the receipt to the counter and order, leaving a small tip (usually about €0.10) with your receipt. Most Italians eat and drink standing up at these places. Many places have tables and chairs, but sitting down is in effect saying you want waiter service and are willing to pay the extra charge for that service. If you do get the waiter service, it is also customary to leave a small tip for the waiter above the cost of food and drink.
-Pasticceria: Pastry shop. Many times they are connected to a coffee bar, but places listed as a pasticceria offer a wider selection of pastries. Many also serve other food besides pastries, such as varieties of sandwiches. Some places may even put “panini” (literally, “little breads”) on their signs and offer a larger selection. These are excellent places to get a quick, inexpensive snack or lunch. Again, you pay first, then order.
-Tavola Calda: Literally, “hot table.” The closest U.S. translation would be a “grill.” These are more elaborate than panini shops, featuring hot dishes. Some are small with only a few choices each day. You may select what you want from a glass-enclosed display. Most have a few tables where you can sit. Some have become so elaborate that they are like U.S. self-service cafeterias, although the word “caffetteria” in Italian literally means a shop that sells coffee.
-Rosticceria: A place selling rotisserie-cooked meats, most often whole chickens. In Italian, a “something-eria” usually means a place that sells that “something.” So, a polleria is a place that sells pollo (chicken). These places are great for getting an inexpensive, very tasty lunch or dinner. In the Naples and Gaeta regions, there are many such shops along the streets and highways selling chickens that have been roasted on a spit and basted with oil spiced with sage, marjoram and oregano.
-Pizzeria: A pizzeria serves Naples’ hallmark dish: pizza. Pizza was invented in Naples, but they are not the pizzas you typically find in the United States. They are usually individual size and come with a wide choice of toppings. Most pizzerias also sell other foods, and many other types of restaurants also advertise themselves as a pizzeria. For example, a place that calls itself a ristorante-pizzeria is telling you that, in addition to its full restaurant selections, they also serve pizza.
-Trattoria: A smaller, usually family-run restaurant with full waiter service. The menu is more limited, the decor usually less ornate and the prices usually lower than a full ristorante. These places are becoming rare, but can offer some of the best cooking available.
-Osteria: Open from late morning to late evening. Similar to a bar except they primarily serve wine & home-style-cooking. It’s a place where Italian men meet to chat or play cards and the women drop in for a quick cup of coffee.
-Agriturismo: Italian agritourism is an original form of tourism in the countryside that has developed in Italy over the last thirty years. It means a stay in the country, either in rooms, apartments, complete housing units or camping sites made available to guests. You will enjoy a country meal with simple organic ingredients grown, raised, made in the farm, which can sometimes also be highly refined. Often available are their homemade delicatessen and a wide variety of outdoor activities (walking, hiking, horseback riding, cycling, fishing, sports or simply sunbathing).
-Ristorante: A restaurant that offers a large selection of items on the menu and full waiter service. These range from small places to very large, ornate (and sometimes expensive) places. This is the highest form of eating establishment often with “atmosphere.” Reservations are strongly recommended. The reason is because the table will be most likely used for the entire evening. There is no fast turn over at the restaurants. Printed menus are common but not always available, especially in Trattorias & Osterias. When the menu is not printed, the waiter informs you of that day’s specials.
The Naples region has some specialty restaurants serving Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Brazilian and French cuisine, but relatively fewer than in large cities in the United States.
In many Italian Trattorie, you can get a low-cost house wine (white or red) in 1/4, 1/2, or one liter bottles. Local wines are part of the authentic Italian food experience.
Acqua gassata (pronounced “gasata”) or frizzante (“fritz-antay”) have bubbles, naturale does not. While tap water is safe to drink all over Italy, Italians usually drink bottled water because they prefer the taste (not because the restaurants are looking for an excuse to make you pay more). You can insist on tap water, but be aware that in most parts of Italy it is very hard (lots of calcium), and you may not like the flavor. In some facilities the local water is served in decanters and it is purified thru a filter system. Anywhere else, it can be difficult to get tap water brought to your table, but, if you want to try, ask for acqua del rubinetto.
Cover and Service Charges
In addition to the charges for the food and drinks, your bill (“il conto”) will usually include a coperto, a minimal (1-3 euro) amount listed separately on your bill, which covers charge for bread, linen, table settings, and dishwashing. There may also be a servizio, which is a charge for service that usually runs about 10 to 15 percent of the bill.
Sitting or Standing
At many/most bars you will be charged more if you occupy a table, even if you fetch your drinks/snacks from the bar yourself. The more desirable the location), the higher the price of a cup of coffee at a table. If you just want coffee, you can have it standing up at a little bar on a side street. If you want to rest your feet and enjoy the view, you will be charged for that.
Italians generally do not tip in restaurants, coffee bars, Trattorias, and Pizzerias. When dining at a restaurant in Italy you are not expected to leave a 15 or 20 percent tip as is customary in the United States, even if the prices that you see in restaurants or stores are the final price. You do not need to add any tax or tip.
The Italian Meal
This section applies to sit-down restaurants with waiter service. Eating in an Italian restaurant is different than in the United States. Quite apart from the differences in foods, there are also differences in customs and even in how the meal is arranged.
Generally the attitude in an Italian restaurant is that the table you occupy is yours for as long as you want – until closing if you desire. There is no sense of being hurried through a meal so someone else can use the table.
Also, mealtime in Italy is a social time, and diners take their time between courses to converse. To be a waiter in Italy is to be part of a respected profession. So, the waiters take pride in providing good service. However, they also respect the (expected) wishes of their clients and will not intrude on the socializing.
For some Americans, all these things combined give the impression that the service is bad. The waiters don’t hang around your table asking if everything is OK; you have to catch their eye to tell them you are ready to order another course, or need more bread or want the check. The service usually isn’t bad – it’s just different and keyed to the Italian pace of life.
Restaurants are very willing to accommodate and serve children, and you are likely to see several families eating when you are there. Most restaurants will bring extra plates so you can share your meal with your small children. Also, if you ask them, most are willing to serve the children “mignon” (small) portions or a “mezza porzione” (half portion).
Mealtimes in Italy are later than most Americans are used to. Lunch rarely starts before 1300, and 2000 is the normal operating time for restaurants to serve dinner. It is not uncommon for an Italian family in a restaurant to start dining at 2030 and leave the restaurant at 2230 or later.
The meal is also arranged in courses – things don’t arrive at once. The basic courses and order in which they arrive are as follows: antipasto (appetizer); primo (pasta); secondo (meat or fish – the main dish); contorni (vegetables or salad); fruit and/or cheese, dolci (dessert); and coffee and liqueurs. Wine, water and bread are available throughout the meal.
A main dish is only that – the food you ordered. If you order veal, for example, you’ll get a plate of veal. You won’t get a salad or potato or other vegetable; those you have to order separately.
Pasta dishes are usually described with two terms: the first describes the shape or style of the noodles and the second describes the sauce or way of preparing it. For example, the tomato and meat sauce most Americans call spaghetti is called spaghetti alla bolognese – spaghetti in the style of Bologna. Pasta is generally either boiled or baked with various ingredients. Italians cook their pasta “al dente” (to the tooth), cooking it shorter times than most Americans. This gives the pasta a chewy texture.
Nearly every restaurant makes their sauces a little differently than other restaurants. There are also regional differences, so these terms should be used as general guides to what you may actually get. Also, most places have a house specialty (“della casa”), which is usually worth trying, but you may have to ask what is in it (for example, if you are allergic to shellfish, you would certainly want to know if the house specialty has seafood in it). The sauces are in a variety of consistencies, some very rich and heavy, others delicate and thin. Italian cooks have experimented for centuries with the sauces that go well with particular pasta shapes. For example, a thin sauce with shellfish will be served with spaghetti or linguini, while heavier sauces will be served with fettucine or tagliatelle.
Pizzas in Naples have thin chewy crusts, and because they are usually cooked in a stone oven with wood coals, the edges and bottoms are sometimes scorched in places. The toppings tend to be thinner and usually have olive oil on them. So the flavor is not quite the same as U.S.-style pizza, but many Americans (and people of other nationalities) enjoy Neapolitan pizza very much.
Most pizzas come flat, about plate-sized. There is one version, however, called either ripieno or calzone, which is a pizza folded over the topping and then baked or fried to make a kind of stuffed pizza sandwich.
There are many different kinds of toppings with many different names, so you may have to ask what toppings a particular pizza actually has on it. There are so many choices around for you to enjoy. Check with your friends and colleagues for recommendations.
In addition to the charges for the food and drinks, your bill (“il conto”) will usually include a coperto, which is a cover charge for linen, dishwashing and bread. There may also be a servizio, which is a charge for service. When this is charged it usually runs 10 to 15 percent and covers service charges.
When dining at a restaurant in Italy you are not expected to leave a 15 or 20 percent tip as is customary in the United States, even if there is no servizio charge listed on your bill. Tipping in Italy is at a diner’s discretion. If you wish to leave a tip, it is customary to leave perhaps a euro for each person who dined (usually not to exceed 10 percent). Italians may or may not leave a tip at all.
Italian Food Terms
Some Food Basics
· Aceto: Vinegar
· Affogato: Poached
· Affumicato: Smoked
· Arrosto: Roasted
· Ben cotto: Well done
· Farcito: Stuffed
· Freddo: Cold
· Fritto: Fried, usually deep-fried
· Bollito: Boiled
· (alla) Brace: Cooked over live coals
· Brasato: Braised
· Caldo: Hot
· (alla) Griglia: Grilled
· Marinato: Marinated
· Olio: Oil
· Cartoccio: Cooked in a bag
· Cotto: Cooked
· Crudo: Raw
· (al) Ferri: “On iron;” grilled
· (al) Forno: Baked
· Passato: Pureed
· (a) Piacere: Of your choice
· Antipasti Italiani/Misti/ Assortiti: A plate of mixed items; usually includes several vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, etc., marinated, grilled or fried. It also usually includes olives, and small pieces of cheese.
· Bruschetta: Slice of bread oven-toasted with a topping of fresh diced tomatoes, garlic, oregano and other spices, and a dash of olive oil.
· Caprese/Insalata caprese: “In the Capri style.” Most often a salad with slices of fresh tomato layered with slices of mozzarella di bufala and topped with spices and olive oil.
· Caviale: Caviar
· Crocchette: Breaded and fried mashed potato dumplings.
· Insalata di pesce/di frutti di mare: A seafood salad containing boiled squid, octopus, mussels, clams, etc., usually served cold with a vinaigrette sauce.
· Melone: Melon, usually of the honeydew or cantaloupe type.
· Mozzarella: A soft, white cheese. In the Naples region, it may mean mozzarella di bufala, not the kind we are used to on pizzas in the United States. Mozzarella di bufala is made from the milk of water buffaloes, and is softer, higher in protein and tastes different. It is considered a great delicacy.
· Pizzetta: Small, fried light-dough dumplings, flavored with a variety of spices and sometimes filled.
· Prosciutto: Ham. When used alone, the word means thinly- sliced raw-cured ham. A delicacy. When a distinction is made between this and other varieties, it is called prosciutto crudo. Smoke-cured is prosciutto affumicato and cooked is called prosciutto cotto.
· Prosciutto e melone: Sliced ham and fresh melon.
· Prosciutto e mozzarella: Sliced ham and fresh white cheese.
· Salame: Seasoned and cured sausages, served without further cooking.
· Salsiccia: Sausages that need to be cooked before eating. These are usually listed in the meat section instead of the antipasti section of the menu.
· Seafood: Many types of shellfish also are available as antipasti, including clams and mussels. See the seafood section for translations.
Pasta dishes, Rice dishes (Pasta, Risotto)
· Cannelloni: Cylinders of pasta, stuffed and baked.
· Fusilli: Long, spiral-shaped twisted pasta.
· Gnocchi: Small dumplings, in the Naples region made of potato flour; in other areas they are shaped similarly but made of pasta dough.
· Lasagne: Flat, very wide noodles. Almost identical to lasagna noodles found in the United States.
· Orecchiette: Small, ear-shaped.
· Penne: Short tubes, cut on the slant to resemble quill pens.
· Ravioli: Small squares of pasta stuffed with various items.
· Tortellini: Small, round pastas filled and twisted into a doughnut shape.
Pasta and Risotto Sauces and Preparations
· Acciughe: “With anchovies.” Usually a sauce with mashed anchovies, garlic, olive oil and parsley, and sometimes tomatoes.
· Aglio e Olio: “Garlic and oil.” Served with hot oil and garlic. Sometimes also served e peperoncini — with small hot peppers.
· Amatriciana/Matriciana: In a sauce with bacon, olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, red peppers and onions.
· Arrabbiata: “Angry.” A tomato and herb sauce with small hot peppers (“peperoncini”) added, and sometimes spicy sausage or bacon. Can be quite hot.
· Besciamella: Bechamel, a white sauce of butter, flour and milk.
· Bolognese: “Bologna style.” The classic meat and tomato sauce most Americans are familiar with. Sometimes called al ragù.
· Boscaiola: “Woodsman’s style.” In Naples, a rich tomato sauce with ham, peas and mushrooms.
· Carbonara: “Coalman’s style.” Hot pasta is tossed with beaten eggs and cream and diced bacon; sometimes includes onions. Served with fresh grated parmesan cheese and pepper.
· Forno: Baked. Usually means a pasta and sauce baked as a dish. The best known such dish to Americans is lasagna al forno.
· Frutti di Mare: Shellfish (“fruit of the sea”). A thin sauce, either clear or with tomatoes, to which have been added clams, mussels, squid, shrimp, diced octopus, etc. Shellfish can be shelled, but most often come in the shells.
· Pescatore: “Fisherman’s style.” Like frutti di mare, but includes various types of fish meat.
· Pesto: Fresh basil leaves, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and pecorino cheese made into a paste.
· Pomodoro: Tomatoes. A tomato sauce with herbs, onions, garlic, etc., but no meat.
· Quattro Formaggi: “Four cheeses”; baked in or topped with a sauce of four different mild white cheeses such as provolone, fontina, etc.
· Siciliana: “Sicily style.” Usually including black olives, eggplants, sweet peppers and/or anchovies.
· Sorrentina: “Sorrento style.” Most often this refers to the type of gnocchi that is served with tomatoes and cheese. This is popular in the Naples area and throughout the Campania region.
· Vongole: With clams. Usually similar to frutti di mare, but only with clams and no other shellfish.
Fish, Shellfish (Pesce, Frutti di Mare)
· Acciughe: Anchovies
· Alici: An anchovy-like fish, usually served marinated as an appetizer.
· Anguilla: Eel
· Aragosta: Spiny lobster
· Aringa: Herring
· Astice: Maine lobsters
· Baccala’: Dried salt-cod
· Bianchetti: Very small sardine-like fish, usually deep-fried
· Branzino: Seabass
· Calamari/calamaretti: Squid/baby squid
· Carpa: Freshwater carp
· Scampi: Large prawns, sometimes means rock lobster.
· Seppia: Cuttlefish, similar to squid.
· Sgombro: Mackerel
· Sogliola: Sole
· Cefalo: Mullet
· Cernia: A seafish
· Cozze: Mussels, also sometimes called muscoli or mitili.
· Dentice: Seabream
· Gamberi: Large shrimp. Also applied to small rock lobsters and sometimes to freshwater crayfish. Usually something resembling a prawn.
· Gamberetti: Very small shrimp
· Gamberoni: Large prawns
· Granchio: Most common term for crab.
· Marmora: A small seafish
· Merluzzo: Cod
· Spiedino mare: Mixed fish and sea food on a skewer.
· Spigola: Sea bass, grouper
· Stoccafisso: Salt cod
· Tartufi di mare: Sea truffles, a small clam
· Nasello: Hake
· Orata: A fish similar to bream.
· Ostriche: Oysters
· Pesce persico: Freshwater perch
· Pesce san pietro: John Dory fish
· Pesce spada: Swordfish.
· Polipo: Usually means octopus, sometimes small squid.
· Polpo: Octopus
· Ricci: Sea urchins
· Rombo: Turbot
· Salmone: Salmon
· Sarago: A small seafish, resembling blue gill
· Tonno: Tuna
· Totani: Small cuttlefish
· Triglie: Red mullet
· Vongole: Clams
Herbs and Spices, etc. (Erbe e Spezie)
· Aglio: Garlic
· Basilico: Basil
· Cannella: Cinnamon
· Chiodi di Garofano: Cloves
· Erba Cipollina: Chives
· Lauro: Bayleaf
· Maggiorana: Marjoram
· Menta: Mint
· Noce Moscata: Nutmeg
· Origano: Oregano
· Pepe: Pepper
· Peperoncino: Chili pepper
· Rafano: Horseradish
· Sale: Salt
· Salvia: Sage
· Timo: Thyme
Meat and Game (Carne e Cacciagione)
· Affettati: Cold cuts
· Agnello: Lamb
· Arista: Loin of pork
· Bistecca: Steak
· Capocollo: Smoked salt pork
· Capretto: Kid (young goat)
· Coniglio: Rabbit
· Filetto: Filet
· Lepre: Hare
· Lombata: Loin
· Lonza: Loin, usually pork
· Lumache: Snails
· Maiale: Pork
· Manzo: Beef
· Pancetta: Bacon
· Pollo: Chicken
· Polpette: Meatballs
· Porchetta: Young pork; mature pork is maiale
· Prosciutto: Ham
· Quaglie: Quail
· Rane: Frogs, frog legs
· Salsa: Sauce
· Salsicce: Fresh sausages
· Saltimbocca: “Leaps into the mouth,” thin slices of spiced veal
· Scaloppine: Thin slices of bone less meat, usually veal
· Tacchino: Turkey
· Trippa: Tripe
· Vitello: Veal
· Asparagi: Asparagus
· Bietole: Swiss chard
· Broccoli: Broccoli (comes in more varieties than Americans are used to)
· Cappero: Caper
· Carciofi: Artichokes
· Carote: Carrots
· Cavolfiori: Cauliflower
· Cavolini di Bruxelles: Brussels sprouts
· Cavolo: Cabbage
· Ceci: Chickpeas; garbanzos
· Cetrioli: Cucumbers
· Cetriolini: Pickles
· Spinaci: Spinach
· Sedano: Celery
· Cetriolini: Pickles
· Cicoria: Wild chicory
· Cipolle: Onions
· Cipolline: Pearl onions
· Crauti: Sauerkraut
· Fagioli: Beans
· Fagiolini: Green beans
· Fave: Broad beans
· Finocchio: Fenne
· Friarielli: A wild broccoli
· Funghi: Mushrooms
· Insalata: Salad; verde (green), mista (mixed)
· Lattuga: Lettuce
· Lenticchie: Lentils
· Tartufi: Truffles
· Zucca: A large yellow squash
· Melanzane: Eggplant
· Olive: Olives
· Patate: Potatoes
· Peperoncini: Small hot chili peppers
· Peperoni: Bell peppers, NOT the hot sausage for pizza. For that, you order “salsiccia piccante.”
· Piselli: Peas
· Pomodori: Tomatoes
· Prezzemolo: Parsley
· Radicchio: Wild chicory
· Radici/Rapanelli/Ravanelli: Radishes
· Scarola: Escarole
· Zucchini: A long, green type of squash, just like in the United States.
· Biscotti: Cookies
· Cannoli: Pastry tubes filled with sweetened ricotta cheese mixed with cocoa and candied fruit.
· Caramello: Caramel
· Cassata gelato: Ice cream with candied fruits and nuts.
· Castagnaccio: A baked cake made with chestnut flour with pine nuts, almonds, raisins and candied fruit
· Crema caramel: Creme caramel; a custard topped with a caramelized sugar sauce
· Gelato: Ice cream
· Granita: Finely-shaved ice with fruit syrups. Thinner consistency than a snow-cone.
· Meringa: Meringue shells
· Millefoglie: “Thousand leaves;” A Napoleon; many very thin layers of pastry with custard filling, topped with powdered sugar
· Pan di Spagna: “Spanish bread;” sponge cake
· Pandoro: “Golden bread;” a very light cake, variously-shaped and usually topped with powdered sugar. Some come with cream or chocolate fillings. Usually associated with Christmas.
· Panettone: Similar to pan doro, but heavier and usually includes candied fruit, raisins and/or nuts. Normally associated with Christmas.
· Panforte: “Strong bread;” a flat, hard cake made with almonds, hazel nuts, honey and citron.
· Profiterole/a Cioccolata: Small cream filled pastry puffs topped with chocolate sauce and sometimes also whipped cream.
· Sfogliatelle: Small pastries filled with sweetened ricotta cheese and candied fruit. There are two types: riccia and frolla.
· Sorbetto: Sherbet.
· Tartufi/di Cioccolata: Truffles; little candy balls made of a chocolate, coffee and egg mixture, served cold; also an ice cream dessert resembling a truffle in shape.
· Torta: A widely-applied term refer ring to cakes and tortes of all types.
· Zabaglione: A custard dessert, flavored with white or Marsala wine.
· Zuppa Inglese: “English Soup.” What the British call trifle.
Fruit and Nuts (Frutta e Noci)
· Albicocche: Apricots
· Anacardi: Cashews
· Anguria: Watermelon
· Arachide: Peanuts
· Aranci: Oranges
· Banane: Bananas
· Castagne: Chestnuts
· Ciliegie: Cherries
· Cocomero: Watermelon
· Datteri: Dates
· Fichi: Figs
· Fragole: Strawberries
· Ribes: Currants; nero (black), rosso (red)
· Fragoline di bosco: Wild strawberries
· Lamponi: Raspberries
· Limone: Lemon
· Mandarino: Tangerine
· Melacotogne: Quinces
· Melagrane: Pomegranates
· Mele: Apples
· Melone: Melons
· Mirtilli: Blueberries
· More/More del gelso: Blackberries; mulberries
· Noce di Cocco: Coconut
· Susine: Plums
· Noci: Walnuts, specifically; also used for nuts in general
· Nocciole: Hazelnuts
· Pere: Pears
· Pesche: Peaches (Be careful of pronunciations: PESH SHAY is fish, PES KAY is peaches)
· Pinoli: Pinenuts
· Pistacchi: Pistachios
· Pompelmo: Grapefruit
· Prugne: Plums
· Rabarbaro: Rhubarb
· Uva: Grapes
· Visciola: Wild cherry