Italian food rules: the lowdown

May 22, 2019

Italians give the appearance of being laid back and relaxed, but when it comes to food all this vanishes. Overtake on the inside lane, run a red light or smoke in a club, sure, but do NOT mess with culinary tradition. These rules are numerous, rigid, at times laughable and, in my English opinion, not worth taking too seriously if you actually want to enjoy your meal - but they are a pretty essential part of Italy, so here's the tea.

A traditional Italian meal...

Will go like this: antipasto (starter), primo (pasta) secondo (meat and vegetables), fruit, dolci (pudding), coffee and liquors. And yes, yes, it IS as filling as it sounds.

Do Italians eat like this every day?! Absolutely not, thank god. Mostly a primo on its own is fine at lunch, and a secondo or a pizza at dinner.

Aside from the rules about which pasta goes with which, which I'm not going to get into here because a) here are MANY rules and b) I do not know them all. But here's a couple that will set you up:

- Spaghetti Bolognaise doesn't exist, sorry. It's called ragu, and it's usually served with tagliatelle.
- Carbonara does not have cream in, it's just made with egg and cheese here. Because we don't like to exaggerate.

- Alfredo Fettucine also does not exist. This is not even an English thing, because I realise now that I actually don't even know how to spell it, and it's certainly not an Italian one.

- Spaghetti and meatballs, not a thing. Meatballs are served with vegetables or potatoes, not pasta. Don't ask why.

- Chicken does not go in pasta! or on pizza. Unfortunately, because I'm a closet fan. (Have you ever tried the Pizza Express one with chicken??? Delicious! Sorry Italy!)

- Do not add Parmesan to your fish pasta/risotto! I'm serious, it's highly frowned upon. The exception to this is cozze e pecorino, served in Santa Marinella (or that's the only place I've seen it, anyway.)


As an English person, I have no rules with drinks. We are the kings and queens of a 5am airport pint and our motto is that it's always five o' clock somewhere. So let me be honest and say that I do not abide by the Italian more restrained drinking culture. But in case you fancy trying it, here are a couple of guidelines:

- Aperol Spritz does not go with a meal! It is an aperitif, meaning a before dinner drink. It isn't usually drunk after dinner either, e.g. in a club, but I quite like it then as it's just the right strength for a boogie but won't throw you overboard and ruin your night :) :)
- Don't both specifying whether you want a single or a double spirit measure, they're usually always made freehand and will err on the stronger side.
- A very famous one here: Cappuccinos are not to be drunk after midday!!! Ok, this rule isn't as strict as most people make it out to be, in that I've seen Italians drink them around 4/5 on a chilly day. What it really means is NEVER after a meal.
Weird things that will mess up your stomach, according to Italians:
Italians are delicate creatures, and there are many things that they find very hard to digest. These include:
- Peppers (??)
- Unpeeled fruit and vegetables. Peel!! Everything!! No, seriously. Potatoes, cucumbers, peaches, everything MUST be peeled.
- Al dente vegetables. Al dente applies to pasta only, apparently, because if you cook fresh vegetables for any less than an hour, they're not sufficiently cooked for the Italians. Bye bye, nutrients.

Miscellaneous rules
I tried to tackle these in a legible order, but they're very wide-ranging and these ones have defied my sense of organisation.

- No walking whilst you eat and drink - no takeaway coffees (*cry*, miss you Cafe Nero) or eating your supermarket meal deal on the metro. (JK, no meal deals here either.)
- Eat absolutely everything with just a fork.
- Dipping your bread in your yummy tomato-y pasta sauce is considered weird! It must only be done at the end - fare la scarpetta - NOT whilst you're eating. (I'm a sauce fiend, so I am not on board with this.)