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Posts tagged ‘food’

Understanding Italian Culture | Breaking the Ice and Saving Money

BREAKING THE ICE

The Italians are incredibly warm and friendly people who will try hard to communicate with you, but they can be a bit shy to start a conversation.  I have found many tricks to get an interaction going that often ends in a warm embrace.

The easiest way to break the language barrier is through pictures.  I always carry a small photo album with me filled with pictures from around my home town and lots of photos of my family and even my pets.  Sometimes I will just bring the album with me to dinner and set it on the table.  You never know who you might sit next to and it is a great conversation starter.

Italians love their children and I make sure to play with kids and smile at babies all the time.  I’ve kicked balls around the piazza and even strolled up and down the village square with a grandma proudly pushing her newest grandchild in a stroller.

They also love their dogs and if you are a fan go ahead and give them a pet.  Cats on the other hand are not considered pets and you will be looked at strangely if caught petting any of them (except in the Cinque Terre).

Sharing your food if you happen to be on a train or out for a picnic is a good way to create an impromptu feast and gain friends.

It is always hard to make the first move and there have been times I have shied away from an opportunity, but I always regret those decisions.  The times I have taken a deep breath and stepped outside of my comfort level are the times that have given me the best memories.

SAVING MONEY

There are a few simple ways to make your dollar go further in Italy without taking away any of the enjoyment.  Hotels often offer a so-so breakfast but what they don’t tell you is that you can skip it and save yourself as much as 10 euro per person.  Italians aren’t big into breakfast, but for half the price you can enjoy a cappuccino and croissant.  Lunches can be made from items bought earlier in the morning market or you can find a little pizza shop and get a slice to go or eat at the bar.  I usually wash it down with a gelato or caffe.  This way I can eat a nice dinner without the guilt.  Look for places to eat that are out of the main tourists areas, avoid places that advertise that they speak English and accept credit cards.   At dinner drink the house wine ‘vino di casa’ which is good.  Split or skip the secondi course, which is always the most expensive.   Don’t over tip and don’t feel guilty about it.

Take advantage of the international calling cards if you need to call home and even better would be using just the Internet to keep in touch.  Using public transportation in the cities or even just walking versus taxis will save you a ton.  Walking is easy to do in Italy, even in the biggest of cities.  Most of the important sites are central and city centers have always been set up for residents to walk around easily.

Longer stays at your accommodations will often give you better prices as will paying in cash.  You also get to know an area and have a better chance of finding good deals and creating relationships with the locals.

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Copyright 2014   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Understanding Italian Culture | Dining, Tips, Gelato and Coffee

DINING

In Italy, the food is an experience.  Lunches and dinners last at least two hours; you linger over your meal.  When you sit at a table, it is considered yours for the night.  A restaurant would be considered awful if it tried to turn tables like we do in the states.  The waiters are all ‘slow’ by American standards and they do not rush for anything (except keeping wine on the table for the locals).  Your waiter will only bring the bill when you ask for it, to do so before is considered rude.  When you are ready to leave, simply catch their eye and say ‘Il conto’ for the bill or make a motion of writing something out on your palm.  Many restaurants have a ‘pane e coperto’ charge (bread and cover) of a few euros per person and/or ‘servizio incluso’ (tips) built into the bill.  You will find both of these on the bill with the ‘servizio incluso’ usually on the bottom.  If that is not included in your bill, round up by a few euros (or less than half of what you would do at home).  I know it feels wrong not to leave a big tip for a great meal, we Americans are notorious for over tipping while some Italians never do.  Rarely I have run into annoyed waiters who were expecting me to tip like a typical tourist, but that reaction is not at all normal.  Another time I tipped an excessive amount because I had drank an excessive amount , and the owners made sure I left with a bottle of wine on the house.   An example for a meal that cost 37.50 would be to round up to 40.  Try to always leave a cash tip on the table, even if you are paying with credit, otherwise your server may never see the money.

Dinner service usually begins around 7:00pm and lasts well into the night.  If you want to dine with tourists, be there when they open.  Linger until around 8:30 and you will dine with the Italians.  Food is served in courses, but you are not expected to order one of each.  For example, I often order my own pasta (primi) but share an anitpasti (appetizer) and secondi (meat or fish dish) with my friend.  Just remember that the food will be brought out in order and if you skipped a course you will spend that time watching others eat.  I find I never go wrong with the house wine but if you want to try a bottle, ask the waiter what would pair well with your meal.  While you can’t always trust the bill you can trust them with their food and wine recommendations!  I personally find that you can never go wrong with the daily specials.  Italians eat with the seasons and chefs pride themselves in finding the best and freshest ingredients.  I will often go with their suggestions as well.  Europeans love fizzy water, so if you don’t want bubbles you must ask for ‘acua naturale.’

A few dining tips to make you look more like a local:

Don’t use a spoon to twirl your pasta and NEVER cut the noodles with a knife.

If cheese or other toppings didn’t come with your dish then it was not meant to go with it.  It is considered insulting to add anything to a dish that the chef prepared as they pride themselves in knowing exactly what ingredients pare with each dish.

By all means, use your bread to sop up the extra sauce.  This is considered a great compliment to the chef.

End your meal with an espresso (you can request a decaf).

Take your time to enjoy the meal, each one is an adventure in itself!

I caution everyone to pace themselves or you will find yourself groaning in bed with an overfilled stomach.

COFFEE

It’s the only place on earth that is more crazy about coffee than Seattle.  For about one euro, you can get a teeny cup of pure heaven.  It’s probably the easiest thing to do in Italy.  Head right into any bar and ask for un caffe.  You might be asked to clarify that you want an espresso and not an American cup of coffee.  Just use your fingers to show a tiny cup and they will understand.  Watch the locals.  They pour in about as much sugar as coffee and sit stirring it for some magical amount of time, then sling back the liquid in one sip and out the door they go.  This is not a Starbucks society where you savor your espresso or even take it to go.  I also love my morning cappuccino (which I do take my time with) but only tourists drink them after 10am.  Some bars have you pay first and then take your slip to the counter while others do the opposite.  If you are unsure just watch how everyone else is doing it and copy.  It is a courtesy to leave a small coin to ‘hold the paper down’ for the server.  You will also pay more for your coffee if you sit down to drink it, about twice as much as the same cup enjoyed at the bar.  The cost can be well worth it if you’ve found a cozy little spot for people watching.  The bars usually have quick and easy snacks as well; panini’s are a favorite type of sandwich and great for on the go.

GELATO

Italian ice cream is another national addiction, and a personal one.  I challenge anyone to beat my consumption record:  6 double scoops in one day!  Just remember that not all gelato is created the same and if you aren’t careful you could end up disappointed.  Follow my advice below and you are sure to never go wrong.

There are a few important things to look for when choosing a gelateria.  Only places that make their gelato fresh each day on the premise are legally allowed to display the sign ‘fatta in casa.’  This is a good start but that is not all you want to watch for.  A long line is one of the best signs of great gelato.  If you see more Italians than tourists, even better.  Italians tend to avoid tourists at all costs but will stand shoulder to shoulder with them for a good scoop and you know that your gelato will be worth the wait.  If all looks well, step inside and make sure that the gelato is in metal containers and not plastic ones, this will confirm that the ice cream was made in smaller batches and of a better quality.  The final check is in the gelato itself.  If you notice tons of bright unnatural colors run away.  Banana will be your gold standard.  If it is gray you have found the perfect spot, if it is any shade of yellow don’t waste another second there.  Gelato should be made from fresh ingredients with the primary concern being taste not color.  Be wary of any shop that has a big area with table and chairs.  While we are used to this set up, in Italy gelato is meant to be consumed on the go and a gelateria trying to encourage you to stay is focused on tourists.

No day is complete without gelato and there is no reason to feel guilty.  Gelato’s fat content is at least a third less than our ice cream because it is made from milk and not fresh cream or butterfat.  Ordering gelato is similar to getting your coffee.  Most places have you buy your gelato ahead of time and the cashier will give you a ticket to take to the counter.  Take your time looking around while you decide, but for the server’s sanity make sure that you are ready with your order when it is your turn.  You will be ignored if you do not have a ticket.  If you are having trouble getting his attention just hold your ticket like a torch and push your way to the front.  Be exotic and try different combinations; everything is good.

GROCERIES AND MARKETS

You will be able to find little grocery shops in every town and even some larger more modern ones in the cities.  In the produce section there are a few different ways to handle the vegetables.  Sometimes the checker (or another employee) will select the produce for you, bag it and weigh it on the spot.  All you do is point to what you want.  More commonly, you will bag it yourself and then put your selection on a scale.  There will be about 100 different buttons with pictures of fruits and veggies.  Find yours and simply push, the weight and cost in Euros will be printed on a sticker you attach to the bag (make sure you aren’t LEANING on the scale when you push!).  Don’t forgot to wear the disposable plastic gloves, otherwise you will draw many disgusted looks from the local shoppers.

Every city, town and village has a market on a certain day and some are daily.  Go early to get the best choices and have the most fun with the pushy old ladies.  Markets aren’t limited to just produce; usually you will find trucks full of cheese and meats.  If you see someone selling Porchetta sandwiches get one!

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Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Daily Italian Doses | Top Ten Tuscan Summer Food Festivals

Now that I got to thinking about sagre from yesterday, I shall continue to torture myself with an article I found about all the food I won’t be enjoying this summer.  For the complete article from Tuscanycious I recommend you click HERE.

 

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Copyright 2013   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Daily Italian Doses | Sagra

On my second visit to Italy I discovered the local Sagra and I recommend that you try to search these out while traveling.

A sagra is a celebration of earths bounty that highlights one particular food or ingredient.  This is a local event and every town, city and village has at least one unique to them.  The first sagra I attended was one that I happened to stumble upon when attempting to visit a little village in Umbria.  When I arrived, there was an eerie feeling of abandonment.  Not a soul in sight.  Until I followed the smell and slight din of noise coming from the community building.  Inside I found the entire population sitting down at long wooden tables enjoying the food, the wine and each other.  Welcome to sagra!

Courtesy of Abigail Blake

Courtesy of Abigail Blake

Courtesy of Abigail Blake

Courtesy of Abigail Blake

Courtesy of Italia Living

Courtesy of Italia Living

More about the traditional sagras HERE.

 

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Copyright 2013   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Daily Italian Doses | Adri Barr Crocetti

And yet another amazing new blog!  Adri Barr Crocetti’s blog is full of amazing sites, links to blogs, articles.  You name it.  I literally couldn’t keep up.  I put a direct link HERE to the latest feature where occasional Sunday posts will include the top link to whatever has tickled her fancy.

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Copyright 2013   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Daily Italian Doses | Sergio’s Secret Italian Recipes

Whatever you do, DO NOT tell Sergio I posted this.  His cooking talents are renown and he decided to share some recipes to a select few….but I just couldn’t help myself.  Click HERE for his new blog.  Follow this link to see more of their B&B La Grande Quercia.

italy cooking ravoili

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Copyright 2013   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Daily Italian Doses | Porchetta

Porchetta.  My great obsession.  Maybe it’s because I should be eating dinner instead of thumbing through my favorite experiences it Italy.

My word of advice to you.  If you see a van parked on the side of the road or in a local market, drop everything and immediately get yourself one of these sandwiches.

travel

Photo from Life in Abruzzo

If this photo has your mouth watering, go check out one of my favorite websites Life in Abruzzo.  I featured them last year in my top 30 list here.

 

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Copyright 2013   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

All things Italy | Daily Summer Tibits

I’m BACK!!!  Partly anyway!

Life is busy but that shouldn’t mean we can’t enjoy a little tidbit of Italy everyday.  As an addict, I search for anything Italy.  Photos, websites, music, stories and articles.  As I find these, I save them for future use.  I’ve decided to open the vault and share all I’ve found with you.

Little snips of Italy.  Every day.  All summer.

Almost as good as being there in person.  Ok, not even close but better than nothing!!  Let me know if you have found something I should share.

Buon appetito

rome italy market

Campo di’Fiori daily morning market in Rome.

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Copyright 2013   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Featured Photo Friday | Lunch Receipt Italian Style

lunch receipt italian styleI’m obsessed with feedback, let me know what you think.

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Copyright 2013   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Holiday Recipes from Italy

It is that time of year again!  The holidays just aren’t the holidays without something yummy baking in the oven.  I have compiled links to some of my favorite recipes that I am getting ready to test out this year.  Let me know what you think, and if you have a favorite tell me about it!

Madonna del Piatto

If you were following me this August, you will remember my month of favorite Italian websites.  This wonderful lady was one of those.  Here is her recipe for Bace di Dama cookies and she even put the measurement conversions in for us Yankees.  Another is her Assisi apple and olive oil strudel.

Baci di Dama

Baci di Dama

Over a Tuscan Stove

Another of my favorite cooking bloggers.  Here are several links and I can’t decide where to get started.  Fig and Walnut Paneforte, Christmas Treats, Bollito Misto (ok I’m dreaming here, following the links to actual recipe).

 

Red Star to Lone Star

I stumbled across this blog and loved the looked of it, then later found this post about the famous Italian cookies called Befana.

 

The Italian Dish

Another new mouthwatering blog that I am now following.  So so many recipes to go through.  Croccante, pine nut brittle and Mosiac Biscotti just for starters.

croccante italian baking

Croccante courtesy of the Italian Dish

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Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

 

 

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