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How does a meal in Italy work?

Italy is a very famous country for several reasons and one of them is its magnificent cuisine. But do you know how an all’Italiana meal works? Let's find out?

Ana Patricia - Ristorante Da Enzo / Roma
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How does a meal in Italy work?

Italy is one of the countries with the most famous gastronomy in the world. If there’s one thing Italians love, and they do it like no one else, it’s worshiping food and drinks and preparing them impeccably. Meals are rituals for them, and today I bring you the details about how does a meal in Italy work?.  Here at  Your Travel to Italy with Ana Patricia  you make the trip of your dreams !!! ALSO: see our  “Accommodation in Italy – Tips for your holidays!”.

Our Introduction

Italy offers us a unique enogastronomy! Aromas, colors and flavors of the most diverse types, in the most diverse ways and as options for all tastes. Meals in Italy are not like what we know in other countries and that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Italians LOVE to eat and treat the time of their meals as, in fact, sacred. Let’s find out what the ‘ritual’ is later on… Find out the differences between restaurants in Italy here!

Good to know

  • The term Enogastronomy” means food and wine tourism”. Essentially it is an Italian word and it is also a new” and not very common word YET”!

The three main Italian meals

The three main Italian meals are breakfast, lunch and dinner, however, it is very common for Italians to enjoy the famous aperitif before lunch and dinner, which usually consists of having an alcoholic drink (or not ) and eat some snacks such as peanuts, breads, cold cuts, snacks and more. So much so that there is a typically Italian definition known as ‘Apericena’, which is the union of ‘aperitivo’ and ‘cena’ (dinner). Yeah! The appetizers here are very generous, so it’s not uncommon that, instead of whetting our appetite, the appetizer makes us not hungry anymore, with so many options to taste before dinner (or lunch!). But you can have the aperitif a little earlier (around 17:30) and dinner after 20:00 – take the time between meals to take a walk around the city where you are: that way you will get hungry again for dinner! Click here and learn all about Eating and Drinking in Italy!


  • If you are traveling during the high season or during the holiday season, or even during the Easter period, MAKE EARLY BOOKINGS! That’s because you may find it difficult to find a restaurant with a vacant table and/or open. Click and learn all about the Festivities in Italy!
  • Good to know that meals in Italy are called pasti‘.

How does a meal in Italy work? The Order of Dishes

Find out what is the order of dishes served in Italy. Click here and check my restaurant tips in Italy!

1) Antipasto

The antipasto is pretty much self-explanatory, isn’t it? It is also the starter, that is, it is what comes before the first course. In Italy it is usually served: a selection of homemade breads, cold cuts, cheeses, caponatas, olives, among others. Of course, each place presents the antipasto in a different way, but there is no shortage of breads, sausages and cheeses!

2) First Course

For us it’s the main dish! Usually it’s a pasta or a risotto, the choice is yours. In Brazil we taste the main course with the ‘second course’, but in Italy this is different, ok!? We know that Italy offers an infinity of sauces. There is no shortage of options, ranging from the simplest to the most complex options. Some examples: white sauce, tomato sauce, al pesto, garlic and oil, etc. This ‘category’ also includes: soups and broths.

Golden Tip:
  • If you’re not a fan of pepper, stay away from anything reminiscent of Calabria, or any dish with ‘all’arrabbiata’. They are usually very spicy dishes and if you can’t handle this condiment, stay away! Remembering that when we say ‘spicy’, we’re talking SPICY! They don’t play when it comes to chili! So keep an eye open, okay?!

3) Second Course

The meat! Remembering that the meat can be beef, chicken, fish, lamb, wild boar, among others. If you are a vegetarian and want to have a complete meal”, at this point you can order, for example, an eggplant parmigiana. But don’t worry, there are options!

Good to know
  • Currently, several Italian restaurants already have exclusive menus for vegetarians. Just ask the waiter for the menu. If the restaurant does not have an exclusive menu for vegetarians, ask the waiter which dishes are vegetarian, he will tell you what you can order, so don’t worry about it, ok?! The same goes for celiac and/or lactose intolerant people: ask the waiter about the options. It is also worth mentioning that, today, there are several specialized and exclusive restaurants for the aforementioned cases. In other words: if you fit into any of these cases, keep your heart at peace: you will also eat very well in Italy!

4) Outline

Amazing, it’s the vegetables! It’s the moment when we eat something lighter, after all the eating, to facilitate our digestion! I know it sounds like a paradox, but that’s the “order”. At this time a salad, cooked vegetables or vegetables is served. It could even be French fries. Good to know: you can start your meal with this step! There’s no problem and the waiter won’t find it strange!

5) Dessert

We arrived at the favorite part of the ‘sweet tooth‘ on duty! The sweets! Here you will find so many options, but so many options, that you may want to order everything and then some more! Not to mention that some restaurants also offer seasonal fruits and they can be fresh or in special desserts. The most requested desserts are usually the classic tiramissù, panna cotta and house pies – commonly made with the fruits we spoke about earlier.

Golden tip:
  • Some restaurants offer a tasting menu option. For a certain amount, they offer you, literally, small portions of various dishes on the menu; some may offer you the option of choice, others bring plate after plate so you have an overview of what is served there.

6) Coffee or with the Digestive

After this true feast, we arrive at the end of the meal with coffee or a digestive. The digestive is usually a very strong alcoholic drink like a hyperalcoholic liqueur, or a grappa. Of course, if you’re driving, or don’t drink, skip this step. Here there are also numerous options for drinks such as limoncello, liqueurs and even the famous ‘caffè corretto’, which is nothing but coffee with a touch of alcohol. Find the best Italian coffee shops here!

Golden tip:
  • If you’re one of the people who love to eat while tasting a wine, remember that most Italian restaurants produce their own wine; so don’t hesitate to order the house wine, which is usually of excellent quality and goes very well with all the dishes on the menu. If you prefer, ask the waiter for the wine list, if you want you can also ask for the best wine to pair with your ordered dishes. Some places offer glasses with the suggested wine, others just the bottle, so be sure to ask how this wine will be served, ok?!

But Ana Patricia, I don’t want to eat all that!

No problem! Remember that you are completely free to order only what you want to eat, it is not mandatory to ‘follow the entire menu’, you can even order the dishes in ‘another order’, but explain to the waiter which dish you want get first, ok?! They don’t care, relax! This goes for both lunch and dinner.

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How does a meal in Italy work? Italians LOVE to eat and offer this experience in a unique way to tourists. Although it seems that this ‘ritual’ is something that involves a lot of food, it is important to remember that the Italian diet is the master symbol of what is considered the best diet in the world, which is the Mediterranean, that is, despite seeming something ‘exaggerated’ , it is a very balanced meal and, for the most part, made with fresh ingredients, often grown by the restaurants themselves and with a unique touch of love!

Are you insecure?

And if you feel insecure, have no time, and need help to organize your trip,  don’t hesitate to contact me!  I will love to help you make your dream trip to Italy come true. And how can I do that? Keep reading this post until the end and you will understand how we make your life and your trip much easier.

Did my post help you?  If so, be sure to post your comment below, but if you still have questions just send me a message I will answer you as soon as possible!

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