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How to read and understand a menu in Italian?

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How to read and understand a menu in Italian?

Italy is one of the best-eating countries in the world! With super varied options, there are dishes for all tastes (and budgets!), but do you know what to order and how to order? What if you order chicken and fish comes? To prevent something like this from happening, today we are going to ‘decipher’ a basic Italian menu. Let’s go! How to read and understand a menu in Italian? Stay with us and make the most of boot country! Here at Italys’ Dream Tourism, you can make the trip of your dreams come true!! Also, check out our Accommodation in Italy – Tips for your Vacations Section!


About Italian Menus

Guys, first of all, I’m going to explain something to you: in some places, especially in the south of Italy, you will often find the Menu in dialect, especially typical dishes from that region, so there is no translation of the name, but if you know the names of some ingredients, it can make it much easier to choose. I say this because not all dishes have the description on the menu. Read our section on Food in Italy!

Important to know

  • If you have an allergy to any food, WRITE down the name of that ingredient in Portuguese and Italian, and always carry it with you! When in doubt, ask the waiter if the chosen dish has the ingredient or traces of it, after all, you don’t want to end up in the hospital for lunch, do you?! To emphasize this allergy and for the waiter to understand, tell him that you are extremely allergic to… is the name of the ingredient. DON’T RISK IT, OKAY?! When in doubt, order another dish! The same goes for those who are VEGAN; To say you’re vegan: vegan sleep! If you are allergic to gluten, you are celiac, and in Italian inform the waiter by saying ‘sono celiaco’ (celical sleep).

Good to know

  • Currently, many Italian restaurants already offer menus that are completely vegan and/or adapted for celiacs, others, however, have not yet ‘arrived’ there. There is usually a symbol at the entrance of the establishment, but if you are in doubt, ask the waiter ‘hai un menu vegano?’ or ‘hai un menu per i celiaci?’ (Do you say Celíaci?).
  • Well, the Italian menu is quite extensive, even in more modest places: there’s the antipasto, the starter, the main course and dessert: am I forced to order everything? No, obviously! But in several places the value of the Full Menu, is VERY worth it! Let’s now detail and understand an Italian menu.


1) How to read and understand a menu in Italian? GET TO KNOW SOME ANTIPASTI

The most common antipasti are some cold cuts and caponatas, which are vegetables preserved in olive oil, accompanied by slices of bread, grissini (long sticks of dough), bruschetta (pieces of bread served with various toppings), and toast.

Let’s take a look:

  • Cold cuts – Salumi/ Salumi affumicati (smoked cold cuts/cold cuts);
  • Cheese – formaggio (each region offers several options);
  • Salami/Salami – salume/Salumi;
  • Mortadella – Mortadella;
  • Ham – Prosciutto cotto or Prosciutto crudo (Di Parma);
  • Sausage – Wurstel (calm down! Hahaha… it says ‘viustel’).


Salsiccia, in Italian, is a fresh sausage, our famous ‘Calabrian sausage’ DOES NOT EXIST in Italy and, normally, everything that has ‘pepperoni/pepperoni’ written on it, has an extra dose of pepper! That is, if you are not a fan of spicy foods, stay away from dishes with ‘Calabrian’ in the name! ; )

  •  Breads – Pani (each region offers several options);
  • Toast – Fetta biscottata;
  • Caponata – vegetables in conversation ‘sott’olio’, i.e. in olive oil; There are several options, but the most common are zucchini, eggplant (melanzane), and pepper (peperone) which can be red (rosso), yellow (giallo) or green (green). In the U.S., peperone is a type of salami!

Guys, it’s always worth remembering:

  • Each restaurant presents the antipasto according to region, available ingredients, traditions, and other factors. So it’s clear that there’s a difference from restaurant to restaurant and from region to region, O.K.?!

2) How to read and understand a menu in Italian?  GET TO KNOW SOME OF THE APPETIZER DISHES

For the starter, usually (and if requested, of course!), a pasta dish, risotto or polenta is served. Today, it is estimated that there are 300 types of Italian pasta between short pasta (penne, fusilli, etc.) and long pasta (spaghetti, noodles, etc.). It would be impossible to list all of them, but they are all delicious and the hard part will be choosing just one! Here are some kinds of pasta (the most well-known). Check out our Aperitifs in Italy section for the best bars and restaurants!

The Masses

  • Fusilli – screw;
  • Farfalle – tie, although the word farfalla means ‘butterfly’;
  • Penne – Too bad. (Watch out for the penne all’arrabbiata! It’s pasta dipped in a SUPER spicy tomato sauce!)
  • Gnochhi – gnocchi;
  • Lasagna – lasagna;
  • Spaghetti – Spaghetti.

The Sauces

  • Besciamella (salsa bianca): white sauce, béchamel; it can be plain or mixed with other ingredients such as ham, peas, cheese, etc.;
  • In bianco – it is a pasta cooked and pulled in butter;
  • Donkey and Sage – the dough, after being cooked, is pulled in butter with Sage;
  • Al sugo – The ‘sugo’ can be: al pomodoro (tomato), al tonno (sauce of/with tuna), sugo di carne (sauce of/with meat), etc.


When it appears on the sugo menu, it won’t necessarily be tomato sauce, tomato sauce is always specified: sugo al pomodoro con… and then the ‘complementary’ ingredient like tuna, meat, etc.

  • Quattro formaggi – four-cheese sauce;
  • Bolognese – another item that causes a certain ‘strangeness’. In Brazil, we are used to bolognese sauce made with tomato sauce (A LOT of sauce!), ground beef, spices, garlic, and onion. The TRADITIONAL bolognese sauce does not with as much tomato sauce as we do in Brazil! It’s drier. To start the base of the sauce they sauté onions, garlic, celery, and carrots, then add the meat and, finally, tomatoes, but not the tomato sauce, they are peeled, skinless, and seedless tomatoes, and let it simmer.

Good to know

Basic ingredients of an Italian tomato sauce: onion, garlic, salt, and peeled, skinned, and seeded tomatoes. Each place makes the sauce in its way, so the flavors may vary from one restaurant to another, of course!

Other Inputs

  • Rice: laughter.
  • Beans: fagioli.
  • Stuffed: ripieni; good for sweet and savory dishes.


  • Italians don’t prepare beans and rice like Brazilians do. Usually, they use the ingredients to make salads.

3) How to read and understand a menu in Italian? GET TO KNOW SOME MAIN DISHES

Let’s move on to the main course.

Meat – Meat

The meat can be medium rare (al punto), rare (al sangue) and well done (ben cotta). The steak is called bistecca and there are differences in the preparation of the meats that can be:

  • in padella, pan-fried, grilled;
  • Alla Griglia, grilled in the best barbecue style, quickly;
  • Arrosto, also in the style of a barbecue, but with a longer cooking time, roasted;
  • Griglito, on the grill. It’s one of the most time-consuming, but it’s worth every minute of waiting;
  • Lesso, stew. The meat cooks in a broth and becomes very juicy and tender; in other cuisines, it is the stew.

The same method of preparation goes for fish and chicken.

  • Chicken – Pollo;
  • Fish – Fish.

Vegetables and the like

  • Salad – insalata; green salad, salad of leafy greens;
  • Russian insalata – our beloved ‘mayonnaise’, Russian salad in some places in Brazil;
  • Potato – patate; for french fries, just say ‘patatine’;
  • Lettuce – Lattuga;
  • Broccoli – Broccoli;
  • Cauliflower – Cavolfiore;
  • Cabbage – Cavolo;
  • Olive – Olive;
  • Artichokes – Carciofi;
  • Capers – Capperi;
  • Carrots – Core.

Dressing the Salad

  • Olive oil – Olio, olio d’oliva;
  • Vinegar – aceto, which can also be balsamic, balsamic aceto;
  • Salt – sale.

Important Tips

  • Take with you, write down on a piece of paper, what you like and what you don’t like to eat. Translate it into Italian and, when reading the menu, don’t feel bad about having to ‘confront’ your list. It’s better than suddenly ordering a dish you don’t like very much.
  • Another thing: avoid asking them to take ingredients out of the dishes, in Italy this can be something very offensive to the chef. I know that, for many, this can be ‘freshness’, some think “Ah, but Italians are offended by everything”: guys, it’s cultural! Let’s respect differences, especially in other people’s homes ;).

4) How to read and understand a menu in Italian?  GET TO KNOW SOME DESSERTS

The desserts, i dolci, are SPECTACULAR! I always say: that the Italian palate for sweets is NOT LIKE OURS, so Italian sweets are not so sweet, they use a lot of fruits, dark chocolate, cheeses, creams and nuts, such as nuts.

  • Chocolate – cioccolato; it can be white (bianco), milk (al latte), or bitter (amaro) with varying percentages of cocoa (cacao): the higher the percentage, the more bitter it is;
  • Cream – crema; torta alla crema (cake with cream), bombolone alla crema (dream with cream). Guys, the cream is the confectioner’s cream in these cases, but it can be another type of cream as well;
  • Ice cream – ice cream doesn’t exist in Italy! WHAT DO YOU MEAN, PATRICIA? Gelato and ice cream are very different things, so the word gelato has NO TRANSLATION into any language. What’s the difference between ice cream and gelato then? We explain everything in this post and, as a bonus, we also list the best ones so you know exactly where to go to taste the best and most authentic Italian gelato;
  • Torta – torta in Italy is cake: torta alla crema, torta di limone, torta al cioccolato; but it can also designate the pies themselves;
  • Fruit Salad – Macedonia; always made with seasonal fruits;
  • Biscuit – biscotti;
  • Fruits – frutta; melon, melone; strawberry, fragola; watermelon, anguria; lemon, limone; orange, arancione; banana, banana; pineapple, pineapple; apple, mela; passion fruit, frutto della passione; pomegranate, melogranum; kiwi, kiwi; cherry, ciliegia; raspberry, lampone; mango, mango; peach, fishing; grapes, grapes;
  • Cereal – cereals.

5) How to read and understand a menu in Italian?  GET TO KNOW SOME DRINKS

Let’s get to the drinks!

  • Water – acqua: sparkling – frizzante; gasless, naturale;
  • Ice – ghiaccio: with ice – con ghiaccio (guide-tcho); ghiacciata (guide-tchata), chilled; No Ice, Senza Ghiaccio;
  • Wine – vino: rosso, red; bianco, white; sparkling, frizzante/spumantino/spumante; rosè, rosè;
  • Soft Wine – Vino soave, dolce;
  • Dry Wine – Vino brut, secco;
  • TIP: we have a whole post dedicated to Italian wines! Have you not seen it yet? Click here!
  • Soda – bibita (bibita); in a can, lattina; hardly any restaurants sell soda in bottles, but, if you need it, it’s bottiglia (botilia). Oh, the cans
  •  are smaller than they are in Brazil, don’t be alarmed!). The beloved Guarana is found in larger cities, such as Rome, and Milan… But some smaller towns may have it too. In Italian it is called ‘guárâna’;
  • Tea – té; of chamomile, la camomilla; mint tea, tè alla menta; iced tea, tè freddo (ice tea); iced tea which can be ‘alla pesca’ (peach) or al limone (with lemon);
  • Juice: succo. Attention here: succo is the one in a box; for natural juice, ask for the spremuta, but it is very rare to find natural juice in Italy other than orange, lemon, or pompelmo (grapefruit), ‘la spremuta d’arancio’, so don’t get frustrated, ok?! They are not used to natural juices like we are;
  • Coffee – Caffè. In Italy, in restaurants, bars, and restaurants, they only serve espresso. Writing with S, expressed with X is something else! Hahahaha… It can be ristretto, pure; lungo, with more water; macchiato, our famous ‘pingado‘, with a little milk or correct, which takes half a dose of some alcoholic drink, usually grappa.

Good to know


6) How to read and understand a menu in Italian?  GET TO KNOW SOME UTENSILS

The utensils at the table:

  • Glass/Cup – bicchieri. (if you say ‘biquieri’);
  • Cup – Tazza;
  • Spoon – Cucchiaio (cuquiáio);
  • Knife – coltello;
  • Fork – fork;
  • Napkin – tovagliolo (tovaliolo);
  •  Tablecloth – tovaglia (tovalia);
  • Dish – Piatto.

7) How to read and understand a menu in Italian?  GET TO KNOW SOME PIZZAS

We’ve come to the pizzas! Pizza in Italy, although it serves two people very well, is individual. The most requested flavors are:

  • Margherita – self-explanatory! Hahahaha;
  • Four cheeses – quattro formaggi;
  • Sausage with funghi – sausage and funghi (this pizza is a spectacle!);
  • Mozzarella – Mozzarella.

Good to know

  • In Italy, THERE IS NO CALABRIAN PIZZA THE WAY WE KNOW IT IN BRAZIL! The ‘Calabrian pizza’ in Italy is a pizza with pieces of ‘SPICY Calabrian sausage (which is called that because it comes from Calabria)’; but, as we’ve talked about before, the sausage is the fresh one, ok?
  • Pizza in Italy is 8 or 80: you either love it or you hate it! In other countries usually find it a little strange, because it is very different from ours. Also, read about the best Pizzerias in Rome and Naples!

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How to read and understand a menu in Italian? Guys, I reinforce: take a small list of what you like to eat written down in Italian on a piece of paper so you do not run the risk of ordering something you do not like, alright? Do not be in a hurry to eat, Italians make mealtimes real rituals, so the waiters won’t be at the side of the table ‘rushing you’.

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Did my post help you, or do you still have questions? Leave your comment below, and I’ll get back to you!


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