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How To Decipher an Italian Menu

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If spaghetti and meatballs with a glass of red wine from a straw-covered flask is the closest you've come to authentic Italian cuisine, then these quick, step-by-step instructions will help you order like a native when traveling to Italy.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: 60 minutes

Here's How:

  1. Restaurants in Italy include the autogrill, or roadside snack bar, the osteria, an informal place, and the trattoria, which is a medium-priced, often family-run eating establishment.
  2. To make a reservation (which is relatively rare in Italy except at the most expensive restaurants) for two people at 8:00 PM, use this phrase: Vorrei fare una prenotazione per due alle otto.
  3. In Italy, dishes are usually served on separate plates in a specific order. In order of appearance on a typical menu there is:
  4. L'antipasto, which literally means "before the meal" and includes hot and cold appetizers such as crostini, bruschetta, and mozzarella in carrozza.
  5. Il primo, or "first course" usually consisting of pasta, minestrone, risotto, or zuppa (soup).
  6. Il secondo, or "second course," and is the main course - often meat, poultry, game, or fish.
  7. Il contorno, or "side dish" which consists of vegetables such as melanzane (eggplant), spinaci (spinach), or insalata mista (mixed salad).
  8. Il dolce, or "dessert," which includes such favorite sweets as tiramisù, torta della nonna (custard shortbread pie), or zabaglione (custard of egg yolks with wine and brandy).
  9. To ask for the bill, say: Il conto, per favore. If you want the waiter to keep the change, say: Tenga pure il resto.

Tips:

  1. In Italy, those milky concoctions—cappuccino and caffe' latte—are drunk only at breakfast. And it's ESPRESSO! (expresso is a fast train).
  2. Al dente means "to the tooth," or slightly chewy. It is used to describe pasta and rice. The inside should be somewhat crisp-tender.
  3. Italians often say Buon appetito! or "Enjoy your meal" when the first course is served, and Salute! or "To your health" when toasting with a drink.
  4. Both il servizio (service charge/tip) and il coperto (cover charge—for bread and water) are usually included in il conto.
  5. By Italian law, the gratuity is included in the bill, and extra tipping isn't necessary. If the service warrants it, leave your waiter a little extra.

What You Need

  • a hearty appetite
  • menu phrasebook
  • plenty of euro
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