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While many Italian restaurant staff members in heavily touristed areas will speak enough English to get you through your dining experience, a little respect to the local culture can go a long way (plus, you can impress your travel companions). When in Italy, here’s how to get some food in your belly.

Photo by Eva Sandoval

When dining at an Italian eatery, you will hear:

Buona sera/buongiorno Good evening! Good day!

Quanto? This means, simply, “how many are you?” You can reply:

  • Uno
  • Due (DOO-eh)
  • Tre
  • Quattro
  • Cinque (CHIN-queh)
  • Sei (say)
  • Sette (SEH-tte)
  • Otto
  • Nove (NOH-veh)
  • Dieci (DYEH-chee)

More than ten people in your party? Aren’t you popular.

Va bene? Is it okay? As in, will this table do? Are you happy sitting here?

Siete pronti per ordinare? Are you all ready to order?

Cosa volete? This is your friendly cameriere asking you, What would you like?

E da bere? Your friendly waiter wants to know what you’d like to drink.

Liscia o frizzante? You’ll probably want a nice bottle of water (acqua) with your meal. In Italy, you’ll be faced with two water options: still (liscia, pronounced LEE-sha) or sparkling (pronounced free-TZAN-teh). May we recommend a nice bottle of acqua frizzante? Great for the digestion.

Tutto a posto? All good? We hope that it is.

Basta così? Will that be all?

What you can say in response to your friendly cameriere’s questions:

means yes and No means no.

Un momento, per favore (oon mo-MEN-to, per fa-VO-re) One moment, please. As in, No, we’re not ready to order yet. Too… busy… looking at… delicious menu.

Cosa mi consigli? What can you recommend? For those occasions when everything looks too dang good to take responsibility for ordering yourself. In Italian, the gl-dipthong is pronounced similarly to a full-bodied “lyuh” so consigli will be pronounced con-SEE-lyee.

Per me, ______, per favore. Naturally, there are many ways to make a polite request in Italian, but this is one of the simplest. For me, _____, please. Insert the delicious item(s) you’d like to try.

And that’s a brilliant question. What to eat? On an Italian menu, you will find:

  • Antipasti – food that is eaten before (anti) the meal (il pasto). Including fried things, and mixed meat and cheese platters.
  • Primi - soup, pasta, or risotto dishes
  • Secondi - meat or fish dishes
  • Contorni – vegetable side dishes and salad
  • Dolci - desserts
  • Vini – wines
  • Birre – beers
  • Superalcolici – hard liquor and cocktails
  • Bevande – beverages
  • Caffè – coffee

Antipasto misto. Mmm.... Photo by Eva Sandoval

The Food

  • Beef - manzo
  • Steak – bistecca
  • Pork – maiale (migh-AH-leh). Find all matter of pork products, such as prosciutto, pancetta, salsiccia, and porchetta.
  • Veal – vitello (vee-TELL-oh)
  • Chicken – pollo. Popular chicken dishes include pollo arrosto (roast chicken), pollo alla cacciatora (hunter-style chicken in spicy tomato sauce), and pollo alla milanese (thin fried chicken cutlets)
  • Lambabbacchio (ah-BAK-yo).
  • Boar – cinghiale (cheen-GYA-leh). A popular meat when ground up and served in pasta sauces, or when made into sausage.
  • Rabbit – coniglio (kon-EE-lyo)

A delicious plate of rabbit. Mm... buono! Photo by Eva Sandoval

  • Sausage – salsiccia (sal-SEE-cha)
  • Liver – fegato
  • Brains – cervello (cher-VEH-lo)
  • Tripe – trippa (TREE-pa). Roman-style tripe (trippa alla romana) is one of the best things you’ll ever put in your mouth.
  • Fish - pesce (PEH-sheh)
  • Squid – calamari
  • Shrimp – gamberi
  • Clams – vongole (VON-goh-leh)
  • Octopus – polpo
  • Vegetables – verdure (ver-DOO-reh)
  • Tomato – pomodoro
  • Mushrooms – funghi (FOON-ghee)
  • Beans – fagioli (fah-JOE-lee)
  • Eggplant – melanzana
  • Spinach – spinaci (spee-NA-chee)

Spinaci ripassati. Photo by Eva Sandoval.

  • Cheese – formaggio (for-MAH-joe)
  • Roasted – arrosto
  • Grilled – alla piastra, alla griglia, grigliate
  • Fried – fritto
  • Sautéed – ripassati

The Table

  • Fork – forchetta (for-KEH-ta)
  • Spoon – cucchiaio (koo-KYIGH-yo)
  • Knife – coltello (kol-TELL-oh)
  • Napkin – tovagliolo (to-vah-LYOH-lo)
  • Table - tavolo

Scusi, ma possiamo cambiare tavolo? (SCOO-zi, mah POSS-ya-moh cam-BYA-reh TA-vo-lo) Maybe the table you’re at is too small. Maybe it’s too close to the drafty front door. Whatever the issue, you can broach the subject with, Excuse me, may we please change tables?

Sono allergica a ______ (SOH-no ah-LER-gee-ka a _____). Should you be unfortunate to have a food allergy in a country where you don’t speak the local language, this phrase will be essential. I’m allergic to _____.

Vocabulary words for common allergens:

  • Shellfish – crostacei (kros-TAH-chay)
  • Nuts - noci (NOH-chee)
  • Strawberries - fragole (FRAH-go-leh)
  • Corn - mais (MIGHz)
  • Wheat - grano
  • Eggs – le uova (leh WOH-va)
  • Dairy – i latticini (ee lah-tee-CHEE-nee)

Diets

  • Sono vegetariano/a. Cosa mi consigli di ordinare (SOH-no veh-ge-ta-RYA-no. KO-sa mee con-SEE-lyee dee or-dee-na-reh)? I’m a vegetarian. What do you recommend I order? Italian is a language where nouns describing one’s person change depending on whether the speaker is male or female. Vegetariano = male vegetarian. Vegetariana = female vegetarian.
  • Sono vegano/a. Cosa mi consigli di ordinare? I’m a vegan. What do you recommend I order?
  • Non mangio_____. Cosa mi consigli di ordinare (non MAN-joe _____)? I don’t eat ____. What do you recommend I order?

Scusi, cameriere – mi porti un altro _____ per favore (SCOO-za, ka-meh-RYE-reh – mee por-tee oon AL-tro _____)? Excuse me, waiter – will you please bring me another _____?

Il conto, per favore (eel KON-toh)
= The check, please!

Mille grazie! (MEE-leh GRA-tzyeh) Thanks very much!

Era buonissimo (EH-ra bwon-EE-see-mo)! It was delicious!

Arrivederci. We’ll see each other again; a polite way to say goodbye.

Special Tips:

  • If you order seafood, don’t you dare ask for parmesan cheese. One of Italian cooking’s most traditional rules is that seafood and cheese don’t mix.
  • Twirl your spaghetti, don’t cut it – cutting spaghetti is a cardinal sin in Italy
  • Vegetables and meat are rarely served on the same plate. Salad will be served towards the end of the meal, not at the beginning.
  • Tipping is not customary in Italy, but many tourist-friendly restaurants are aware that English-speaking people come from a tipping culture, so waiters might get cheeky and hint that you leave them a little something extra. Whether or not you want to is up to you, but know that you’re not officially obligated.

 

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