Say the word “Italy” and what comes to mind are Venice waterways, Rome’s Colosseum, stretches of Tuscany countryside, and of course amazing food. Eating out in Italy is almost a destination in itself, a highlight of any trip. Before you do, though, keep these five things in mind that can make your experience even more enjoyable.

 

  1. Know your pasta. There are more shapes of pasta in Italy than there are snowflakes in Minnesota. Whether the pasta is fusilli or tortiglioni, each is intentionally paired with a different sauce. Famous Italian-American chef and television celebrity Lydia Bastianich explains the pairings in this helpful article. By familiarizing yourself with what Italians take pride in and learning to talk intelligently about it, you’ll communicate respect and interest in the country and culture.

 

  1. Italians are extremely proud of their wines. Every region has its specialty, uniquely flavored by the local soil in which the grapes are grown. If an Italian shares wine with you, that person is sharing a part of who they are. Out of respect, when toasting always look people in the eye.

 

  1. Mealtime is a process not a fast-food event. Courses are brought out one at a time in a specific sequence—antipasto, primo (usually a meatless dish or pasta), secondo (main dish), followed by salads and desserts. If you’ve ordered an antipasto for a light snack and your companion a secondo and a salad, expect them to come out at different times. If you want them brought out at the same time, you can make that clear. On the other hand, you can take the approach that a meal is an experience to be savored.

 

  1. Timing is everything. Italians take a pausa pranzo, or midday break, that can stretch until as late as three in the afternoon. That’s less the case in big cities, but don’t be surprised to find restaurants in smaller towns closed. And if you go out too early in the evening for dinner, you may find nothing is open. It’s best to wait until 7 or preferably 8 pm.

 

  1. Mealtime in Italy is sacred so it’s unrealistic for the wait staff to interrupt your dinner by bringing a bill. They won’t bring you the bill unless you ask for it, and even then they might seem reluctant to do so. Not because it’s an inconvenience but because to do so goes against the sense of A tavola, non s’invecchia mai. That is, “At the table, one does not grow old.” Take the opportunity to sit a little longer and just enjoy!