If you haven’t eaten your way across Italy yet, consider the advice of someone who has. Italian food varies dramatically from region to region, but you can rest assured that you will find pasta, wine, espresso, and gelato wherever you go.
I, however, suggest stepping out of your culinary comfort zone to try all (or almost all) the country has to offer. Here is a guide to the basics. When it fails, your best bet is to order what the guy next to you is having – “prendo quello che ha preso lui.”
At the coffee bar
- Caffè – an espresso
- Cappuccino – a breakfast beverage not to be ordered after lunch or dinner
- Macchiato – an espresso “stained” with milk foam
- Caffè shakerato – an espresso shaken over ice forming a frothy summer treat
- Caffè corretto – an espresso “corrected” with a shot of liquor, often grappa
- Grappa – distillate made from grape pomace, the leftovers from wine-making
- Caffè americano – an espresso served in a cappuccino cup with hot water on the side not to be mistaken with…
- Un americano – an aperitivo of Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda
- Cornetto – an Italian croissant also referred to as a “brioche” in Northern Italy
- Succo di frutta – fruit juice
- Spremuta d’arancia – fresh-squeezed orange juice
- Un bicchiere d’acqua – a glass of water
At the pizzeria
- Pizza – a flatbread, often circular in shape, baked with or without toppings
- Mozzarella – cow’s milk cheese made by pulling or stretching the warm curd
- Mozzarella di bufala – mozzarella made with buffalo’s milk
- Pomodoro fresco – fresh tomato
- Salsa di pomodoro – tomato sauce
- Basilico – basil
- Origano – oregano
- Acciughe – anchovies
- Capperi – capers
- Cipolle – onions
- Peperonicni – red chilis, often dried and in flakes
- Peperoni – bell peppers
- Salame picante – pepperoni or spicy, cured sausage
- Salsiccia – sausage
- Ananas – pineapple, an unacceptable Italian pizza topping
- Wurstel – hot dog, a passable Italian pizza topping
At the gelateria
- Fiordilatte – “the flower of milk,” theoretically made with the best part of the milk, meaning the cream
- Panna – cream made without egg yolk
- Crema – cream made with egg yolk
- Cioccolato – chocolate
- Cioccolato fondente – dark chocolate
- Nocciola – hazelnut
- Gianduja – chocolate hazelnut
- Bacio – also chocolate hazelnut, but easier to pronounce
- Stracciatella – chocolate chip, but with chocolate flakes rather than chocolate chunks
- Fragola – strawberry
- Lampone – raspberry
- More – blackberry
At the paninoteca
- Panino – an Italian sandwich
- Panini – more than one Italian sandwich. Panini is plural.
At the salumeria
- Prosciutto di Parma – salt-cured, air-dried ham, aged in or around Parma for months.
- Prosciutto San Daniele – salt-cured, air-dried ham from San Daniele in the Friuli region of Northeastern Italy
- Speck – dry-cured, smoked ham from Northern Italy
- Coppa (in Lombardy and Emilia Romagna) – cured sausage made of pork shoulder
- Coppa (in central Italy) – cured sausage made of pork head
- Finocchiona – fennel-flavored cured pork sausage
- Guanciale – cured pork jowl
- Pancetta – pork belly, cured but not smoked. It’s bacon with an Italian accent.
- Pancetta affumicata – smoked pancetta
- Porchetta – spit-roasted stuffed pig
Ingredients/dishes to look for
- Bottarga – salt-cured fish roe often from Sardinia or Sicily
- Bruscandoli – hop shoots
- Foccacia di Recco – a very thin flat bread filled with cheese. Arguably the most delicious thing you are likely to eat in Italy. Look for it in select parts of the Ligurian coast.
- Frico – fried cheese served in Friuli
- Granita – Sicilian shaved ice
- Mascarpone – Italian cream cheese
- Moeche – soft-shelled crabs from the Venetian lagoon
- ‘nduja – spicy, spreadable pork sausage from Calabria
- Ricci di mare – sea urchins, served seasonally in Puglia and Sicily
- Funghi porcini – mushrooms with a big brown cap
- Tartufo nero – black truffle, found year-round
- Tartufo bianco – white truffles, available late fall to early winter
Good to know
- Colazione – breakfast
- Pranzo – lunch
- Cena – dinner
- Merenda – snack, normally acceptable only if you are under the age of ten
- Pane – bread
- Olio extra vergine di oliva – EVOO
- Formaggio – cheese
- Carne – meat
- Pesce – fish
- Pollo – chicken
- Maiale – pork
- Cinghiale – wild boar
- Di stagione – in season
- Fuori stagione – out of season
- Andato a male – gone bad
- Vino – wine
- Rosso/biano – red/white
- Vino della casa – house wine
- Vino della zona – wine produced nearby
- Il conto – the check
- Coperto – service charge, normally included in the check
- Compreso – included
- Escluso – excluded
- Un’altra grappa, per favore – another grappa, please
Even better to know
- “Conosco i miei polli.”
Literally – I know my chicken.
What it means – I know what I am talking about
- “Sei come il prezzemolo.”
Literally – You are like parsley
What it means – You pop up everywhere.
- “Non fare il salame.”
Literally – Don’t act like salame.
What it means – Don’t be a ham, you idiot.
- “Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco.”
Literally – Not all donuts come out with a hole.
What it means – Things don’t always turn out as expected.
- “Non puoi avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca.”
Literally – You can’t have a full wine barrel and a drunk wife.
What it means – You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Still room left in your brain? Oui? Brush up on your Français food and drink essentials with 100 French Food/Drink Words and Phrases.