29 April 2007


How many courses in an Italian meal? It depends…

  • 1st there is the antipasto: This is often a cold dish, each region with its own specialties varying with the season. It may be sauteed vegetables, salami and prosciutto, or bruscetta.
  • 2nd is the primi or which means first course, and is the pasta dish. It is a small portion, not the full plate of overcooked pasta covered with heavy sauces most Americans think of.
  • 3rd is the secondo or meat course, which consists of a meat, fish or poultry serving, again without heavy sauces or any side dish. Some restaurants may offer a vegetable-based secondo but it’s not common in this part of the country.
  • 4th is the contorni or vegetable course. They may be hot or cold cooked vegetables, usually what is currently in season. There is usually an insalata offered which is a leaf lettuce salad which is served with olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Again no heavy creamy dressing.
  • 5th is dolce. The sweets which is usually a pastry or gelato in warm weather.
  • 6th is the fruit. Again this is what is available seasonally and may simply be fresh melon or fruit cut and served cold.

The previous are served with red and white wines. The last two may not be considered actual “courses”:

  • 7th Caffe’; espresso coffee with lots of sugar – no milk.
  • 8th and final is the digestivo. This is a small liqueur such as grappa, limoncello or American whisky - which is very popular among Romans.

This full eight course meal is served slowly with lots of conversation and usually lasts two hours or more. Considering meals begin at 8PM or later, this can make for a long night of eating.

Daily meals and small gatherings usually do not include this full array of food – perhaps just a primo, insalata and fruit – with wine of course.

Here in Ascoli Piceno the offerings at restaurants include a lot of pork and lamb dishes, even though we are only 30 minutes from the Adriatic Sea. There are a couple places we frequent and there are some unique characteristics of these establishments that the locals prefer. First, they are located in out-of-the-way corners with minimal signage; you have to know where you are going. Second, there are no written menus; the offerings for the day are given to you verbally with usually 3 or 4 choices for primo and secondo and 2 or 3 contorni. Many will have a fixed price which includes everything: wine, mineral water, primo, secondo, contorni and caffe’. These complete meals range from €12 to €17 depending on if you are having pranzo or cena. Finally, when you are done and want to pay, you just get up and walk to the cash register, which is usually at the bar, and tell them what you had and they tell you how much. At our favorite places we usually don’t even get a receipt, just a big smile and a “Ciao”.


Jane said...

Bryan--what about the formaggio? Often this is after the secondi/contornis before the dulce or in place of dulce. Do you ever, ever eat it all?

Did you know that it is against the law not to provide a receipt? My understanding is that even you as a customer must be prepared to show the receipt to the police if stopped within a certain distance from the restaurant. Wonder if that ever happens?

Anonymous said...

Not getting a receipt and then being stopped by the guardia di finanza within about 150 meters of a restaurant can cost you a fine and close the restaurant for a period. It is not an idle worry as restaurants in the Marche and Abruzzo do have it happen from time to time. It may be a little less likely in some areas but tends to be more frequently enforced in concentrated areas where tourists reading this might go.
As to meals, I agree that formaggio has been omitted as well as current stylish trends toward two primos and multiple meat courses. Historically, you live near L'Acquila which has a traditional event called "panarda" wherein meals run 30 to 60 courses to celebrate an important life event. I have eaten at a panarda that started at noon and went to late at night.
Your enthusiasm is charming but sometimes you need to do a little more subject research.

Bryan said...

d'accordo, ma...

I forgot about the cheese course but here that is usually part of the antipasti, seperate cheese courses are usually only offered in places the tourists frequent. I'm sure there are other regional differences in these courses and with other special meals but hey - this is only a blog.

Any establishment where we aren't a regular we are always pressed with a receipt. We look at it as a sign of being considered "a local" when that doesn't happen. I know about the receipts, see the 3/26 post (I linked to that in this post).

Anonymous said...

It is different types of cheeses that are served with antipasto.
A classical meal has a separate cheese course whether in a restaurant or a home.
I eat at restaurants every day with people who were born here and will die here and they make sure they get receipts. Gee, they are lawyers (born here, die here Italian lawyers), think they know something?
What bothers me is that naive Americans will read your blog and think it is "smart" to not get a receipt. I think you have a responsibility to not lead visitors into situations that will cause them to have bad experiences in Italy.
I enjoy watching you have the adventures of exploring a new culture; I hope you have fun but remember that some people will read your blog and behave as it suggests.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous,
another anonymous here. I agree that restaurants/shops MUST always provide a receipt (and if they don't you must ask for it), but you should cut Bryan some slack. As he said it's just a Blog!

Anonymous said...

When the best response you can have is to diminish your own statements "it's just a blog," I won't even bother with a response.

Anonymous said...

And yet he responded yet again. Boy Bryan, you caught yourself a live one. It is because of people like him/her that newspapers require letters to the editor to be signed. If someone is not willing to put their name, but try to hide in anonymity while professing strong statements, it shows they are cowards. If they are so convinced they're right, they should proudly sign their names...or keep it to themselves.

Joan Garcia

Bryan said...

We were bad...last week we were at one of our regular places to eat and when the owner asked if I wanted a receipt I said "no".