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“You’ll lose weight,” my Italian-American best friend wholeheartedly guaranteed before my overseas flight. “It’s because Italians make everything fresh.”
After a substantial revisit to the country (optional: while leading a well-rounded women’s wellness retreat with Travel Italian Style), I can say that I’m extra glad I packed my stretchy yoga pants as I stuffed myself joyfully. Perhaps this is why the Italians are so happy — consuming bowls of their favorite pasta meals. Along my journey, I found the best and the right ways to enjoy the sensory carb overload.
To quote a great song, “when a moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie… when the world seems to shine like you’ve had too much wine… when the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool, that’s AMORE!”
Consume water before coffee at the bar. (Photo: Ko Im)
Having a cappuccino or a latte is apparently very American. Savo D’Souza, an employee at Armani Caffe in Milan, explains that Italians have multiple hot espressos in the morning, after lunch and after dinner, too. “After you eat, you feel sleepy,” D’Souza says. “Coffee helps you wake up!”
Do: Drink water before coffee so you can really taste it (having coffee breath is excused).
Don’t: Add milk, water or sugar (keep it black and bitter).
Bar Caffeone serves mortadella ham and olives as appetizers in Bologna. Photo: Ko Im)
At happy hour or otherwise, Italians always drink with food, so pair your wine accordingly. As food blogger Coral Sisk of Curious Appetite says, it’s like matching a “good wallflower to the personality of foods.” If you’re not sure where to start, try a prosecco with pecorino cheese, a merlot with salami, or cabernet with prosciutto.
Do: Swirl reds and sniff before consuming. Note from Tuscan vineyard Fattoria Montecchio manager Arianna Bisacchi: “with the stem — you want to see the color.”
Cheers or “chin chin” if the person you’re clicking with is sitting/standing far away. And don’t forget to dip little biscotti’s in your sweet vinsanto.
As for snacks, use a toothpick when possible. You can even skip dinner on Friday if you fill up on appetizers after a long week.
Don’t: Drink on an empty stomach…that never ends well. Also, don’t serve sparkling wine in flutes (although used on special occasions for elegance.)
A drizzle of olive oil never hurts at Eataly. (Photo: Ko Im)
Expect thin crust and simple ingredients (no super supreme and stuffed crusts, sorry). While comedian Jon Stewart made fun of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for eating with a fork and knife, it’s acceptable to consume your cheesy bread with or without utensils. Buscemi Marco, who works at Eataly in Bologna, advises cutting from the center of the circle and fold the pizza long-ways.
Do: Leave your elbows on the table and talk with your hands while eating.
Don’t: Leave leftovers. There’s not a lot of takeout in Italy so feel free to finish your whole pie!
A marinara and pesto tagliatelle served at Valdirose. (Photo: Ko Im)
Again, the fewer the ingredients, the better. In Italy, a bowl of fresh-rolled noodles serves as the first course of a meal before a protein dish. Cookbook author Irene Berni details an art to cooking and eating pasta. You can ask for a spoon but try to wrap longer pastas like spaghetti starting at the tip of the forks then twisting to make that perfect, bite-sized morsel.
Do: Have the regional pasta and sauce. When in Rome that means cacio e pepe, and in Siena pick pici. Surprisingly, in Bologna there is no such authentic thing as pasta bolognese. Who knew?
Don’t: Add too many ingredients or extra sauce or salt.
Two scoops and a cone, per favore, at Perche No in Florence. (Photo: Ko Im)
Italians regularly treat themselves to dessert after dinner along their evening stroll by stepping into a gelateria. Jessica Spiegel who wrote Italy Explained, reminds us gelato contains lower fat content than ice cream but it’s still important to be selective:
Do: Look at the color — the flavor should match what it’s made of i.e. pistachio should be a pale dull green, banana is not really yellow.
In addition, look for signs that read produzione propria or artigianale (made on-site), and scope out scoops from the metal (not plastic) tubs.
Don’t: Go for the mountains of gelato that indicate they’re made in large, industrial quantities. Mostly importantly, don’t count calories and lick with guilt.