You're wandering the shady calli of Venice with a craving for brioche and cappuccino.
But is it too late?
Brioche are served until mid-morning after which it is purely tramezzini time. Regions may differ slightly but in Italy when the midday church bell rings, it's officially lunchtime. Farmers and workers tilling fields put their tools down and wipe their brows in the warm sun with a cheerful thought of food, office staff switch off their computers and in Italian homes, large pots are filled with water and put on to boil.
A day in the culinary life of Italy begins with breakfast. No eggs and bacon here amici, Italians opt for a sweet breakfast, naturally with a large, milky coffee. Just so you know, this is the only time of the day a large coffee is acceptable. A cappuccino after midday is frowned upon here, it's macchiato if you feel like froth.. ma perché? Check our blog post on Italian Coffee Explained.
Cappuccino/caffè latte e brioche (cornetto in Rome and southwards) is the most classic of Italian breakfasts, often eaten at the bar on the way to work. You'll see large glass cabinets keeping the pastries warm as they're churned out of the oven from 7am until mid-morning - an Italian brioche is similar to a French croissant but less buttery and often filled with crema, Nutella or jam. Recently, nutrition-awareness has brought a range of brioche to patisseries from wholewheat to honey to almonds and gluten-free, also available in the smallest of road-side bar.
At home, one of the most quintessential of Italian breakfast options is the fetta biscottata. These can only be described as small and sweet, crisp toast slices sold in packs. Popular with all ages but especially children, they're usually eaten with jam or dipped into a hot drink.
Strangely, the most Italian of mid-meal snack is not food but a drink - un espresso. And no better place than, you guessed it, at the bar. Italians are notorious for popping into one of the thousands of bars found all over the country. In cities there's one around every corner where 'un caffè' will cost you no more than 3 euros. 'Un caffè' is a tiny, concentrated espresso, drank casually in a couple of sips standing at the banco (the counter). Ordering, paying and drinking is a quick thing, taking much less time than the chat that accompanies the actual coffee but this very Italian custom doesn't take much out of your day and is never frowned upon. It's completely respectable to find a 'TORNO FRA POCO 'BACK SOON' sign on a locked shop door meaning they've quickly popped out for a coffee.
There are, of course, other delicious snack options - take the tramezzino, for example, or pizzette served with un aperitivo, these are known as 'stuzzichini and generally eaten with a Spritz Campari or Ugo as an appetiser just before lunch or dinner.
Lunch, ah lunch...
Lunch is the most important meal of the day. It's the biggest and the longest. It's a baptism, a birthday, a Sunday or a family get-together.
It's a long table booked at a restaurant or everybody squashed into the kitchen. Maybe open up the taverna and light a fire to grill meat or find a sagra or drive down to the sea. Sunday is the big lunch day and most places fill up unless they're spacious and/or well-equipped. If any meal is not to be messed with, it's this one.
During the working week, la pausa pranzo may consist of a panino, pasta or insalatona (large salad) eaten, once again, at the bar. Restaurants sometimes offer a lunch menu where all courses are included in smaller portions, in case you must get back to productive work without an abbiocco (Italian for the sleepy feeling after eating too much).
A typical Sunday lunch consists of 4 food courses if it's a celebration or get-together of note: Antipasto, Primo, Secondo, Dolce, Caffe + Digestivo (Christmas, weddings and christenings are a whole 'nother level).
Every Italian region has a collection of specialities which determine what will be served. Seasonal dishes feature at every meal in Italy with a grande amore for dishes found exclusively in certain places and times of the year. People will happily drive to the coast to eat frutti di mare and freshly-caught fish or travel into the mountains (and back) for lunch at a high-altitude baita or rustic malga, keen to sample local dairy produce, venison or forest fruits in their dishes of the day.
Keeping food regional and seasonal is part of Italy's sought-after food heritage. Yes, autumn is beautiful - changing colours in landscapes and misty hills - but it's doubly-so in a country where wild porcini risotto, truffles and pumpkin ravioli make an long-awaited appearance
Aperitivo Time is when we get a little funky. The thought of playing around with 'stuzzichini' fits in well with an apericena or aperitivo where snacks might become more 'experimental'. Mini wraps, salted pastries, tiny burgers or finger sandwiches with quirky fillings become more and more popular (and creative!) where you can always expect some nibbles with your spritz!
Italian dinner is usually somewhere between 7 and 9 although if you're visiting friends or simply enjoying an extra long aperitivo, la cena may be served at 10.
Dinner is another moment of the day to gather around the table, to catch up and socialize with friends and family. At home (and in some osterie or pizzerie) the TV is often on, but it never deters any conversation which simply ends up louder. While Italians are famous for eating pasta daily, this is usually at lunch, making dinner a lighter meal of mostly meat, fish or pulses served with vegetables and/or salads. At the end of a culinary day, un digestivo is enjoyed to 'aid digestion' in the form of a herby tonic such as grappa, limoncello or fernet branca.
All this said, tastes are changing in Italy due to a wealth of international food influences over recent years, yet, a love of cooking and regional tradition consistently puts Italy on the food map as a culture famous for its beautiful cuisine.
Attention to quality, local ingredients and an adoration of savouring delicious flavours in good company brings people together here, always around a table and always with a tablecloth...
Viva l'Italia ❤️