Any excuse to stop at a bar for breakfast!
But this is an Italian 'bar' so we'll be ordering more coffees than cocktails.
Un caffè al banco is the best! Many will claim in Italy that a coffee 'at the bar' is the best way to drink it - hot, cheap and with a bit of catch-up chit-chat.
Un cappuccino for breakfast, un caffè (espresso) mid-morning and macchiato after lunch make up Italy's worshipped, and rather precise, coffee culture with particular times of the day for particular coffees. Sound confusing? See our blog post on Italian coffee explained.
Recently, a trendy Roman blog posted a sign found on a pizzeria wall to their Instagram page: "Please stop ordering cappuccino with pizza, fa schifo."
You see, a milky coffee like cappuccino belongs to the morning for Italians, alongside brioche, not pizza. Sweet pastries, cakes like crostata and bowls of fruit contribute to a traditional breakfast here where the brioche can be dunked into the milky coffee for full effect!
Italy's favoured breakfast pastry has the shape of a croissant but is different in texture and taste. While the French version is layered with flaky, buttery pastry, the Italian brioche is puffy but denser and sweeter. Brioche is made with eggs and uses less butter so it resembles a fluffy cake of sorts.
Golden and glorious, the brioche lends itself to all kinds of variants and can be filled with different types of crema, preserves or jams and since an awareness of improved nutrition has become immensely prevalent in Italian food culture, we now find wholewheat brioche with forest fruit fillings or honey as a healthier version of Italy's favourite on-the-go breakfast,
Then what's cornetto?
You may have heard the word cornetto on holiday in Rome or southern Italy because here the morning brioche is known by another name. Identical as an on-the-go breakfast, you can ask for "Un cappuccino e cornetto per favore," where you'll most likely be given a napkin and told to help yourself. In most bars breakfast the pastries come straight out the oven and then kept warm in a glass display case on the bar counter so you can see all the options and choose your favourite.
The done thing is to sit down with un cappuccino e brioche rather than have un caffè al banco because a cappuccino is designed to be sipped whereas an espresso is made to be drunk quickly. You can take your Italian breakfast to a table - this is known as 'al tavola' - or you may be asked on ordering "Al tavola o al banco?" in which case they'll bring it to you.
Brioche fillings are naturally regional as all foods are in Italy. You're bound to find crema al pistacchio in Sicily, crema limone (lemon) on the Amalfi Coast, apricot jam in North Italy, zabaione (egg crema with marsala) in Turin and mascarpone crema in Venice but the standard flavours of jam, crema and Nutella you'll find everywhere.
Look out for brioche stuffed with crema and strawberries in spring and almond brioche, brioche alle mandorle, my favourite...
Next time you're in Italy, skip the eggs and bacon and do what the Italians do - step into a bar (there are so many) for un cappuccino e brioche but make sure you're there early for the full-range because after mid-morning, the brioches run out to make way for tramezzini!
And the next glorious stage of a day in Italy's culinary life commences - aperitivo time.
Buona colazione amici!