Everything You Need to Know If You Want To Experience The Real Thing
Eggs, bacon and sausage - fuggedaboudit! In Italy you can only get those in hotels that cater to Americans. Cappuccino and brioches are one of the few 'legal' options. Even McDonald's in Italy serves cappuccino for breakfast.
A Typical Lunch or Dinner
The following courses are included in a typical lunch or dinner.
Meat / Fish (with Vegetables or salad)
Sweets and coffee
Ammazzacaffe (Grappa or Amaro)
Lunch and Dinner Rules
NO butter should be on your bread.
Dipping bread in oil is okay, but it's not really considered an appetizer because it fills you up and you can't enjoy your meal.
Eating bread with pasta is a no-no, and only served at home when guests are present.
Have mineral water and or wine with your meal. Forget sodas and absolutely NO milk unless you are a teenager or small child.
The Italian main meal is traditionally multi-course: Restaurants like to serve you first and second plates and do not appreciate it when Americans insist on having one thing and leaving after paying the check. Italian portion sizes are smaller than American portion sizes, and the mixture they serve (pasta/rice first, followed by meat/fish/vegetables, followed by fruit) is a relatively healthy balance. You may get fewer calories and a healthier mix eating three courses in Italy than one giant entree covered with cheese.
And speaking of cheese...grated cheese is NOT added to fish-based meals.
Coffee is okay with fruit or dessert but never with the main meal. Coffees with milk (cappuccinos and lattes) are for breakfast. Lunch and dinner are followed by espressos.
Cinnamon does NOT go on cappuccinos or lattes. Chocolate/cocoa or whipped cream does.
If you are eating at someone's home, you are expected to eat everything on your plate. Leaving large amounts of food is considered an insult to the cook. On the other hand, if you clean your plate too quickly can it can cause the home chef to refill it and expect another clean plate.
Italians object to picking out the healthy vegetables and leaving them on the sides of the plate.
As for salad dressing: Italians use oil and vinegar, not ranch, thousand island, or "Italian style" salad dressing.
White wine goes with fish. Red wine goes with meat. White wine is traditionally chilled, red wine (except for sparkling red) is traditionally not chilled.
There is no drinking age in Italy! In fact, Italians believe that discouraging underage drinking only leads to binge drinking. But when in America, they do as Americans do.
Read more about the history of Italian cuisine here.