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Food Culture of Italy: Top Things to Know

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

It is undeniable that the cuisine in Italy is extraordinary. It is well-prepared, full of flavour and texture, and it always leaves you wanting more. In light of the rich, fascinating history, traditions, and fashions that have shaped what you eat, let's examine some of the essential elements behind Italian cuisine.

Meal Time

Meal timing is very important. Dinner is provided at 8:00 PM and lunch is served at noon. Don't even think of dining at 4:00 p.m. because restaurant kitchens don't open until dinnertime in northern Italy, and it can be a little later in the south.

Italian Food Menu

A complete menu is composed of an “antipasto, primo, secondo, contorno, and the dolce”. Nobody is capable of such a feat on an ordinary day. Most meals are composed of two courses, a “primo” (pasta or rice) and/or a “secondo” (meat or fish) and a “contorno” (side dish). Not every meal contains all five courses, but many do. If you want the full, five-course Italian dinner, here are the parts you need:

The antipasto: A traditional Italian meal starts with something to nibble on, called an antipasto, which translates into English as “before the meal.”

The primo: In Italy, pasta is a first course, or primo, served as an appetizer, not as the main event. Soup, rice, and polenta are the other options for the primo.

The secondo: The main course is called il secondo, or the second course. Chicken, meat, or fish are the usual choices, and portions are generally small. These main courses are usually fairly simple, especially if a rich pasta or rice dish precedes them.

The contorno: A platter of vegetables usually accompanies the main course. This side dish highlights the simple goodness of the vegetable. The word contorno loosely translates as “contours” and refers to the fact that the vegetable course helps shape and define the meal.

The dolce: A dolce (or sweet) ends a traditional Italian meal.


When it comes to buying food in Italy, it's a common trend to choose local markets and stores as opposed to larger-scale supermarkets. The big advantage of the market is that it offers home-grown and fresh produce that's both healthy and delicious in equal measures.

A recent report from Euromonitor International has said that Italians are continuing to love their fresh food. 2014 saw a period of recovery after a recent slump as a result of the global economic crisis. The report said that 2014 had seen a greater upswing in traditional consumption in Italy with more home cooking and baking. The report also claimed that fresh food sold more than pre-packaged food in retail volume sales. Particularly popular were fresh fruit and vegetables, and there was also growth in seafood and fish products.


Gelato vs Ice Cream: It's the age-old battle.

Before you know it, Summer will be here, and it'll be that time of year when you can enjoy the delights of Gelato and Ice Cream. But Gelato (which means “frozen” or to “freeze”) does make for a healthier alternative, containing less sugar. Another difference between Gelato and Ice Cream is that the former involves a slower churning process.

As if that's not enough with differences, there is also the difference between Gelato and Sorbetto. It's a north-south divide as Gelato hails from Northern Italy while Sorbetto comes from the South. And of course, one key ingredient substitute difference between the two to add to the mix of fruit and sugar is that of milk for Gelato and water for Sorbetto. But whatever you choose, both make for very tasty Summer treats!


In Britain, it's traditional to have a good old-fashioned fry-up for breakfast. Sausages, eggs, bacon, beans, mushrooms... the list goes on. It's a particular delicacy for Brits abroad looking to eschew the local culinary treats for something closer to home.

Italians on the other hand, have the right idea. By and large, breakfast in Italy is a refreshingly modest affair in comparison. The typical Italian breakfast runs along the lines of a coffee (such as caffe latte or cappuccino – although the latter is a no-no after 10 am), bread rolls, cookies and pastries. Other popular choices include fruit salad, yoghurt and muesli. Some of these snacks can be eaten later in the morning as a kind of elevenses. But by and large, the reason that breakfast tends to be on the lighter side is that Italians are saving their appetites for the main meal of the day: lunch!

Craving some crunchiness of Cannoli for your dessert? Check the link in below for Store locations & trading hours.⁠ 👇⁠

All our stores will be operating as per normal on Thursday 22 September 2022 (Queen's National Day of Mourning Public Holiday).

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