A picnic fit for a king

Picnic, Italy, Italy (Photo by Pete the painter)

Picnic like a king on the budget of a pauper in Italy

A bottle of Chianti, a crusty loaf of bread, some fresh fruit, local cheeses and salamis, yogurt, and a pastry to top it all off makes a fabulous meal.

Stop at a half-dozen little neighborhood shops, and $8 to $12 per person later you'll have a feast fit for a king. 

Far from being a budget fall-back, picnicking in Italy can be as much fun and unforgettable as a meal in the finest Michelin-starred restaurant.

What with all the restaurants I eat in just to do my job, one of my most memorable European meals ever remains a picnic lunch on a bench in Paris with my wife and parents. (Another was a late-night picnic in a hotel room in Tuscany with my parents and a buddy.) 

Italian produce is usually of very high quality, hailing from local farmers, not distant agricultural conglomerates whose idea of the perfect tomato is one that ships well, whether it has any taste or not. 

Visit a few small neighborhood grocery stores or an open-air market and point to anything that looks like a local specialty. 100 grams is usually the perfect amount or one person. (Often if you just say "picnic for two people," the workers will give you the appropriate portions.)

I have broken bread (focaccia, actually) with my Boy Scout troop on a patch of grass overlooking the Colosseum in Rome, enjoyed the world's freshest mozzarella direct from the farm in the fields of southern Campania, dined gloriously alone on a panino and some clementines atop a wall overlooking the vineyards of Tuscany, had members of a Italian hiking group compete to share the best of their brown-bagged bounty with me on a Sicilian hilltop near some Byzantine ruins (after which we picked almonds off a tree and cracked them open with stones), and sat with a friend on the grassy banks above the Brenta Canal—the villa-peppered country escape of Renaissance doges just outside of Venice—and watched the boats glide by as we munched sandwiches, shared a bottle of fizzy Lambrusco wine, and ate an entire watermelon...

Where to go for picnic pickings in Italy

When it comes time to put together that picnic to enjoy sitting around the fountain of a piazza, on your day trip, or just back in the hotel room, you can visit a string of little Italian food shops:

  • The panificio or forno can provide breads and pastries
  • fruttivendolo is for fresh fruit and veggies
  • latteria sells cheeses
  • Vini olii or enoteca carry bottles of wine
  • An alimentari (little grocery store) is good for packaged goods, salamis, drinks, and a bit of everything else 
  • Tip: You'll sometimes find supermercati—supermarkets—in the basements of large department stores

You can order by the kilo (2.2 pounds) or mezzo kilo (half a kilo), but most people order in their foods in grammi (grams).

One hundred grams is nicknamed un etto, which is slightly less than a quarter pound. When you're throwing together a picnic for 2–4 people, usually one etto each of two cheeses, another etto of prosciutto, and an etto of olives (or whatever)—added to a loaf of bread, bottle of vino, and some fruit—somehow ends up being just the right amount. (Often if you just say picnic per due—"picnic for two people"—the workers will give you the appropriate portions.)

But for the absolute best and freshest in raw ingredients, and a true Italian experience, nothing beats hitting the stalls of an outdoor food market, camera in tow. Markets tend to open Monday through Saturday around 7am. The best pickings are in the earliest hours, when you might bump into your trattoria owner from the night before selecting the ingredients for this evening's bounty.

By noon many stall owners are starting to pack up, the bread bins are full of only crumbs, the best bell peppers are gone, and the lettuce is wilting. By 1pm most markets are deserted save for a few cats pawing through the leftovers.

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Useful Italian or picnicking

I would like - Vorrei... 
some (of) - un pó (di)
100 grams [1/4 pound] of - un etto di 
this - questo
that - quello
and - e (pronounced "ay")
cheese - formaggio
salami - salame
bread - pane
picnic for two - picnic per due
a bottle of - una bottiglia di
...fizzy water - acqua gassata
...still water - acqua non gassata
...red wine - vino rosso
...white wine - vino bianco
...beer - birra

Be careful where you snack

Many monuments in Italy are now off-limits for panino munching, gelato licking, and even just plain old sitting on the steps—including the Spanish Steps and Coloseum in RomeSt. Mark's Square in Venice, and the steps at Florence's Duomo

You will likely just get a stern talking-to by police or local authorities. 

Persist, however, and you could get slapped with a $650 fine.

About the restaurant star ratings (☆☆☆ to ★★★)

You will notice that all restaurants (and sights and hotels) on this site have a ReidsItaly.com star designation from ☆☆☆ to ★★★.

This merely indicates that I feel these eateries offer a little something that makes them special (or extra-special, or extra-extra special, etc.).

These star ratings are entirely based on personal opinion, and have nothing to do with any official local restaurant ratings or grades.

In general, a pricier restaurant has to impress me that it is worth the added expense.

This is why I give ★★★ to some inexpensive eateries or sandwich shops that happen provide amazing value for the money—and similarly have ranked a few fancy but notable restaurants just ★★☆.

About the restaurant price brackets (€–€€€)

Here at ReidsItaly.com we simply provide a general price range indicating the general amount you should expect to pay for a full meal in the eatery.

Each eatery is rated into a price category, which indicates—very roughly—what you could expect to pay, per person, for a standard full meal: Three courses—primo (first course), secondo (main course), and contorno (side) or dolce (dessert)—plus something to drink.

There are three price ranges, giving you a sense of which restaurants are budget, which are moderate, and which are splurges:

under €15
€€ under €40
€€€ over €40
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for dining

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a restaurant un ristorante oon rees toh-RAHN-tay
...a casual restaurant una trattoria
oo-nah trah-toar-RHEE-yah
oon ohst-air-EE-yah
I would like to reserve... Vorrei prenotare... voar-RAY pray-note-ARE-eh
a table for two una tavola per due oo-nah TAH-voal-lah pair DOO-way
...for 7pm per le sette pair lay SET-tay
...for 7:30pm per le sette e mezzo pair lay SET-tay eh MET-tzoh
...for 8pm per le otto pair lay OH-toh
I would like Vorrei... voar-RAY
...some (of) un pó (di) oon POH (dee)
...this questo KWAY-sto
...that quello KWEL-loh
chicken pollo POL-loh
steak bistecca bee-STEAK-ah
...rare al sangue ahl SAN-gway
...medium rosato ro-ZA-to
...well done ben cotto ben KO-to
veal vitello vee-TEL-oh
fish pesce PEH-shay
meat carne KAR-neh
I am vegetarian sono vegetariano SO-no veg-eh-tair-ee-YAH-no
side dish [veggies always come seperately] cotorno kon-TOR-no
dessert dolce DOAL-chay
and e ay
...a glass of un bicchiere di oon bee-key-YAIR-eh dee
...a bottle of una bottiglia di oo-na boh-TEEL-ya dee
...a half-liter of mezzo litro di MET-tzoh LEE-tro dee
...fizzy water acqua gassata AH-kwah gah-SAHT-tah
...still water acqua non gassata AH-kwah noan gah-SAHT-tah
...red wine vino rosso VEE-noh ROH-so
...white wine vino bianco VEE-noh bee-YAHN-koh
...beer birra BEER-a
Check, please Il conto, per favore eel COAN-toh pair fah-VOAR-eh
Is service included? É incluso il servizio? ay een-CLOU-so eel sair-VEET-zee-yo

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).

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