Italian meals

Three square meals a day, Italy-style

Italian breakfasts

A continental breakfast
An Italian hotel's continental breakfast.
Breakfast in Italy is usually continental: a roll or slightly sweetened pastry (called a brioche or a croissant-like cornetto) with butter or jam, plus coffee and/or juice.

Your hotel will almost undoubtedly serve such a continental breakfast at ridiculously high prices ($7 to $15). Some hotels try to justify the price by laying out cheese, ham, and fruit as well, but you're still better off heading to the corner cafe or bar and grabbing a cornetto and cappuccino alongside the locals on their way into work. It's the same grub as at the hotel, at less than half the price.

If breakfast is included in the room price and you can't get out of it, recoup some of your loss by grabbing some extra rolls, meat, and cheese from the breakfast buffet, using this to craft tiny sandwiches at your table, and wrapping them in napkins to slip into your bag along with a piece or two of fruit. There: you now have a free lunch for later.

Lunch: More than just a sandwich

Traditionally in Italy, lunch is a multi-course meal similar to dinner. Lunch used to be the big meal of the day, but modern work schedules have slowly squeezed out the big lunch and added those extra hours to dinner.

This is just as well from a touring point of view, because you've got a lot of sightseeing to do during the day and probably won't want to spend more than an hour on lunch.

Lunch is a good meal to grab on the run or to plan a picnic for, which will save you both sightseeing time and money for a splurge at dinner.

The only remnant of the large lunch is Sunday lunch, which is often still the biggest meal of the week and a time in many countries for extended families to get together and have a massive meal that lasts for hours.

The marathon dinner

The main meal of the day in Italy, which once was lunch but in today's rat race world is increasingly becoming dinner, is often a long, drawn-out affair of three to five courses (plus wine, water, coffee, liqueur, and dessert) that can last two to four hours.

In Italy, you're never rushed through a meal. Many Americans at first get annoyed in Italian restaurants because they think service is slow. It's not. The waiters are giving you time to savor every dish and the conversation at your table. After all, eating too quickly is bad for the digestion (so just think about how healthy you're being as you slowly spoon that creamy chocolate mousse into your mouth).

Italians tend to sit down to dinner anywhere between 7:30 and 9pm (a bit earlier in the north, and later in the south). But don't worry that you'll be famished by dinnertime; there's the traditional evening stroll called the passeggiata around 5pm during which you're expected to nibble on munchies (pizza by the slice, or stuzzicchini bar food).

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