For your upcoming trip to Rome you may already be fantasizing about six-course meals that start at nine in the evening and continue well past midnight. For Italians these epic feasts are considered nothing more than a well-balanced dinner. But, before you try and keep up with this gastronomical procession it’s probably best you familiarize yourself with these simple guidelines.
Choose Your Place Wisely!
While it is always best to get a recommendation from a local, sometimes while traveling you find yourself out on your own having to make your dining choices without a friend or guidebook. In situations like these – stay alert for those subtle clues that can tell you whether a restaurant is legit. A sign hanging above the door saying “Authentic Roman Trattoria” is normally a good indication, but not if the menu you are given is filled only with pictures and the person that hands it to you is dressed like a gladiator. Please keep in mind, though, that just because the restaurant is fake, it doesn’t necessarily mean the gladiator is as well, so take care not to provoke him!
Get Off on the Right Foot!
After a long day out touring the ancient ruins of Rome you will most likely show up at the restaurant for dinner with a hardy appetite. Upon sitting down your waiter will offer you a simple basket of fresh salt-free bread. You may feel that the staff forgot to bring you butter or at the very least a stylish little pear dish of olive oil. Before you make the novice mistake of asking for either of those condiments, reflect on the fact that there are six courses that you have yet to start on. Romans do not believe in wasting precious real estate in their stomachs on something as boring as butter -neither should you.
Respect the Natural Order of Things!
The order of what happens next may throw you for a loop, so prepare yourself now for the following major surprise. While back home nothing may feel more right than kicking off a meal with a side salad, in Rome that isn’t going to fly. Salads, like all vegetable side dishes (known as contorni), come towards the end of the meal with your main plate. And don’t expect the waiter to flaunt his memorization skills by rattling off an impressive list of salad dressings – the list is easy to memorize – its oil and vinegar. Instead, visit the antipasta bar. It’s sure to feature all kinds of grilled and pickled vegetables and a selection of fresh cheeses.
When your pasta arrives there are a couple of things that you want to avoid. Please refrain from cutting your pasta with a knife and fork. It may seem quite practical and even efficient to do so, but it’s not worth the looks of horror you’ll receive from your fellow diners. While you’re at it, leave your spoon right there on top of the tablecloth where it should remain if you’re eating pasta. Italians, despite what you have seen in the movies, do not eat pasta with a fork and spoon. Instead they use only the fork and so can you – it’s all in the wrist.
Resist Temptation. Again!
At the end of the meal please refrain from ordering up a big frothy cappuccino. It will seem like the perfect Italian thing to do I know. While a shot of espresso is standard operating procedure in Rome after a meal, drinking a cappuccino is a sin. Italians do not believe in drinking milk on an empty stomach so the cappuccino is reserved for breakfast only. Resist the temptation and simply order a caffé (shot of espresso) both your waiter and your stomach will respect the gesture.