Dos and Don'ts and other tips to enjoy a good Italian restaurant in the Italian way
How many times have you been in an Italian restaurant?
Are you sure it was really "Italian"?
Here are some tips on what's the Italian way to enjoy the meal, what you should avoid to do in an Italian restaurant, and how to recognize an "authentic" one.
Yes, because in Italy too, you can find a lot of restaurants, usually close to the tourist trails, where the habits (and often the dishes too) are someway modified to meet the expectations of the foreign customers, where the prices are doubled, and where no Italian would go to eat. We usually call them "trappole per turisti", tourist traps. We are sure you understand what we mean.
All the more reason we know that outside Italy it's difficult to live exactly the same experience as in an authentic Italian restaurant in Italy, but nevertheless these tips can help you to understand what in Italy is considered "normal", what's "not" and what's "terrible" and why sometimes we seem to be so shocked by some customer's behaviour. On the other hand a good number of these tips can apply to every kind of restaurant, as they are just a matter of education and common sense.
Good food is a pleasure, but for people in many countries (like Italy) it’s a matter of culture that should not be trampled on. Moreover, sometimes a pinch of culinary education can help to appreciate what you eat at its best.
Anyway, this collection of tips, while is entirely true, is obviously intended to be read with the due dose of irony.
#1 No ketchup or tabasco or any prepacked sauce over pasta or pizza
#2 Don't ask for changes in recipes if not strictly necessary
Recipes come from a tradition or from an accurate balancing due to the chef. Those that come from the tradition are the result of years and years, sometimes centuries, of try and fail and variations and corrections and improvements. If there is anything in a recipe that you want to change, probably that is not the right dish for you, and you’d better consider changing your choice instead. Obviously any change request due to allergies or intolerances will be surely considered.
#3 Don't ask for food ready in 5 minutes
In an authentic Italian restaurant (as in any proper restaurant) all dishes are prepared to order, and need the right time to be correctly cooked (less for pizza, more for risotto…). Good restaurants are not fast foods, and don’t use frozen ingredients or pre-assembled ones if not strictly necessary. If you like microwaved food a good restaurant is not the place for you.
#4 Why ask the staff to cut your pizza for you?
If you can cut a steak with your knife, then there’s no reason why you cannot do the same with your pizza. Moreover cutting it by yourself let you choose for a slim or a big slice, with more or less crust or toppings. In the end it’s part of enjoying your pizza. And, by the way, in any pizzeria in Italy you would never have your pizza served already cut.
#5 Spicy food has to be spicy
Spicy food often can be adjusted to the taste of the customer, but asking for a “Pizza alla diavola” or “Spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino” or “Spaghetti all’arrabbiata” with no chilies makes really no sense. Some recipes are born around chilies, their flavour and their spiciness, and without them would lose completely their nature.
#6 Never drink Cappuccino or Coffee during the meal
While with pasta dishes water is recommended or (better) a proper wine, pizza is perfectly paired by a refreshing beer. Cappuccino is usually consumed only for breakfast, and a good coffee (espresso and not american) is highly recommended, but only at the end of the meal.
#7 Don't spend your time with your smartphone or tablet while your food is hot in front of you
Every dish must be eaten as hot as possible to preserve the taste and the texture. Anyway having a good social time with your table mates while eating is highly recommended.
#8 Spaghetti and Risotto are not side dishes
They have to be considered as main dishes and not eaten besides other food. The only exception is for the "Ossobuco alla milanese" that is traditionally paired with "Risotto alla milanese"
#9 Not every Italian food is really Italian food
There’s lot of food around the world that bring the title “Italian” or the colors of the Italian flag (Italian soda, Italian seasonings, some soap-tasting parmesans…), but very often have nothing to do with Italian food. That rubbery thing covered with tons of low quality cheese and toppings you can find in the big franchises like Pizza Hut or Pizza Company (and in many other places too) shares only the name with the real Italian Pizza. “Spaghetti Alfredo”, “Spaghetti with Meatballs” or "Chicken parmesan" are never to be found in a true Italian restaurant, and Italians know them only by American movies.
#10 Calling things with their names
If you want the most classic and famous pizza, you have to order a "Margherita". If you order a "Margarita", you'll end up drinking a good tequila based cocktail.