One important thing you must know right off is the art of Italian aperitivo, or happy hour/appetizer/tapas time. Similar to Spain, Italians start their nights off with aperitivo before dinner in large groups of friends or family. They love to draw out a meal, and I’m starting to love it, too!
Many bars charge you for one drink, and then a buffet of small dishes is included in that price. Another possibility is that when you order a drink, for 1euro more the waiter will bring your own personal assortment of appetizers, such as olives, cheese, salami, and nuts. Be aware that at a certain time of day they will assume you are wanting the aperitivo.
My favorite food to taste was pizza, of course. The portion sizes, fresh ingredients, and combinations are what makes Italy the best pizza place in the world. The crust is much thinner than what we see in the United States, and that makes it a little more likely that a small built girl can finish the 10″ pizza in front of her.
I loved that all of the ingredients in Italian pizza were fresh. They use a lot of eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers in their combinations. The pizza selection takes up two or three pages of the menu, it’s wonderful! Our favorite spot was in the Trastevere area of Rome because of the quality and prices. Look for the address below.
Da Ivo Pizzaria: Via di San Francesco a Ripa 158, Trastevere, Rome
I love pasta. I could eat it everyday and never get tired. Therefore, I couldn’t wait to eat different types of pasta in Italy. However, I was severely disappointed. Maybe I didn’t find “the place,” but the several dishes I had didn’t blow my mind. From ravioli to Bolognese, tortellini, and Carbonera, it was comparable to what I make myself at home.
One close exception was our last dinner at our hiker’s refuge in Portovenere. The cook prepared simple slices of fresh pasta (similar to dumplings), browned them on one side and tossed them with pesto. That was pretty good, but still… I prefer Olive Garden. I hope I’m not struck down by lightning today.
Because, yeah, gelati. Small cones range from 1,50-2,50euro. We did find one in Portovenere that was 1,20 for one flavor— score! Fruit flavors are usually the type made without milk or cream. Sometimes the place will get artsy and include a smaller cone with chocolate syrup that you could pour over the whipped cream… oh God, I have to stop… cravings are starting up again!
Gelateria Lamia: Via Capellini (first right when entering to the left of Piazza Bastreri), Portovenere
Lemongrass: Viale Giulio Cesare 56, near Vatican City, Rome
Giolitti Rome: Via uffici del Vicario 40, Rome
Of course when you are along the coast, you’ve got to try some seafood dishes. My favorite was shellfish. Their risotto di mare is very similar to Spanish paella. Fresh ingredients are key, so I wouldn’t try to go super cheap when ordering this dish. The rice is cooked in a light broth which is great for dipping bread in after you’ve finished!
The best meal we had was our last night at the hiker’s refuge in Portovenere. We started with aperitivo (garbanza bean salad, pickles, peppers, sardines, bread). The first course was the fresh pasta I mentioned earlier, followed by the most delicious clams I’ve ever had, flavored with lemon. For dessert we had the Italian liquor, grappa, and dessert bread to dip into it.
Sadly, I still don’t know too much about Italian wine! Since all Italians were on holiday, we only briefly talked about Italian wine with our one Couchsurfing host (who is Indian). We have fallen in love with red wine while living in La Rioja, but in Italy, especially in the summer, white wine seems to be the way to go. I believe there are four “nominations” of different grades, similar to in La Rioja. There is also an importance placed on region. For example, a lower grade of Chianti is still better than a higher grade from a lesser area.
A mezzo litro of house wine at a restaurant in larger cities like Florence and Rome will cost you 4-6euro. You could also buy a bottle yourself and carry around plastic cups! Bars were usually kind enough to open bottles for us since we didn’t have a corkscrew.
Yes, this happened. I had an amazing margarita (or three) in Florence, right in the center! They don’t truly stand up to a Superior margarita from Louisiana, but after being overcharged for beer and wine I dove right in. I’Margaritaio is a cool, Mexican bar with a happy hour from 5:30-8:30. You get a huge margarita (or any other cocktail) of any flavor for 4euro.
If you get a chance to go, don’t miss out because you feel like it’s not “authentic Italian.” Get the blood orange frozen marg and thank me afterward.
I’Margaritaio, Via Dell’ Anguillara 70r, Piazza San Firenze, Florence