We all know what to expect when we go to a typical Italian restaurant back home – the usual array of pasta dishes, maybe a couple pizzas, and, of course, a tiramisu on the dessert menu. Would it surprise you, then, to learn that in some parts of Italy you'll be hard-pressed to find tomatoes in the local dishes at all?
Italy is a young country, formerly made up of independent
Get to know what's produced locally and what's in season, and you'll be eating the freshest and best of what that area has to offer. Steer clear of so-called "Italian food" that's not typical of the region you're in, and you stand a much better chance of avoiding touristy (and overpriced) restaurants.
Most Italians pay for things on a day-to-day basis with cash – from their morning coffee to dinner that evening and everything in between. For those of us who have grown accustomed to paying for milk and bread at the grocery store with a debit card, it can be a little jarring when the waiter at a decent-sized restaurant balks when you hand him a Visa.
Most of us know that businesses pay a fee each time we pay for something with plastic, but in many
And don't worry – almost every hotel in the country (and certainly all the big ones) takes plastic, as do train stations.
There's that great line about how "at least Mussolini made the trains run on time" – we've all heard it, and it's funny, but it's not true. It's an urban legend (one that some older Italians still repeat – don't try to argue with them).
Today, the trains in Italy are notorious for being a bit late, or for occasionally not running at all due to periodic labor strikes – and yet they remain, in my mind, the best way to get around most of the country. There are certainly places where you'll want to have a car, or where a bus might serve your needs better, but in most
I should note that while people will complain that trains are always late in Italy,
This phenomenon isn't unique to Italy, but it bears mentioning because it catches so many off
Where I live, waiters
In Italy, after your meal is delivered, you may not see the waiter at your table again until it's time to clear your plates. And when you're done with your meal, after coffee or dessert or whatever your final course was, no one's going to come by with a bill without you specifically asking for it.
This is not the waiter being rude. This is the waiter letting you enjoy your meal and your dinner conversation for as long as you want. Restaurants in Italy are not looking to "turn over" tables every 1.5 hours – once you sit down, that's it, that's your table. It's yours as long as you'd like to stay. There's a reason the Slow Food movement begain in Italy, after all.
So, when you're ready to leave, you just flag down your waiter the next time he passes by and say, "Il conto, per
I can't tell you how many times I've gone into restaurants in Italy, at what I thought was dinner time, only to find the place nearly empty. This is usually a good reason to leave a restaurant, because if the locals won't eat there, why should you? In Italy, however, you need to check the time before you make that
Italians eat late – not as late as the Spanish, in most cases, but the dinner hour in many cities doesn't start until at least
If you can't adjust your dinner hour to match that of the locals, that's fine – just remember that if a restaurant is
You'll note in a few of the things listed above that the concept of time may seem a bit fungible in Italy – and it is, in a way.
Breakfast may be a tiny shot of coffee and a pastry inhaled while standing at the bar, and Italian drivers may seem like they all think they're in a Formula 1 race, but generally speaking, Italians aren't wedded to the clock.
You'd do well to try to adopt this mentality while in Italy (when in Rome, etc.), as it will help you avoid frustration with things like train delays and waiting to get the bill in a restaurant. Relax. You're on vacation, after all.
Want to know more about Italy? Listen to the World Nomads podcast. A couple of places in Italy you won’t find in a guidebook – food that reduces you to tears – and what does it take to get your travel photos on the World Nomads Instagram page.
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