If you want to get to the heart of Italian food, it’s best to go the source. For an authentic experience you don’t just need to get into the country of Italy, you need to get into Italian homes where traditional Italian food was birthed. That’s right, if you want to get to the heart of the cuisine you need to go where it’s cooked and served from the heart, in an actual Italian home.
There are some differences to the layout of an Italian home cooked meal versus other cuisines that you’ll want to be aware of. First off, real Italian food is not meant just to bring sustenance; it exists to bring family and friends together. An Italian meal is at least three to four courses and is not something to be rushed through. Meals in general are longer in Italy because of the cultural view that meal times are not just about feeding the body, but about feeding the soul.
One of the most surprising things to foreigners about an Italian meal is the first course it typically the most filling. There is an antipasti or appetizer course, but there is no salad or soup to ease your way into the meal. Right from the antipasti diners delve into the primo or “first course”. This is the course that will look most familiar to foreigners because it is where that delicious pasta that Italian food is famous for is served. This primo course is where most people’s knowledge of Italian food ends. Few people realize that there is much more to Italian food than just this primo pasta.
The next part of the meal is the secondo or “second course”. Here is the main dish. Yes, that’s right, the pasta that was just served in the primo, while filling, is not the main dish. The second course is where you’ll find the meat of the meal. In the North there will most likely be veal, pork, or chicken. In the South and coastal regions you’re more likely to find freshly caught fish. With this course will come a contorno or “side dish”. This is where you’ll get a chance to get your daily vegetables in. Traditionally this will come in the form of a fresh salad.
To end the meal diners get not one, but two desserts. The first is a cheese and fruit course that will help prepare you for the dolce or main dessert. The dolce will be the rich dessert of the evening, such as cake. Of course, the meal will end with coffee or espresso, a classical capstone to the array of Italian food that has been served. However, there is one last course to come that foreigners may not be so familiar with. The last course is actually the digestive course and consists of liquors and is often referred to as the “coffee killer”.
After having an authentic dining experience as the one outlined above, foreigners will leave Italy with a much better grasp on what Italian food is. There is more to this fine cuisine than pasta and pizzas. In fact, by the time the “coffee killer” comes around the primo pasta course is starting to fade in memory, buried by the exciting meat dishes, fresh vegetables, fruits, cheeses, and coffees that have made Italian food one of the most sought after cuisines in Europe.