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Order Like a Pro at an Italian Restaurant

Italian Food

When in Rome

Ever been to an Italian restaurant? No, we don’t mean Olive Garden, no matter how delicious their soup, salad and breadstick lunches are. We’re talking about an authentic Italian restaurant, split up into several courses over the span of a few hours divided between friends and family.

No? Not surprising, as they are few and far between in the United States. However, there may come a time when an authentic Italian meal will come your way. In that case, you’ll want to be prepared! Let’s take a quick course in ordering cibo meraviglioso (wonderful food)!


Vini ProseccoTo get you started, you’ll want to order an “aperitivo,” or aperitif. An aperitif is a light alcoholic drink that helps get you ready to eat – it actually comes from the Latin verb “aperire,” which means to open. This drink will be something like Presecco, an Italian white wine, or vermouth.


Before your actual meal, you’ll want to order an antipasto, or perhaps several antipasti. In the US we know this better as an appetizer! The idea behind antipasti is to further stir up your appetite without filling you up, so we get delicious foods like pepperoncinis, roasted garlic, cured meats like prosciutto, or “peperone,” which are small green bell peppers.

One of the main antipasti dishes you’ll come across which is easily shared among friends is “bruschetta.” This is slices of crunchy bread topped with cheese, prosciutto, tomatoes, garlic, basil, or a number of other things. The term bruschetta is thought to originate from the word for “burn” in Italian, “bruscare,” since the food is often grilled. This was done to save almost-stale bread from being wasted.

Primo e Secondi

The meal portion of the dinner will be split up into two separate dishes. First, there is “primo,” which means…”first.” This is usually a dish of pasta, gnocchi, or perhaps in the winter, a bowl of soup.

Secondi, which you can probably guess the translation on that one, comes next. This is the “meat” course, so you’ll get veal, chicken, or fish. If the restaurant is doing it right, the meat will have been caught that day and freshly prepared. That being said, don’t order fish if the restaurant is miles upon miles from the sea!

Also, side dishes are called “contorno,” a direct translation. To go with your heavy pasta and meat, perhaps you can order a delicious “insalata,” or salad. Or some vegetable dishes, like the wonderful “asparagi alla salsa,” or asparagus with sauce.


Like the rest of the meal, the dessert portion is served in several courses. First up is “formaggio e frutta,” cheese and fruit, to start you off with a nice healthy kick. Usually the fruits will be “uvas,” or grapes, or “fragoles,” strawberries.

Next up for dessert madness we have the sweet portion! This is what we’re accustomed to in the US, so bring on the calories. There are several options you can choose from, like different cakes or cookies. But let’s not pretend we’re not here for the “tiramisu.” Why is it so delicious? Perhaps it’s because the name means “pick me up.” That’s also slightly ironic, considering when you eat enough tiramisu it feels like nobody would ever be able to pick you up!

After sweets it’s time for “caffé,” or coffee, and then a “digestivo,” an after dinner alcoholic drink that aids in digestion. Now you’re done with your delicious Italian meal, so kiss the cook and exclaim “Bravo, grazie!”