How to Decipher an Italian Menu

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How to Decipher an Italian Menu. When confronted with a menu in an Italian restaurant, many people have no idea where to start. The following will help you avoid ordering gelato as an appetizer or minestrone as a dessert.

Things You'll Need

  • Italian Dictionaries
  • Italian Phrase Books
  • Airline Tickets
  • Travel Services
  • Expect to see a lunch menu from about noon to 3:00 p.m., and a dinner menu from about 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Many restaurants close between lunch and dinner.

  • Look on the menu to see if it says "coperto" or "pane e coperto" (cover, or bread and cover). Many Italian restaurants charge a few dollars just for the privilege of sitting down to a meal.

  • See if the restaurant features a "menù turistico," or tourist menu. This is a fixed-price meal, usually consisting of a few courses, and is typically a good deal.

  • Start with an "antipasto," or appetizer, if you prefer to order a full meal from the menu.

  • Order a "primo" (first course) next. These typically consist of pasta, risotto, or occasionally, soups such as minestrone.

  • Pick your main course from the list of "secondi" (second courses). These are the meat and fish dishes.

  • Be aware that "formaggi," or cheeses, come between the main course and dessert in an elaborate dinner.

  • Look for "dolci" (sweets) on the menu if you want dessert, but be aware that Italians usually prefer cheese, fruit, sweet wine or simply coffee to end a meal.

  • Order fewer courses if you like; many travelers save a lot of money by skipping the "secondo," typically the most expensive part of a meal.

  • Look to see if the bill includes "servizio," or a service charge, usually 12 to 15 percent of the total. If it does, you needn't add a tip, though it's common to round up when paying.

Tips & Warnings

  • Small cafés or snack bars typically serve fewer courses. Here, it's common to simply order a plate of pasta or a "panino" (sandwich).
  • If you order water, the waiter will usually bring bottled water. Ask for "acqua semplice" if you just want tap water.

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