• 15 November 2016

Every person on this planet should be allowed to experience a summer holiday in Italy at least once in their lifetime. While the magical cities of Rome, Siena, Venice, Florence and Tuscany are of course unspeakably beautiful year-round, there is something about the languid, sumptuous heat of an Italian summer that allows you to truly understand this region’s unflinching, passionate character.

Seasoned travellers will tell you that a sure-fire way of getting under a country’s skin, of truly getting to grips with its zeitgeist and cultural identity, is to immerse yourself in its cuisine. This notion rings particularly true on the cobbles streets of Italy where you can hardly stroll past a doorway without being bathed in deliciously intoxicating cooking aromas.

This is why the Expat Explore team decided to put together a few hints and tips that will allow you to explore Italy’s festive fare like a true connoisseur this summer vacation:

Go sotto casa. Literally translated as ‘under my house’, an Italian’s ristorante sotto casa is their go-to community eatery, which is normally just down the road from where they live. As tourists we are often tempted to frequent the restaurants that come recommended by travel websites and food bloggers (which can be a great way to go), but if you stoically follow this route in Italy without at least trying out the local eatery you are bound to miss out on something wonderful.

Old street in Trastevere in Rome, Italy.
Old street in Trastevere in Rome, Italy.

We highly recommend going with your gut and choosing a restaurant based on the atmosphere. Happen to be ambling through a charming square with the smell of garlic and tomatoes hanging in the air like a delicious diaphanous cloud? Pull up a chair, get your waiter to recommend a dish and drink in the Italian bella vita as the rest of the community wander past.

Don’t get ripped off. In Italy the art of food is based on the notion of simplicity, which means that the very best dishes are based on basic ingredients and that you don’t need to break the bank to enjoy a good meal. Here are a few tips that will help you to avoid over-priced tourist trap restaurants that will milk you for your hard-earned spending money:

1. Don’t eat near big tourist attractions. Restaurants on top of big Italian tourist spots like the Colosseum or St. Peter’s Basilica can charge whatever the like, due to the basic economy of supply and demand. Do yourself a favour and explore adjacent neighbourhoods like Prati, Trastevere or Monti for fairly priced meal options.

2. Skip eateries with gimmicks. E.g. employees standing outside handing out flyers, restaurants that display food in the window (never a good idea in any country, for that matter) and combo deals like pizza with free soda. All of these scream tourist trap.

3. Forgo Italian restaurants with no Italian on the menu. If you happen upon a restaurant with English-only menus you can know for sure that they cater exclusively for the tourist market. The same goes for eateries with signs that promise ‘real pizza’ or ‘authentic Italian food’. If it was all that authentic they wouldn’t have to put up a sign proclaiming it to be so.

Bonus Tip! Gratuity is not customary in Italy. Most waiters get a very good wage, as well as government health benefits and paid holidays. Fancy sit-down restaurants often charge ‘il coperto’ (cover charge that covers bread and water before a meal) and ‘servizio incluso’ (an automatic 10-15% service charge which is included in the total of the bill you receive). If you feel that you received outstanding service you can leave a Euro or two on the table. When in doubt, follow the lead of locals around you.

Gratuity is not compulsory in Italy, but if you feel that you received outstanding service you can leave a Euro or two on the table

Have gelato every single day We’re not kidding – we never joke about gelato. No Italian summer holiday is complete without sampling the country’s inimitable national frozen dessert time and again. Of course, ice cream in all its guises is wonderful no matter where you are, but the Italians have managed to do something magical to their version of it.

Delicious and colourful fruit gelato in Italy.
Delicious and colourful fruit gelato in Italy (note the metal containers)


Typical gelateria in Italy.
Typical gelateria in Italy.

Here are a few pro tips to help you along your way to getting the very best gelato Italy has to offer:

  1. Fruit-based gelatos should match their real life counterparts (i.e. banana should be a grey/pale straw colour, rather than a bright, acid yellow).
  2. Choose home-made gelato that is displayed in metal containers, rather than being duped by commercially prepared batches that come in plastic.
  3. Be adventurous – strawberry, vanilla and chocolate are all good and well, but why not branch out and try something new like cannella (cinnamon), which pairs wonderfully with fresh fruit flavours like pear, or zuppa inglese (English trifle), a custard-based gelato laced with cookies and sherry.

Find out more about our Italy holiday packages and get ready to see a side of il bel paese that you’ve never dreamed of before, at prices that will allow you to indulge every Italian food fantasy you’ve ever had.

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