Food Rules in Italy – 8 Commandments to Follow

Yes, it is true, food DOES rule in Italy. But one must also FOLLOW the food rules in Italy as well. Here below are some of the standard rules to help you avoid getting into trouble with the locals on your next visit to Italy.

1. Cappuccino is only for breakfast

Yes, if you try to order a cappuccino after your lunch or dinner, you are going to get the evil eye from your server. Or maybe he will just laugh in your face. Who wants to be laughed at by the hip Italian waiter?  Not me!  Milk is reserved for morning time and MAYBE a late morning or early afternoon break. After a meal, it is too heavy and rich. And don’t even think of having your children drink milk with their meals!

2. No sandwiches for lunch

Sandwiches are eaten during lunch only as a last resort. Italians want and expect a hot meal for lunch – a QUALITY hot meal. An Italian once told me this:  “You know it is a bad day if you have to eat a sandwich for lunch.” But honestly….take a look at these sandwiches….do they really look THAT bad?

3. Do not add parmesan cheese on top of every pasta plate

If you order a seafood pasta dish, don’t even think about looking for the parmesan cheese and heaven help you if you ask for it! Don’t do it! Remember rule one and being laughed at by the Italian waiter? Well, with this rule that waiter is NOT going to be laughing. For the Italians, sprinkling cheese on such a pasta will overpower the dish. DON’T DO IT!

4. No salad dressing

In Italy, salad dressing does not even exist. If you order a salad, the waiter is going to bring: salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar. If you would like balsamic vinegar, just ask and he will bring that too. The thought of the type of salad dressing Americans are used to would be considered distasteful to an Italian, especially the creamy versions and even worse, the low-fat creamy versions. Simplicity is the mainstay in Italian cooking and eating.

Of note:  The salad will come AFTER the main course, not before.

5. Water will only come from a bottle – and will NEVER contain ice

This goes for any cafe, pizzeria or restaurant. Do not expect your server to arrive with four glasses of ice water the minute you and your friends sit down. And speaking ice, the Italians don’t use it very often. You might get a few cubes if you go to McDonald’s, otherwise, drinks are usually not served with ice. Not water, not sodas.

6. Coffee comes AFTER dessert

As I mentioned in rule one, you cannot order a cappuccino after a meal, but you can order coffee (un caffe’) which will be an espresso. Your caffe’ will never come out with dessert. The dessert first, then the coffee.

7. The waiter will only bring your bill when you ask for it

No, he is not being lazy or rude. For the Italian waiter, it is considered impolite to bring your bill before you ask for it because it is viewed as a suggestion for you to leave. So feel free to linger, and when you are ready, just ask for the conto.

8. Enjoy every meal and view it as a pleasure

This is the ultimate rule. Italians not only enjoy their meals but make time to enjoy them. They do not enjoy just dinner and blow through lunch. They do not enjoy long lunches just on special occasions. They enjoy all meals – every day. They take the time to eat a quality meal and to spend time with family or friends in the process.

Here are some entertaining food-related pics:

1. “Have Pasta, Will Travel”: Snapped at the airport in Malpensa, this Italian guy is flying Easyjet, and has a tiny baggage allowance, and chose to take up half the bag with pasta!


2. Church meals at parents’ meeting for first communion: Here when your child is preparing for first communions, confirmations, etc…they will have parent meetings to discuss the details, which of course is going to be followed by a lunch. Here is the FIRST part of the lunch feeding 200 people. Wine, water, pasta. After this came the second course of cheeses, salami, prosciutto, veggies, frittata. After that desserts. After that coffee. The pasta and wine were provided by the church, the rest was brought by the parents.


3. The Italian food pyramid:  This one is for diabetics, but still – wine is on the menu.


58 Comments on “Food Rules in Italy – 8 Commandments to Follow

  1. I live by 1, 3, 4, 5, and 8 – so I do just fine when I visit Italy! 🙂

    The Italian food pyramid is fantastic! Definitely a plan I could happily conform to.

  2. I love this post! I think the Italians have it right…we should enjoy our meals more and make them family time (each one). I also love the pictures of the pizza and sandwiches, Italian with pasta, food pyramid
    and family meal after the Communion meeting. I feel like cooking now! 🙂

    • Hi Kathy!

      I know….those pics are so funny. The guy with his pasta in the backpack was making us laugh so much. Classic! Missing you a lot. Y’all have a good weekend and big kisses to your family!

  3. Ha ha! You’ve been Italianised! 🙂 Gotta say, for me, lunch is a sandwich as well – Latvians are horrified too 🙂

    • Ok…it is true that I do cook a lot more now than I did in the States…but I still love a good sandwich..what’s not to like??? Especially with all of the yummy ingredients they have here? Anyway….at the minimum….I must admit I enjoy meals a lot more than I used….I have slowed down A LOT since living here……what is a standard Latvian lunch?

      • Soup (watery), fish or something that passes as meat with potatoes and cabbage, washed down with kefirs – like butter milk – your Italian friends would die 😉

  4. Love, love, love this post! You got it just so right! Italians live for their food and do not touch it or think of changing the rules. You can talk about anything but be careful when you say something about food or drink.
    Crazy isn’t?
    I thought the pic of the guy with his rucksack is just so funny! These days you can find pasta anywhere though.. lol!
    The piramide alimentare is different to the one you get over here. I find it odd that people seem to demonize carbs these days? I am not sure eating meat everyday can possibly be healthy. Don’t you think? You don’t put on weight if you make a light pasta dish. Pasta is great for diets.
    I enjoyed your post and thanks for the mention too 🙂
    Buon weekend cara xxx

    • Yes! It is so funny! There is NO ROOM for change – – AT ALL…but if it ain’t broke – – right??

      Yes…the guy with the pasta…you are so correct….I mean we were laughing a lot trying to understand why he had that pasta with him! You can find it just about anywhere these days! Even that brand! SO FUNNY!

      The carb thing is weird. I think it is because most of the horrible carbs in the States are so refined….lots and lots and lots of sugars in our food…tons of processed food. And that stuff is bad. Also…portions are huge there. So even if you just get a plate of pasta with tomato sauce, it is gonna be major carb overload. And these are the things that make you gain weight.

      We were at our in-laws for xmas – – 10 days. I ate the standard Italian breakfast, lunch and dinner (in moderation)…and I DID partake in the special xmas treats (again in moderation) and did not gain an ounce. I admit I was a little worried because I don’t normally eat as much as my mother in law was cooking…..but everything was so fresh…and SATISFYING. Maybe that is it?? The refined foods provide that initial rush, but then leave you totally unsatisfied, looking for more.

      Anyway….now I have to go set the table because it is pizza night 🙂

      Have a fabulous weekend too! Baci!

  5. I LOVE it all! The parent church dinner and pasta toting Italian are the best! Not sure where things “broke down” in the States. If I go to one more event where people are asked to bring a food item and they grab something from the grocery store and place it on the table in the plastic container it came in, I am going to scream!!!! I love the idea of food/meals being a treasured time to spend with others. And, the fact that the food has been made by someone and presented nicely. I know there is not ALWAYS time for that, but there should be most of the time. I love your cooking Diana and I know Mr. Britt does too!!

    • Hi Sheri! Yes…for sure life in the food department is so fast in the United States that people are not taking the time to prepare or share meals like they did when we were growing up. 😦 And for as much as I complain about how “things never change in Italy,” I hope this one tradition never does change – – even though in our fast paced world it can be tempting to buy the plastic container food. Thanks for your sweet comment! E buona domenica!

  6. My husband regularly embarrasses me by ordering a cappuccino after a meal. I have to say that no waiter has ever been rude about this. I think they are used to stranieri doing odd things. I have even seen Italians drinking cappuccino in the afternoon on the odd occasion.
    Who eats all the sandwiches on offer in bars?

    • I know! TONS of sandwiches…so I guess the Italians ARE eating them, but only if forced to do so!?!? I guess they don’t think they are disgusting, but just would prefer a hot meal.

      Yeah….the cappuccino thing is funny. I have to say that in Varese on occasion I see Italians drinking cappuccinos at the cafe’ in the afternoons too..typically when it is very cold outside…but when we are in Rome around my husband’s family, that would be a big no-no.

  7. Good to know! Although I’m sure we’ll still embarrass ourselves.

  8. I tease my boyfriend all the time about all of the food rules Italians have. That said, I follow quite a few myself. But if we watch a cooking show and it involves pasta, he invariably starts griping, at which point, I say, “blah blah blah something about pasta.” 😉

    • Hi Alison! Funny!!! Yes – – the Italians have all kinds of rules – – but for PASTA??? It better be perfect…dangerous territory for a NON-Italian…..I know on occasion I over-cook my pasta. I get side-tracked doing other stuff….but luckily hubby eats it anyway. 🙂

  9. Love this post Diana! One thing that i really appreciate about the Italian table is the presence of wine with a meal. Bottles of wine with bottles of water. And those sandwiches….call me odd, but Italians make the best! I have suckered into them many times in Italy. Only one rule I would change…I would eat salad first thing, not last. Other than that, baci alla dieta italiana!!

    • Hi Susan,

      I know…I am nuts for those sandwiches too! MORE THAN HAPPY to have a sandwich for lunch. And yes…the salad first would be a good change as well. I can only assume they do this based on something to do with digestion, as I am sure you know….digestion is molto importante in the old country! Anyway….thanks for the comment and have a good weekend!

  10. I absolutely LOVED reading this!! Who knew there were so many rules? I must say the Italians sure know how to live … I would side with them in the sandwich camp, usually – however, here in NL, a sandwich (and not even a delicious panino or a nice crunchy bread roll) is the absolute norm. If you go out for lunch, it’s for sandwiches! Anything else is extremely uncommon.
    I also laughed about the milk: it’s quite the opposite here, the more milk the better :p
    Duly noted about the parmesan with seafood – could have been embarrassing!!

    • Sophie…yes – – isn’t it interesting that what works for one culture, does not work for another?? The milk thing is interesting to me too. I must admit, milk from a taste perspective probably does not go that great with pasta. But then again…aren’t the Dutch (as a nation) the tallest people in the world? I mean….milk is full of protein and calcium. HMMM….

  11. great post! as Italian expat in Latvia, I keep repeating these (and many, many more) rules or habits that we have to myself and to my friends 🙂
    The connection we have with food is something inner, something we have never been taught how to, simply something we all grew up with and we cannot quit. these rules are the most logical and smartest to those ones of us who love eating…
    we constantly think about food.
    the first thing your mum or you dad will inquire about when you’re abroad is what you had for lunch/dinner. it is the best way of caring about you and, from the answer, they can usually understand if you are feeling OK or not (so that’s also why I do sometimes lie to my mum on what I had for lunch)

    I’ve been living in the Baltics for nearly 2 years now and my habits are slightly changing only now…

    • Hi Silvy!

      You are totally correct in your comment regarding your parents! Their questions about what you are eating shows they care. Ha, ha, ha….your occasional lie to them is so sweet! Normally lies are not so nice, but yours is very sweet!

      How is Latvia treating you?

      • I will get bored of Latvia sooner or later (and I’m already thinking about my next destination) but so far… I love Latvia and Latvia loves me! 🙂

  12. Rule #3 has always baffled me. I live in the North on the seaside and in fact my Italian family have often put parmesan on their pasta with fish. It isn’t common but I’ve seen them do it. When I asked my sister in law about it she just shrugged and said it’s ok, everyone is different.

    • YAY!!!! “Everyone is different” is not a comment I hear often in Italy (ESPECIALLY related to food). How cool and open-minded is your hubby’s family?!?!? Love it!

  13. I love this post! I actually really like all of those rules, except I’m kind of with you on the espresso. Is theirs sweet at all, or just straight-up espresso?

    Also, is it common to drink wine with lunch? Because I can definitely get on board with that! And do you tip servers at restaurants there? All good stuff to know before I head over. 🙂

    • Hi Katie! Luckily you are actually allowed to sweeten your coffee just the way you like! 🙂

      YES – – vino at lunch! DO IT!

      For tips. It is not at all like in the States. Waiters in Italy get paid a fixed salary and do not depend on tips for their wage. In fact, if you pay with a credit card, there is not even a place to enter a tip on the receipt. Many places will charge a “cover.” Typically 2 euro per person. So tipping is up to you. Of course it is highly appreciated!

  14. Such an interesting post. I love cappuccino in the afternoon and an Italian sandwich for lunch, but I’ll stop sprinkling parmesan over everything on my plate. Difficult though as it’s so good 🙂

    • I know! I love the sandwiches too! And especially on a cold day, I love a cappuccino in the afternoon! Anyway…they say rules were meant to be broken… that is the way I view the “rules.” 🙂

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  16. This is great. I didn’t know most of the rules. =) We Americans don’t know how to enjoy our meals. We are always rushing to/fro…at least in the big cities. Did you find Italians are overall a happy people?

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    • Hi Victor…..yes….I know…..I get the concept for after dinner or a large meal, but sometimes in the afternoon especially when it is cold, I like a cappuccino at the cafe with something sweet as an afternoon snack.

  18. Loving these advice! Really like the fact that lunch is for hot meal! I am going to Rome soon as well, so looking forward to have delicious Italian food there..and that will include a hot meal during lunch time 🙂

  19. Hi Indah! Yes….enjoy the yummy food and let me know if you need any advise about Rome…hubby is Roman…

  20. hahaha another awesome one!
    Funny about the parmesan cheese, it is so true!
    Once at my favourite Italian restaurant here in Munich, I ordered a seafood pasta and asked for the parmesan… oh my! The waiter thought it was absurd, so I never did that EVER again hahaha

    Interesting that the salad comes after the main course and that the coffee comes after desert!
    At least their salad doesn’t have dressings, I like that… I am not a fan of salad, mainly because of the dressings.

    Ohh you made me miss Italy ❤

    • Awww..thanks so much!!! I know…..who knew about the seafood-parm thing?!! Anyway…next time you are in Italy, we can share a meal together and laugh about their rules! 🙂

      • hahahaaha
        That would be amazing!! I would love to learn some more about the Italian culture with you!! You must have many interesting and funny stories to tell 😀

  21. Reblogged this on solo cose belle and commented:
    This is a 100% accurate article about the basic laws of eating in Italy! I always laugh that they’re more strict about their social & dining rules than they are traffic ones.

    Thanks for the great article Diana! I look forward to reading the rest of your blog.

    Buon appetito!


    • Hi Maddie! Thanks for stopping by!!! And yes, you are correct… and food rules much more important than traffic! 🙂

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