Ah, la dolce vita. Italy could be by far the best place for retirement or vacation. It is a country surrounded by water, which means there are many beaches and has many mountainous regions, meaning weekend get-a-aways in the fresh mountain air. Many regions still enjoy the simplier life and relax while surrounded by food and family. They can spend hours eating and socializing.
Food is really the cohesive glue that brings the family together. A normal work day consists of a light breakfast, usually at the bar, where they have an espresso and brioche/croissant. A lunch meal during the work week is usually a panino or something that can be eaten in a short amount of time. However, when the work day is finished, italians meet at the dinner table to discuss life, family matters, Italian politics and the world as a whole.
Italians love sitting down to eat with their immediate family, the whole process is different than that in other parts of the world. There may be family members sitting around a table, but it’s not the same experience. Meal times are a fairly relaxed affair in Italy; there is no urge to eat your meal down as quickly as possible, to rush off to do something else. The food is brought to the table at a relaxed pace and eaten slowly; afterwards, of course, the family talk follows.
In case of a big family gathering, the preparations start hours in advance of the arrival of the first guest and continue till much later, as the hosts usually prepare much more food than needed. The event gets underway only when everyone arrives – it is like an un-written rule that until all the guests arrive and all food is prepared, no one gets in the mood to enjoy. However, it is normal to see people snacking every so often.
Finally, when you do sit down for the meal, it is a very long, relaxed and drawn out process. Generally when there is a large family gathering, Italians have meals as such: Antipasti is the appetizer that is brought out first. This could be olives or maybe cheese. There is always salad on the table, however the salad is eaten after the secondo piatto. This could be because they eat the hot foods first and wait to eat the salad, since its already cold. Bread is also a main staple of the Italian diet. It is eaten after or with the primo piatto (first plate). The primo piatto is usually a type of pasta, rice or gnocchi. The bread is used to absorb the sauce left from pasta, rice or gnocchi.
After the primo, comes the secondo. This is a type of meat such as chicken, beef, pork or fish. Different regions of Italy will have different specialities. In addition to a secondo piatto, there is a contorno (side dish) which could be potatoes or other vegetables such as asparagus, fennel, carrots, spinach etc.
When eating the meals, there is always red and/or white wine and water on the table, in addition to other beverages depending on family tastes.
Fruit is sometimes eaten after the secondo piatto. An apple, orange or other seasonal fruit is usually readily available. Figs are a popular fruit, since they grow in many peoples backyards!
The dessert comes next. Tiramisu is a popular italian dessert, as is apple crostata or gelato. Some regions have different specialities. Further south, there is more of a tradition of cannoli, a ricotta filled pastry shell with pistacio and a cherry. There is also marzipan or pasta di mandorle, which are both crushed almond based sweets. In fact, the further south you travel, the sweeter the desserts, so if you have a real sweet tooth, try visiting sicily!
Are you full yet??? The meal is not yet over. After dessert comes coffee or tea. The italians have espresso and some have an espresso makers in their home. However, usually the italian coffee is served in the moka, which is a coffee maker that has water in the bottom and coffee on top.
Finally comes the digestivo, or after dinner drink. In Italy, Montenegro is a very popular digestive drink, as is limoncello.
Even as the meal reaches it’s grand finale, most members stays around the table with conversations going on for hours, or maybe a game or two of scopa, a popular card game. Others may retire to the sofa to riposarsi, or relax. This riposo, however, usually means they simply fall asleep.