Ferragosto is actually celebrated on August 15th, but Italians have a way of stretching that into the entire month of August. On the 15th, places that weren’t already closed, close down. Florence has been a little different this summer. The rainfall in July set a record, not seen since 1916. It was the coolest July since 1970, and July is typically the warmest month. As we have made our way half way through August, I am sure more records are in store. It hasn’t been as rainy, but the usual heat just isn’t there. I’m not complaining! It’s been the best summer since I moved here. I’ve barely had to use my fans.
Ferragosto was actually created in 18 B.C. by Emperor Augustus. He combined several festival days to create one which celebrates the end of the harvest period and a long intensive agriculture season. Italians today pack it all up and go to the beach; not just for the day, but often for the entire month. This makes sense for the small family owned businesses that don’t have enough staff to operate when one or two are away. It’s better to close when all of the other Italians are at the beach!
I have felt really left out when I stay in Florence in August. My street, which is outside of the tourist traffic, is like a ghost town. My usual vendors for fruits, vegetables, seafood, etc are away. Even my favorite restaurants are closed. This year, we headed to the mountains of Alto Adige in Bolzano! Read all about it next week!
Italian food in other countries is strongly influenced by the country where it is being served. What you have in your home country that is called “Italian food”, might not be what you experience when you actually arrive here. Additionally, in various parts of Italy, foods differ. The different regions throughout the country have their own specialties, and you should find out what those are and try them. Meal time is considered almost sacred. It is a time to sit down, relax, and enjoy the food and the company you are with. It should be a slow pleasurable experience. Below are a few tips and recommendations for eating in Italy.
1. Italians never drink cappuccino after 10:30-11 in the morning.
2. Italian breakfast consists of a pastry and an espresso or cappuccino.
3. There is no Chicken Parmesan in Italy.
4. Peperone in Italy means red or yellow peppers. (Different spelling, but same pronunciation as Pepperoni) If you order a Pepperoni pizza, you will get a pizza covered with red and yellow peppers. If you want something like American pepperoni, order salami. It’s still not exactly the same.
5. When you want to order something in a bar, you usually need to pay first and then take your receipt to the counter. This is true in Florence and other larger cities, but not so much in small towns. In Florence and other large towns, if you want to sit down, the prices are higher than at the bar.
6. You will not find Spaghetti and meatballs on the menu. Meatballs are called Polpette and are served separately from the pasta dish, usually as a second.
7. You are not required to eat all of the courses on the menu, but you can! The Primi usually consists of the starch, pasta or rice (risotto). The second is the meat, fish or poultry dish and the contorni are side dishes. Salads are usually eaten at the end of the meal.
8. Italians drink their coffee at the very end of the meal, not with dessert, after.
9. The service in Italy is more relaxed and less obtrusive to the meal and enjoyment of the company you are with. If you want or need something, you will probably need to catch the eye of the waiter and signal for them to request what you want.
10. Doggy bags are virtually unheard of in Italy.
11. If you order the famous Bistecca Fiorentina, do not expect it to be cooked well done. It is served rare and I have seen many chefs refuse to honor well done requests.
12. Most restaurants will NEVER bring the bill until you ask for it, no matter how long you’ve been there, no matter how late it is. In some small places, you pay at the cash register, and must remember what you have eaten to tell the cashier.
These are just a few! I could go on and on, but the most important thing is that you try and enjoy the wonderful foods (and beverages) that Italy has to offer!
During the hot summer days, sometimes it’s hard to even think about eating! Definitely a hot bowl of pasta or steaming risotto is out! I turn to my old standby, and you can’t get any better than this, a Caprese Salad, The colors of the Italian flag and the flavors of the best of Italy are present in every bite. Tomatoes in Italy are definitely the fruit of the gods. They are luscious, sun ripened flavorful and juicy, you just can’t beat them. Fresh creamy mozzarella and some fresh basil, salt and a generous drizzle of Tuscan olive oil makes this simple salad a culinary delight. A glass of white wine, preferably Vernaccia di San Gimignano is the perfect accompaniment. Ah, the simple things in life can be sublime.