Handy Italian foodie phrases

Published March 22nd, 2013

You may think you know how to savour a slice of pizza or swirl a strand of spaghetti, but ordering and eating food in Italy is an art form. Italian culture is all about food, food, glorious food. The darling little nonnas depicted in movies force-feeding their families out of love are actually a reality. They will pinch your cheeks, drench you with kisses and proceed to tell you to eat more. “Mangia, mangia! You’re nothing but skin and bones!” she will insist before conjuring up a plate of deliciousness out of nowhere. The kitchen is the heart of the Italian home and has a supernatural power of bringing the whole family together. You eat to celebrate, to mourn, to socialise and sometimes even because you’re hungry. Hopefully these foodie phrases will serve you well on your epicurean expedition, from the pizzeria to the gelataria and then maybe on to the ospedale (hospital) to alleviate your food coma. Buon appetito!



“Io avere bisogno di un tovagliolo grande come Sicilia”

Translation: I need a napkin the size of Sicily

There is nothing more beautiful than a big bowl of al dente pasta smothered in rich, tomatoey goodness with delicate webs of cheese binding it together in glorious harmony. If there’s one thing to remember it’s that you should never use a spoon to roll your pasta. Swirl it on the side of your plate and, if you’re worried about splashback, that’s where the napkin comes in. You will also find homemade bread at the table. Save the temptation to bite into it and break it apart with your hands, using small chunks to mop up any leftover sauce. If you’re embarking on a culinary journey around Italia you will discover a pasta catalogue so spectacular it’s like seeing a double rainbow. Throw caution to the wind and choose at random, or learn the difference between farfalle (bows), fusilli (spirals) and fettuccini (ribbons) and impress the waiter with your ordering skills.


“Io dovrebbe avere indossato mio elastico pantaloni”

Translation: I should have worn my stretchy pants

Apart from pasta, Italy’s other trademark dish is, of course, pizza. Who doesn’t love a good pie? It’s the perfect party food, a family favourite, you can dress it up or down, do it yourself or pick one up for an easy dinner. No offense, but Aussie franchises have butchered pizza - the base shouldn’t be cakey or stuffed with cheese or hotdogs. What’s that about anyway? Good pizza isn’t hard to come by in Italy. Rome is the pick for variety (Nutella-stuffed calzones, anyone?), but it’s worth making the pilgrimage to the dish’s homeland, Naples, for a pizza night like no other. There is actually a governing body in Naples that decides what makes the cut, right down to what wood should stoke the oven. Take it back to basics with a margarita pizza – sauce, fresh basil and mozzarella representing the three colours of the Italian flag. And what a delicious flag it is!


“Una cucchiaiata di tutto sapori, per favore!”

Translation: A scoop of every flavour, please!

After devouring much more than your daily recommended intake of carbs, cleanse your palate with a scoop (or three or four) of gelato. On that note, if you’re calorie counting on your holiday to the land of pizza and pasta you need to cease and desist immediately. This is not the place to watch what you’re eating. You should be watching it disappear from your plate and into your mouth. But back to gelato! Gelatai artisans attend culinary schools across the country to learn the techniques of Italian ice-creamery. Nearly all gelaterias use fresh, natural ingredients and fruit so make sure you have your two serves a day! And maybe an extra one for good health. Flavours change seasonally with some heaven-sent outposts offering more than 100 different taste combinations. Stray away from the generic neapolitan flavours and upgrade to cannella (cinnamon), tarocco (blood orange) or castagna (chestnut).


“Ti potere lasciare il intero bottiglia”

Translation: You can leave the whole bottle

Lunch and dinner (or pranzo and cena if you want to show off) are almost always accompanied by a bottle of vino. If you’re a white wine drinker, you’ll want bianco. For red lovers, it’s rosso. Italians are the biggest wine drinkers on the planet with a rumoured one million wine-growers making a living off the fruitful land. Wine connoisseurs will enjoy an outing to an enoteca or wine bar, while even the most humble of trattorie/restaurants will have a quality house wine on offer. If all else fails, ask for the vino della casa to stick with the house wine. Fill your glass halfway, swap “cheers!” for “salute!” and you’re all settled in for the evening. And then there’s grappa. Ah, grappa. A potent brandy-like elixir sipped post meal. Beware of that dainty little glass. It may aid digestion, but it lights a fire in your belly to do so.


Disclaimer: apologies to any Italian-speaking readers for my rudimentary Italiano!



Ashton Rigg

When I'm not at home in Brisbane, you’ll find me wanderlusting around hipster bars, eclectic boutiques and arty nooks. From bagels in Brooklyn to strudel in Salzburg, I believe the best way to experience a destination is by taking a bite! Tweets & 'grams at @AshtonRigg