Italians structure their meals very different from how we do in the United States, here is a guide to what you can expect for breakfast, lunch, aperitivo, and your four course dinner!
Breakfast: In Italy you can typically expect a small breakfast item along with one of their very strong and delicious coffees. Usually Italians prefer to gather at a Bar(Café) in the morning and socialize before going in to work for this meal. Croissants are what I ate most for breakfast and what I found to be most common in the different bars around Torino. The best ones to look out for in my opinion are the Nutella filled ones! They have those available almost everywhere since Nutella actually operates out of Torino. Besides croissants you they also eat a variety of pastries and donuts for breakfast as well. My favorite part about breakfast was the authentic Italian coffee. The coffee there is much stronger than it is here and typically comes in the size of a shot glass. Typical types of coffee I saw were Espresso, Marrochino, and Cappuccino. Overall expect your breakfast to be relatively small and light with a delicious coffee or two along with it.
Lunch: Lunch in Italy is a very relaxing time. In Torino, a lot of shops closed down daily for lunch typically between the hours of 12-3pm. For lunch Italians usually sit outside and eat at a local bar again. Here they will usually sit down and order a glass of wine and have a type of sandwich along with it. The sandwiches they offer are generally made of raw or cured ham and sometimes even have no meat, just tomatoes and fresh cheese. “Toast” is what I ended up eating most of the time I was there. It is two large pieces of bread with cheese on both sides surrounding fresh cured ham. They also have a wide range of different Panini available. One thing I thought was interesting was instead of making all of the sandwiches as you order them, all of them are premade, wrapped in clear plastic, and displayed. This made it easy for me because I would just point to what looked good then they would unwrap it and heat it up for you. For lunch you can usually expect a bigger meal then breakfast but it is still considerably portioned smaller than what we are used to for our American lunches.
Aperitivo: Aperitivo is a very interesting aspect of Italian life. It is essentially what Italians do when they get off work and they are hungry but it is not yet dinner time. Their explanation of the meal to me was that it was a time for pre-dinner snacks, socializing and a drink or two. Typical selections for Aperitivio are small cut up sandwitches, small slices of pizza, pasta and different bruschetta. Normally you can buy one drink during Aperitivio and then get a plate full of all of the different finger food they have made for you. It’s basically a buffet snack time where for every drink you buy that gets you an additional plate of food. My favorite options for food during this time were the small squares of pizza and the amazing bruschetta topped with fresh milk mozzarella and fresh tomatoes grown on the Italian countryside. Aperitivo is a very good time to snack and I would recommend making it part of your day while you are in Italy. They eat dinner much later then we do so it holds you over for that long period after lunch while giving you a great excuse to wind down with a beer or glass of wine.
Dinner: The normal Italian dinner is broken into four different phases and usually happens between 8:00 -11:00pm. First you normally order a bottle of wine, bottle of water and a few “Antipasti” plates for your table. You are also presented with different types of fresh bread and breadsticks during this period. It is very important to note that Italians take offense to you not eating all of the food you order, so be careful how much you order. After you clear the food from your appetizer round you get your “Prima” dish. This is essentially your first course and is normally a meat/fish based pasta or pizza. The noodles you get in your pasta come in all shapes and sizes and I noticed they are usually a lot thicker than the ones we eat in America. For your first course they have a very wide range of the different pizzas and pastas you can get. The strangest pizza I had for this was a “Bismarck,” it was a normal looking pizza with a cracked semi cooked egg sitting in the middle of it. After your Prima you get your main course which is called “Secondo,” this was my favorite because it is normally entirely meat based. This is where you would get different types of fish, veal, steak and meat platters. You can also get plates for two here where they give you incredibly large portions of meat that come out rare and you get to cook it to what you would like on the hot iron it is brought out on. After your Secondo course comes the desert and coffee portion of your meal. Typical deserts would be Tiramisu, Gelato or chocolate flavored coffees. They also have dessert wines available. My favorite desert was a coffee brought in a class covered fully in nutella. The entire dinner process usually lasts between an hour and 90 minutes. If you are eating with a large party expect it to probably last around two hours and possible longer.
When eating in Italy you can expect to have three small to midsized meals throughout the day and end with a very large and delicious dinner.