Posted by Jason Chan (Politecnico di Torino–Turin, Italy)
Il pranzo (lunch) is the biggest meal of the day over here, at least for me. For la colazione (breakfast), you usually just have a biscotto or a croissant, and I think that la cena (dinner) is usually more about the family than the food. Anyway, most to all of us at TTW (the company I work for) eat lunch at the same caffè every day, but the menu is always different and there’s a good variety so it never gets old. We usually leave for lunch between 1 and 2 PM and are in no hurry to get back to work, as the work atmosphere here is very relaxed, especially when working for a very small company (eight people, plus the three of us).
For €4,50 (about $6.75), we get a meal that pretty much fills us up to the point where we don’t really even have to eat dinner. A brand new menu is displayed for us each day. Can you figure out what some of these choices are?
The choices are also displayed for us to help us decide (or if we can’t understand some of the words on the menu!).
Now the structure of an Italian meal is to first have some antipasti, which are essentially the Italian version of appetizers. The antipasto consists of some fine Italian pane (bread), which is of course even tastier and crispier than the Italian bread back home, along with some sliced meats (prosciutto, salami, etc.), sliced mozzarella, and sometimes some vegetables, all topped lightly with olio d’oliva (olive oil).
Here is a portion of our crew, seated in our usual spot in the back of the caffè with all of the wine, excited to start eating the antipasti. (Fernando, Kristen, and I are the MIT interns, and we are sitting together in the back right.)
You might have notices the tall, skinny bottles of water. These are 1.5 liter bottles, which are the “standard” size over here, much like 2 liter bottles are “standard” in the US. Let me say that the bottled water here is great. In the US, brands like Aquafina and Dasani are now using purified tap water, while over here, bottled water is still natural mineral water. Therefore, it has a fresh taste that you don’t find in water that is purified.
We usually get both acqua naturale (still water) and acqua frizzante (sparkling water), which leads me to my next point. This is the first time I’ve had sparkling water and actually liked it. The several times I have tried sparkling water in the US, even San Pellegrino, there has always been way too much carbonation. The sparkling water here is more lightly carbonated (and it is not uncommon for people to dilute it with still water), and you can actually still taste the subtle flavors in the water. I’d have to say that I actually prefer the acqua frizzante over the acqua naturale.
To get back on the topic of the Italian meal structure and to review, we started off with the antipasto. After we finish (or almost finish), our dishes that we requested when we walked in arrive.
If you look back at the menu, you’ll notice three categories: primi, secondi, and contorni. When we make our order, we ask for one primo, which is typically a starch like pasta or rice, one secondo, which is typically meat, and any set of contorni, which are side dishes – usually vegetables, but occasionally other things as well. You then get a plate (the same size no matter what you order), filled with everything you asked for.
On this day, I had fusilli pomodoro e basilico (spiral pasta with tomato and basil) as my primo and milanese (breaded cutlet) as my secondo. For my contorni, I had lenticchie (lentils) and un uovo con spinaci (an egg with spinach).
By now I have tried a good number of different dishes and they are great across the board. I am especially impressed by the tacchino (turkey), which tasted better than any turkey I’ve had in the US, and of course the fresh pomodori (tomatoes), which I had previously not really been a fan of.
Maybe it’s just my coworkers, but wow! people eat fast here! I am always the last one to finish, and for the first few days, I was not able to finish the whole plate. Every day, I have gotten better though, so hopefully people will have to wait for me less and less, and eventually maybe even not at all.
Needless to say, all this food can make one sleepy, especially when one has to go back to work, so we always head straight to the coffee vending machine after lunch. I have already described the joy of Italian coffee culture in my blog, which can be found here
. Feel free to browse through it, and check back every once in a while, as there are many exciting things to come!
I hope everyone else in MISTI is having as great a time as I am! Ciao!