With their diet of fresh fish, ripe vegetables and olive oil the Italians have a reputation as the eaters of one of the world’s most healthy diets. Yet, many Mediterranean meals have, via a voyage across the Atlantic, become creamy, cheesy, oily, fatty good time food; perfectly delectable, undoubtedly Moorish, but wholly unhealthy for those wanting to watch their weight.
Here are our tips on how to enact a renaissance in your pots and a Risorgimento on your tabletop.
Begin by saying a gracious but firm, ‘No, grazie,’ to the appetising breadbasket. Then realise that antipasti is less a salad than a selection of cured meats and cheese – a little heavy for the scale conscious.
And even though pasta might be thought of as a starter course in many Italian restaurants, you really should reserve it only for your main.
Instead try a soup or insalate caprese or leaf through a Caesar salad like a king. A traditional Italian chef will lay a whole fillet of anchovy on your bed of salad, though a less historically conscious one might just include it in the dressing. Either way you’re getting a splendid dose of omega 3 oil.
Main Course – Pasta
If you want to go for pasta (and who could blame you?), you should go for a red sauce. Check out marinara and vegetable based sauces. Avoid white sauces, which are usually too creamy or cheesy to be anything but tasty. White-wine and garlic sauces are also a good alternative to red sauces.
Alternative Main Courses
Though pizza and pasta are the stereotypes of Italian food, most Italians would consider them only a small portion of what the country has to offer.
Instead why not try fresh fish? Ask your server what’s on the specials board. You can’t get more healthy than the frutti di mare and Italian food is bursting with fishy flavours.
When choosing a fish dish bear in mind the method of cooking, it’s pretty easy to make a healthy food bad by frying it or covering it in breadcrumbs. So go for the fish that’s cooked in olive oil or a white wine broth.
These tasty and healthy dishes should give you plenty of ideas. But you’re on your own if you can’t resist finishing with a tiramisu.
If you’ve visited or lived in Italy you will know that a large amount of your time is spent eating.
At Mario’s we bring that Italian etiquette to our restaurants and would love to share some fun top tips of dining like a true Italian.
- Wait to Start Eating
You should only pick up your cutlery after your host started eating. At a dinner party this can be the host or the oldest guest at the dinner table. At lunch it can be the boss. However at a restaurant it is considered fine to start eating simply when your food arrives.
- Watch the Host
In Ireland the host usually sits at the head of the table, but in Italy they sit in the middle of the longer side of the table. If it is a round table, imagine there is an invisible line going through the centre of the table, the host will sit at either end.
- Buon Appetito
Believe it or not, this is not considered a welcoming phrase to ‘enjoy your meal’ in Italy. This is because in Italian courts in medieval times, the prince would sometimes offer banquets to his best servants and wishes them “buon appetito” meaning ‘eat as much as you can because you may not be invited to another feast if you don’t behave yourselves’.
- Hands Up
Place your hands on the table where your guests can see them but never your elbows, this is considered rube. Also don’t cross your arms as it is giving your guests the impression you are hiding something.
- Fork This!
Make sure when you are dining with Italian food that you use the right cutlery. For example fish must be served with a special 3 prong fork and a knife similar to a butter knife. However don’t use the knife to cut the fish!! The purpose of the knife is to remove the skin of the fish; you use the fork to cut the fish.
Italians are huge bread eaters. The bread served on the left on a small plate. But don’t cut the bread with a knife, break it apart with your hands and eat it and try not to fill yourself up on bread before your meal arrives.
- Dieting is Over
Italians love their food, so avoid mentioning to the host that you are trying to lose some weight as this is considered a contradiction at Italian dinner tables. Food is there to be eaten and most of all enjoyed – there is no diet when dining at an Italian restaurant! However you can reduce some calories by declining the dessert and even going for the vegetarian option.
How do you feel when you are handed the wine list in a restaurant?
If you are like most people, you feel quite uncomfortable and maybe a little overwhelmed about all the options, not wanting to look a fool in front of the waiter.
Well fear not any more we have created a fun check list for you, to give you some pointers the next time you are handed the wine list.
- Take Your Time
Typical scenario – you sit down at the table, the waiter hands you the food menu and a wine list the size of the golden pages. Seconds later s/he is standing over you asking you what decision you’ve made about your choice of wine. This is where you impress your romantic date, business colleagues or friends by simply saying “You have such an interesting wine list, I’ll will need a few moments to decide, thank you” At this point your dinner guest(s) are super impressed with your supposed knowledge and you have given yourself more time to scan this “encyclopaedia of grapes”.
- Share the Responsibility
First easy tip is to decide whether you are ordering red or white wine. Once that decision has been made you are easily cutting the wine list in half. Next ask your dinner guests “do you prefer red or white wine?” Some will have a preference in which case that makes life easier for you, others will reply “I don’t mind”. At this stage you make the decision based on the time of day and type of food you will be eating. For example if you are eating at lunch time it is almost always white wine that is chosen. If you are eating steak, red wine is the preferred options and for fish, white wine.
- Speciality Wines
To make you look like a real connoisseur take a look at where the wines are from. If the wine list focuses more on a specific country for example Italian wine then that means the owner cares more about wines from this region so choose that one.
- Be Brave
If you see a familiar wine that you can buy in the local off licence at half the price and drink it at home, well then that’s not much fun drinking it as a restaurant. So try to choose a wine that you haven’t tried before.
- Time to Ask the Experts
So now you have filtered it down to 2 or 3 choices of wine. Now is the perfect time to ask the waiter. But STOP doesn’t undo all your ‘pro wine’ bravado now after all that hard work. Never ask the waiter “I can’t decide between these wines, what do you recommend?” that is like saying to your guests- hey I really didn’t have a clue when I was looking at the wine list!! Instead ask them “I can’t decide between these 2/3 wines, can you tell me a little more about them please”. At this stage the waiter will either give you some good information about them, or panic and run off to find someone who does know something about them. Regardless, your job at this point is simple – watch their body language. You will see when they are talking about the wines which one they are getting more excited about – and you simply chose that one.
TA DA you are now a professional wine list chooser!
But don’t worry if the wine you chose isn’t as nice as others you have tasted. No one gets is right every time and that’s the fun of trying out different wine lists, you will eventually try ones that become your favourite and then you won’t even need the wine list in a restaurant you will simply be asking your waiter for your wine of choice!
Slante and Saluti