A guide to dining out in Italy, from the antipasti to the dolce

11th October, 2016
Italy is home to one of the world’s favourite cuisines, letting basic but high quality ingredients speak for themselves in traditional and delicious dishes. Thousands of people flock to the country every year to sample both the well-known and the lesser-known specialties. It gets better, however, as each region has its own sub-cuisine and local specialties, based on what is produced and grown there.

Dining is one of the most important (and enjoyed) parts of the day in Italy; an evening meal can last hours as the diners relax and take their time in enjoying their food and wine amongst good company. It’s an unrivalled experience and one you are sure to enjoy during your stay at our luxury villas in Italy.

Italian restaurants do things slightly differently to other places in Europe, so here’s our guide to dining out in Italy.

The menu

While you’ll usually find menus in UK restaurants split into three sections, in Italy, the menu is split into five. Beginning with the antipasti, a small appetiser which can be shared with the table, follows the first course, second course, side dish (which accompanies the second course) and the dolce (dessert). If that sounds like a lot of food, you’ll be glad to hear that Italians don’t always opt for all five courses. Instead, people will often choose a dish from at least two of the sections.


These are similar to appetisers and offer you the chance to sample a variety of regional specialties without having to commit to ordering a full dish. Antipasti can consist of a variety of foods, and usually include meats such as salami and mortadella, as well as local cheese varieties and cooked vegetables.

Primo – the first course

The primo is larger than the antipasti, offering more than just bite-sized pieces. It’s typically a hot dish, and you can choose from a variety of things which typically include risotto, gnocchi and soups. Pasta dishes will also feature, with the type of pasta expertly paired to the qualities of the sauce used. As the two are so well-matched, the sauce is used sparingly, in order to bring out the texture of the pasta.

Secondo – the second course

The secondo is generally regarded as the main course of the meal, with the focus of the plate being meat or seafood. Depending on the region, you’ll find a variety of dishes served up, ranging from pork to cod, lobster and chicken, with a couple of vegetarian options also often featured. They normally do not include any vegetables or other sides, as they are served as the contorni (side dish).

Contorni – side dishes

These are served alongside the second course and usually consist of vegetables, which are cooked in a variety of ways, such as grigliate (grilled), lessate (boiled) and al forno (oven roasted).

Dolce – dessert

Translating into sweet, the dolce is the dessert course and the final course of an Italian meal. Desserts offered vary by region, but among them you may find such classics as gelato, panna cotta, tiramisu and zuppa inglese. Formaggi e frutta (cheese and fruit) may also be an option, though this may also feature as yet another course. A cup of coffee is also usually offered after dessert, served hot, strong and without milk.