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Jun 18, 2008 04:24 PM

What do Italians eat for breakfast?

Just talked to a woman who recently traveled to Venice and Rome, and she complained that all Italian breakfasts consisted of cold cuts and bread. Now, I am not inclined to take her word as gospel, because I suspect that said breakfasts were eaten solely in her hotels, but what would one normally expect Italians to eat for the first meal of the day? I assume there are regional variations, of course.

This woman also told of her joy at finding a McDonald's while driving through Italy, and she advised me to pack lots of snacks such as Pringles if I should travel there so you can see how reliable her viewpoint is likely to be. Apparently she also demanded that one of the restaurants prepare French toast for her, which turned out to consist of two sandwiched slices of bread dipped in egg and cooked, with a resulting raw egg layer in the middle. Personally, I think she got what she deserved.

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    1. Just like it would be impossible to answer "What do Americans eat for breakfast", it isn't much of a leap to think that ALL Italians do not eat the same breakfast.
      Note: Huge generalization is coming .............. Some variation on coffee and a bread product is most typical. I found many different kinds of sweet pastry all over the country but coffee is standard. I have never seen an egg served for breakfast outside of a hotel setting. Ditto for orange juice, so if it's an American Breakfast you are seeking, a hotel would be your best bet.

      The woman you met is likely eating her breakfasts in a hotel as you surmised. Hotels catering to an American or English clientele will like include meat on the menu but that does not make it a typically Italian choice. French toast, waffles, muffins etc are not standard Italian breakfast fare. I lived in France and never ever saw "French Toast" for breakfast. At home, occasionally, we might have yogurt with croissant & coffee but it was rare.

      While living abroad I saw many examples of (unfortunately for me) Americans who lamented the loss of their usual breakfast foods. I cringed when I heard people complaining about this while ignoring the wealth of history and beauty surrounding them. Travel is not for everyone.

      11 Replies
      1. re: Sherri

        Never understood why people are bothered by what others want to eat. Why is it unfortunate for you to see an American want their usual breakfast foods? For some reason I suspect you'd find it endearing rather than unfortunate if an Italian visiting the US just wanted a coffee and pastry for breakfast rather than bacon and eggs.

        1. re: Rick

          Rick, I am not at all bothered by what someone else wants to eat or not eat as long as they keep the whining to a minimum and do not ruin the enjoyment of others with their complaints.

          Your statement "...........I suspect you'd find it endearing rather than unfortunate if an Italian visiting the US just wanted a coffee and pastry for breakfast rather than bacon and eggs." is incorrect. I don't give a hoot what someone wants for breakfast so long as they're not grousing about what they usually would have and negatively comparing what is currently available.

          1. re: Sherri

            This all reminds me of a postcard I wrote to my parents while on honeymoon in Tuscany nearly a decade ago. The picture was an image of Caravaggio's Bacchus ( and the text went something like this: "What a place for a honeymoon. We are stuck out here in the countryside with nothing to look at but each other and the view over the valley. No decent American food -- I have been forced to breakfast on fresh strawberries and ricotta. The wine isn't bad, and we are tempted to drown our sorrows, like the fellow in the picture. Maybe things will look up when we get to Florence. I hear there are some good museums there."

          2. re: Rick

            It's hard to judge others when you mind your own business.

            A recent survey of hoteliers worldwide about tourists from Europe, Asia and the Americas determined that Americans show more interest in the native culture and are more willing to sample indigenous cuisine than people from any other country. That means Americans are the least likely to demand food that reminds them of home, but you wouldn't know that from the bad rap they get (from other Americans as well as everyone else).

            1. re: Orchid64

              I don't think the original poster was trying to generalise about (US)Americans; I've met people like that fussy, demanding lady from many countries and continents. And Fawlty Towers poked more fun at the prejudices of the English hotelier ("Don't mention the War") than anyone else.

            2. re: Sherri

              I do think that a lot of people are simply very "tied to" what they eat for breakfast every day - often having the same thing every day. Probably just one of those habits that is hard to change - and I think that breakfast is different from other meals in that way.

              1. re: MMRuth

                Not me, I eat what I like whenever I like. It's a lonely life, full of small satisfactions.

                1. re: mrbozo

                  I think living with someone else has great influence on what we eat for breakfast. I've now been living alone for over a decade and much to my surprise, my breakfasts of choice have slowly migrated from standard "American breakfast fare" to whatever I please, and often what pleases me is far more like a dinner than a breakfast. For example I had waffles and fried chicken for breakfast this morning for the first time ever, heavily influenced by an Alton Brown video I watched last night. Yesterday's breakfast was stacked beef enchiladas with salsa verde and a fried egg on top. Day before that was lamb chops and wasabi mashed potatoes for breakfast. I would never have dreamed of eating such outlandish things for breakfast when I was married or when the kids were growing up. Now I greatly enjoy them. But just to keep things in balance, I suppose, I do find that I have oatmeal for dinner with surprising regularity. Maybe it's just that my circadian clock has been tipped upside down? Anybody eat wierd like this who doesn't live alone, or is living alone the pathway to culinary freedom?

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    Seriously, I think you're listening to your body. In Oriental medicine, there are "circadian rhythms" of different organs. Your digestive organs are supposed to be stronger during the morning as opposed to the evening. That's why you've got the statement eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a _____ (forgot the word) and dinner like a pauper. As you get older, people's digestions become weaker and need to eat simpler dinners. While I used to be able to eat large meals before I went to bed in my 20s with no repercussions, I find that I can't do that anymore. I prefer eating light in the evenings. And when I don't do that, I feel lethargic when I wake up the next morning. And my breakfasts are pretty substantial. Just had some chicken and asparagus stir-fry and home-fries for breakfast this morning. I'm also like you -- I eat whatever I'm in the mood for.

            3. Before 11AM a capuccino and a couple of biscotti are just fine.

              1. My sister lived in Italy for a few years and one of her first observations was how light the Italian breakfast was (pardon the generalization): coffee (espresso) and some kind of (delicious) pastry. From the limited time I spent in Italy, I remember the coffee shops full of commuters standing while quickly getting a coffee fix. I would say that the Italian breakfast is certainly not the elaborate affair that you can find elsewhere, including the US.

                17 Replies
                1. re: jeni1002

                  Breakfasts (colazione) can vary in size depending on appetite, region, what's in season, etc. Many Italians will eat small breakfasts, often times consisting of a simple cornetto and a cup of coffee, and save their appetites for later in the day. The food selection gets better as the day progresses.

                  I've included a pic with this reply that reveals a generous colazione .

                  1. re: Cheese Boy

                    Cheese Boy, what is the bread (toasted I think) in the bottom left-hand corner of your picture? It looks like a wonderful bread I remember from Pisa in the 70's. It was freshly baked every morning, and we asked for "pan carray" (phonetic - we were trying like mad to speak with our limited Italian). It was a very delicious style of white bread which we loved smothered in Nutella or else made into cinnamon toast.

                    1. re: Catskillgirl

                      That cloying bread is just a simple "pane tostato" that comes pre-packaged. It tastes very much like melba toast, but there is a variation used at colazione that is sickeningly sweet.

                    2. re: Cheese Boy

                      For me, I'll take the bowl of figs please! :-)

                    3. re: jeni1002

                      <<My sister lived in Italy for a few years and one of her first observations was how light the Italian breakfast was (pardon the generalization):>>

                      I know that in Spain, many employees have a mid-morning break where they have coffee and something light to eat. People are less likely to eat a larger breakfast because they're going to eat again before lunch. Is it possible that they do something similar in Italy?

                      1. re: rweater

                        in spain they usually have lunch early afternoon (1:30-3pm), so the merienda or mid-morning snack is taken, by kids especially. lunch is the biggest meal of the day and dinner is usually very small and eaten late- after 8/9pm.
                        in italy they eat lunch around 12 and dinner is bigger than in spain.

                        1. re: fara

                          that depends actually. Where I am in Italy--the middle of the country and on a farm--there is always a merenda taken at about 10:00 or 10:30, which is usually a slice of unsalted bread, grilled over the fire and then drizzled (on both sides) with olive oil, or a sandwich of unsalted bread with prosciutto, or torta al testo (a flat bread made on a stone heated by the hot coals) with prosciutto.

                          1. re: fayehess

                            Curious. Why unsalted bread? The body loses salt during sustained physical activity and it should be replaced to prevent dehydration.

                            1. re: mrbozo

                              In Tuscany, bread is traditionally made without using salt. It takes some getting used to.

                              1. re: jlafler

                                It has been made without salt at least since Dante's day, as one of his complaints as a refugee was the salt taste of other people's bread. But it is eaten with salty things such as cheese, olives and prosciutto, so no lack of salt.

                                1. re: lagatta

                                  And Dante wrote, "How salty is the taste of another man's bread." There used to be Sale and Tabacchi shops all over Italy. Salt and tobacco were state monopolies and therefore expensive. The Tuscans are notoriously, shall we say, "frugal."

                                  1. re: roxlet

                                    Yes, and I think this illustrates the way that certain foods best make sense within a particular traditional way of eating.

                                      1. re: mrbozo

                                        When my fiancee was in Tuscany, he had a baker explain to him that the bread was made without salt because the prosciutto in that region usually has a much saltier taste than prosciutto from say, Friuli. And since the bread was many times eaten with prosciutto or other salty things, as lagatta explained, the unsalted bread was fine. Also, my nonni in Italy always had milk and day old bread for breakfast....when I visit my inlaws in italy, its usually tea (because I dont drink coffee), and either a cornetto (filled croissant), or fette biscotate (thicker melba toast) with jam.

                                        1. re: icey

                                          That's what they are ... fette [di pane] biscottate.
                                          Thanks for reminding me. Yuck.

                                    1. re: lagatta

                                      Boy, there's nothing I hate more than having a nice meal in a restaurant spoiled by a bunch of Florentines whining about how salty the bread is ....

                        2. breakfast in rome is very important to me.
                          i leave the apartment and grab an outdoor seat at my favorite cafe in the piazza farnese. coffee, a pastry and the ft make my morning. seriously good people watching only adds to the experience.