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Is it declasse' not to get a primo and a secondi in an Italian restaurant?

Italian restaurants are the only places I have ever seen where I am supposed to get practically two entrees. I cannot afford to get a primo and a secondi dish, especially in Boston, but is this really wrong? How improper is it? Do most people get both?

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  1. Truthfully, I've been going to Italian restaurants in NY all my life and never really thought about it. We usually just get what we want. Usually an appetizer and whatever we want after that. I never had any eyebrows raised because I didn't get a huge meal.

    1. >>How improper is it?

      Not improper at all. Your money, your choices.

      >>Do most people get both?

      I usually get two appetizers and a dessert and coffee.

      1. When I was in Italy, I ordered all over the place, sharing one secondi with each person getting a primo; sharing an antipasti with each getting a secondi; ordering a conti as an antipasti. Never a raised eyebrow. I saw Italians doing it too. So why adhere to different rules here if they are trying to be authentic? (I'm making the broad assumption that if they are using the terms primo and secondi, they're implying a level of authenticity.)

        1. It never occured to me to order more than I would eat.

          1. In most (not highest-end) restaurants that'd be pretty hard to do unless people are splitting. Portions are way too big. In my experience people treat them as equivalent courses--ordering one or the other.

            1. You're not "supposed" to get two entrees, the menu simply divides them up by category. Please don't feel that you must order a primi and a secondi, any more than you should feel required to order both an appetizer and an entree in a non-Italian restaurant.

              This is true even in Italy itself. What I've been told by my Italian colleagues when visiting there is that it is absolutely up to the individual diner and what each is in the mood for. No proper Italian restaurant would look at you funny for ordering just the course(s) you want.

              2 Replies
              1. re: BobB

                Agreed.From my experience in Italy, when you have a pasta course as a primo, it is tiny, literally a few gnocchi or a few twirls of pasta. Here with the serving being more like half a lb of pasta you cant be expected to eat that and a secondi.

                1. re: cassoulady

                  I grew up in Queens/Long Island- most of the restaurants that we went to had a pretty common policy of offering 'half-portions' of pasta as a primi, and that's pretty much my preference to this day. Oddly enough when I started to date my would-be wife about 15 years ago, just across the river in NJ, I would get looked at like I had two heads for even asking which of the pastas were offered in half portions. A lot of these places had never even heard of the concept. And on top of that, if the two of us asked to split a full portion of pasta as an appetizer the kitchen would inevitably fire up the order at the same time as the entree, so we were served two plates at the same time. Ugh!...

                  At this point in time I have managed to find some local places that will accomodate half portions and get the sequencing right, and those have become my prefered places to go. Man- the first time a waiter actually told me that they could do a pasta primi I could have kissed him, if only I'd had a few more cocktails in me... :)

              2. I usually don't order both--I'm in NYC.

                1. I don't know about Italian restaurants outside Italy, but in Italy it is usual to have two or even three courses, but it is not obligatory and certainly not improper to order only what you want to eat. The fact is that if people are not very hungry, they tend to go to bars, tavola caldas, pizzerias, or the like, rather than restaurants, but if you're in a restaurant and don't want the whole thing, that is fine. The high-end restaurants tend to have smaller portions and you can fit in more courses. Since in Italian eating, foods are usually eaten in sequence, not together, you can stretch out a small amount of food into a three-course meal, e.g., a small antipasto, a pasta or soup, followed by a vegetable, followed by a piece of fruit.

                  BTW antipasto, primo, and secondo are the singular forms.

                  1. "proper" may be the most useless concept ever.

                    get what you like. sat thank you when you are done.
                    that about covers it

                    1. That's a menu thing to split and identify the pastas from the meats/fish entrees. For me, one entree is plenty and if you're in an party order from both and share.