Each year over 50 million tourists try Italian cuisine
Italy is undoubtedly one of the most favorite and preferred destinations for millions of tourists. The dry statistics show that the country is visited by more than 50 million tourists every year leaving behind even the popular France, “ the Good old England”, musical Austria, the strongest economy in Europe –Germany, and so on.
Why does Italy rule the hearts of so many people around the world?
Just close your eyes for a moment, think of Italy and you alone will answer this question… We assume that along with the abundance of cultural and historical attractions, the unique nature, the smart Italian women (and the handsome Italian men), the traditional Italian cuisine takes up space in your thoughts.
Features of traditional Italian cuisine
Italian cuisine is among the three best cuisines in the world and this is no coincident at all. The culinary traditions of the country have formed under the influence of the French, Arabic and Greek flavors since Italy is a country with ancient past and has outlived many invasions. If we add to this the fact that until the year 1800 the country consisted of separate city-states each of which had its own cuisine and the fact that each region of Italy has a regional cuisine, it is no wonder that there is no other country in the world that can apply such a rich and variated traditional cuisine.
Italian traditional cuisine is so delicious also because of the simplicity of its ingredients. Fresh vegetables, freshly caught fish and seafood, aromatic olive oil, sparkling wine, veal, chicken, beef, different types of cheese… the list is endless.
For us, people who didn’t grow up on the Boot, Italian food is mostly pasta, pizza and lasagna and the ingredients we can think of and relate to the Italian cuisine are: pastry, olive oil, garlic and tomatoes.
But this is a very small part of the dishes the Italians love and prepare.
Each region in Italy has its own cuisine which differs from the rest. If you go to Southern Italy, for example, the dishes you try will have seafood, fresh fish, shrimps, lobster, pasta; while in Northern Italy you will be served dishes with big cuts of meat, lots of vegetables and rice.
Italy is the country of cheese, wine, lasagna, pasta, ice cream and of course pizza… we almost forgot the Italian coffee.
And this is not all…
Italians say: “Cooking is a matter of love and time. The more time and love, the better the dishes”.
In Italy, preparing a dish is not just something you have to cook in order to eat quickly. For the people on the Boot, food is sacred and you have to dedicate it enough time to prepare it and consume it afterwards. Here, there is no tolerance for stand-up meals or eating on the street because for Italians food needs to be felt with all senses and that can only happen sitting on the table.
The traditions that the Italians continue to follow to this day play a significant role in the shaping of the Italian cuisine. Unlike other countries, in Italy the mother, the woman is set on a pedestal and there is no Italian family that will not be led by the oldest woman in the family. Family, as a cell of society, is being held with high respect and gathering round the able for lunch or dinner is something of great importance for the Italians.
Places serving traditional Italian cuisine
The culinary industry in Italy offers everything as food and all kinds of ways to eat – for hurried tourists on the streets, for a break between tours, connoisseurs who come for culinary tourism to taste the unique Italian cuisine.
Of course, Italians are proud of the traditional Italian food. That is why, among all the kinds of specialties that are offered to the variegated tourist flow, the emphasis is on local Italian cuisine.
There are special establishments in Italy where traditional Italian cuisine is served. They conform with the different social groups of tourists – with their possibilities but mostly with their habits. These specialized food establishments are osteria, trattoria and Italian restaurants.
Osterias are similar to the small taverns. They originate from the old inns – the oldest “licensed” osteria in Italy is from the 14th century. Back then, these establishments had a very important social role as a place to gather. A lot of wine was serve, food was less trendy and there were also rooms to spend the night.
The word itself comes from a Latin term meaning “guest” – a guest house. Nowadays, osterias offer a nice and hearty atmosphere, several types of home-cooked meals and some even offer rooms.
Trattoria is similar to osteria. Its origins are the same as the osteria’s but for a higher class. Here the food and wine are always in bigger quantities, the menu has bigger variety and you can order take away. The atmosphere is close to home.
This type of establishments can be compared to a bistro to a certain extent. They are family restaurants where recipes are passed from generation to generation and the staff is actually the family.
Same as with osteria, the name “trattoria” comes for Latin and means “to treat, to wine and dine” and in Italian the meaning of this work becomes “owner of an inn”. Once the main visitors in these food establishments were street vendors.
Italian restaurants are the highest category establishments for traditional Italian cuisine. More often they are part of a hotel complex. This model has been introduced in Bulgaria as well.
Such is, for example, the luxury Italian restaurant Leonardo in Bansko. The restaurant is part of Aqua Complex with two outdoor pools and the Aqua Complex is part of the 5-star Lucky Bansko SPA & Relax hotel. At Leonardo, the food is prepared with authentic Italian recipes and Italian products.
Culinary tourism in Italy – every fifth tourist shows special interest towards local food
Culinary tourism in Italy, for quite understandable reasons, is combined with tours of cultural and historical sites or holiday tourism for recreation and entertainment in one of the many resorts.
It is impossible to be in Rome and not to see at least the Colosseum and the Vatican; to be in Venice and not to “walk” the streets with on a gondola, not to see the San Marco square with the Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the bridges, including the famous Bridge of Sighs; the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, the castles, the churches, the magnificent collection of paintings in “Capodimonte”; the valley of the temples and the Etna volcano in Sicily, etc.
There are also numerous sea and mountain resorts for full relaxation and various types of entertainment. It suffices to say that the coastlines of Italy are over 3,300 kilometers in total, not including the beaches of Sicily and Sardinia, and the smaller islands.
At the same time, 80 percent of the territory is consists of mountainous terrain – the Apennines are stretched longitudinally across the country and in the north nearly 30 percent of the Alps are in Italian territory. Resorts here offer all sorts of winter sports, but the emphasis is on recreation and entertainment in particular.
With all this attractiveness of Italy with cultural, historical, archeological, architectural and natural attractions, tourists, of course, try the traditional Italian cuisine.
Studies show, however, that this is not just about “trying the food” – every fifth tourist expresses a special interest in authentic Italian food. This is only natural having in mind the wide spreading of Italian cuisine in the whole world; people want to see the original.
Basically, culinary tourism in Italy is an endless adventure. National Italian cuisine is actually a selection of the most popular regional foods from the 20 regions in the country. Thus, a national Italian dish can have several ways of preparing, which differ in detail but give different flavors to the food.
On eating etiquette at Italian restaurants
When you are in the general tourist flow on the streets and squares of Italy, you can be yourself entirely. If you do not interfere in any way with people around you, hardly anyone will pay special attention to your clothing and behavior – they are a colorful palette from all over the world.
The same is true for the countless small establishments such as cafes, bistros and the like. Though tourists are not entirely going unnoticed there. They say the owners would recognize your nationality simply by the way you offer coffee.
It is a different situation in the big and luxurious restaurants. Italy is a country of traditions and they are respected there; violations are considered as disrespect towards the staff, the restaurant and the rest of the guests.
Considering how “in love with telephone” we are today, maybe our first tip should be with that regard. For Italians, eating is like a ritual and the mobile phones have no place next to the plate on the table. Even less – customers around the table to constantly look at their phones while trying out the served traditional Italian dishes. In the restaurant, keep your mobile phone close at hand and not in your hand or on the table.
Luxurious traditional Italian cuisine can buy mineral water in plastic bottles but at the table it is served in glass jugs and glasses. If you have carried a plastic bottle of mineral water in the bag due to the hot weather, do not take it out on the table – it will look ridiculous.
A packet of tissues will have the same effect as the plastic bottle – not even the napkins are made of paper. If you are taking pre-meal medication, do it discreetly without taking out and putting packages on the table.
Also, blowing on your plate in order for the food to cool down faster is not accepted. Same goes for using toothpicks during your meal, even if you covered your mouth with your hand – it only highlights what you are doing.