How to Eat a Full Course Italian Meal

Italian cuisine sits in a magical place in the global zeitgeist. One can say without much exaggeration, that Italian food is some of the most romanticized food on the planet. This is for good reason; Italian dining isn’t just about good food, it’s an entire experience. One of the most iconic components of this experience is the full course Italian dinner. It consists of 10 different courses, and can be quite the experience (it can literally take you several hours to get through the entire course). Without further ado, let us explore the traditional formal Italian supper, otherwise known as a cena.


This is the appetizer, which opens the meal. Most people pick over small plates, like olives, nuts, cheese, small quiches, etc. while drinking wine or fizzy drinks.


The antipasto is a bit heavier than the aperitivo. It is typically served cold and can be anything from cheeses, to small sandwiches, vegetables, or cold seafood. Occasionally, more elaborate dishes are prepared.


The primo is the heaviest course up to this point. It should be heavier than the antipasto but lighter than the secondo. It is meant to be hot food and is typically a non-meat dish like gnocchi, polenta, pasta, or risotto.


The secondo should be less heavy than the primo, but typically consists of a type of meat. It can be fowl, mutton, beef, fish, etc. Depending on the style of the host, it may be more important than the primo.


The contorno is a side dish served with the secondo. It is most often a type of vegetable dish and can be prepared raw or cooked.


The insalata is simply a salad.

Formaggi e frutta

This course is entirely dedicated to serving fresh seasonal fruit and local cheeses.


The dolce is the dessert. Typical Italian desserts are some type of confectionary or cake like a tiramisu or panna cotta.


The café is served at the end of the meal and is typically a strong cup of espresso. You need some pick me up after all that food.


The digestive is an aperitif or digestive agent that is typically some type of alcohol or herbal drink. It is meant to assist in the digestive process.

Remember, while completing a full course Italian dinner, it is important to talk and have fun. It is a dining experience meant to be enjoyed. What better way than with family, friends, and good conversation?

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