“What are you supposed to wear to these type of things?” I frantically yelled to my roommate as she looked equally as clueless staring into her closet.
We were about to head off to our first Italian dinner party at our friend Dylan’s homestay. His host mom and another host family in the program invited a group of eight students over for dinner. Although we had all been out to eat plenty of times in Italy, we were used to eating at restaurants where we weren’t expected to follow traditional Italian dining customs. This was the first time we were being welcomed into someone’s home for a meal, and we were nervous to say the least. Plus, our friend’s host mom is a fashion designer, which really didn’t help with our stress about dressing to impress.
After talking about what to wear for 15 minutes and trying on outfits for another 15 minutes, we were finally ready to head out. We arrived by about 9:00pm, which was still a little early for dinner (a concept I am still wrapping my head around even after being in Rome for over 3 weeks), so we sat down and chatted for a while to pass the time. Throughout the night, I learned a lot about what should (and shouldn’t) be done in an Italian dinner setting.
First and foremost, no one is allowed to eat until the host has been served. Once the host begins eating, then everyone else can follow. I almost forgot about this one when dessert came out because it looked so dang good – it was a custard pastry with fresh peaches and cherries – but luckily my friend gently reminded me right before I shoved a big bite into my mouth.
The next rule – and perhaps most importantly – don’t mix carbs! As I loaded up my plate with a delicious potato and vegetable dish, I grabbed a piece of bread to supplement my meal. Immediately, one of my friends staying with a host family caught my eye with a look of slight alarm.
“You’re not supposed to eat bread with potatoes or with pasta or with any other carb, they should all be eaten at separate points throughout the meal,” he whispered to me. Embarrassed, I tried to eat my bread as quickly as possible in hopes that the hosts wouldn’t notice. Unfortunately, I was caught in the act. Fortunately, the hosts weren’t upset or offended, but they did explain to everyone the reasoning behind this particular custom.
It has to do with how carbs impact your taste buds. Apparently, eating two types of carbs at once can mix up how your tastebuds receive each carb, so it tastes better to separate them throughout the meal. You should never have two types of carbs on the same plate — the only exception is that once someone is finished with their pasta dish, it’s okay to use a piece of bread to eat any remaining sauce.
The best lesson I learned all night though was just to ask questions of the people you’re dining with. The experiences of Angelica and Rosaria, our hosts, were truly incredible. Angelica was kind enough to share some of her fashions designs with us, and Rosaria shared lots of stories of her time as a host mom. I loved learning about Roman culture through the eyes of these two creative, kind women.
As we left the apartment that night, I felt incredibly lucky for everything I had experienced. I also felt incredibly full, since leftovers aren’t quite as popular in Italy and we weren’t allowed to leave until all the pasta was gone. Truly, I felt like I had a much better understanding of Italian culture after that night, and I hope I get the chance to go back again in the future. Next time, I’ll know not to reach for a piece of bread until after I’ve finished my first (or second) round of pasta.