During the first week of classes, the most common back-to-school icebreaker the professors would ask all of us was: “Why did you choose to study abroad in Rome?”
The most common response? “The food!”
Perhaps it is because American-Italian food isn’t the same as genuine Italian food, or because I’ve never been a big pasta lover, but the food was not one of my main motivating factors to study abroad in Rome. However, almost two months into living in Rome, my attitudes towards Italian food have certainly shifted. Even more so than learning to appreciate a good pasta dish, I’ve enjoyed comparing American and Italian eating cultures.
Italy’s approach to breakfast versus the United States’ has likely been the most jarring of differences. Weekend brunches at diners, fresh pancakes at home, or the classic eggs and bacon combo seem to be staple aspects of American breakfast culture. Italians like to approach their breakfast with less grandeur and more cappuccino. A standard Italian breakfast consists of a cappuccino or espresso and a cornetto (croissant).
My friends and I were faced with the reality of this smaller breakfast approach on our first day in Rome. Soon after we landed and dropped our bags off at the Residence, we hiked off into the streets of Rome to find a breakfast location. Not knowing that only tourist-trap restaurants would offer any type of eggs-and-bacon breakfast combo, we, of course, ended up at a low-quality restaurant with overpriced “American breakfast” options.
Although I miss eating brunch with my friends or making blueberry pancakes on a slow Saturday morning, the Italian cappuccino cannot be compared to any American coffee and I know I’ll never find a cornetto with cream as fresh as the ones prepared in Rome.
A quick, to-go sandwich or leftovers have been my approach to lunch while abroad, which is not that different from when I’m back home. What is different is that there are no fast-food type sandwich Italian options that could be compared to Wawa or Subway. Even the sandwiches in the “less fresh” sandwich options, which can be found at an Italian bar (or what we would call a café), are far more fresh than any Wawa hoagie. Or, you can make your own panini, with meat and cheese cut in front of you, at a small deli for only a couple of euros.
Lastly, dinner is certainly the largest meal of the day for Italians, and it is not eaten at 5 or 6 p.m. (the standard for many Americans). Instead, most Italians do not begin eating their dinner until 8 p.m. and sometimes later on the weekends. During 5 or 6 p.m., restaurants offer aperitivo, which is somewhat comparable to our happy hour. During aperitivo, you are able to order a drink for around 10 euro, and then the restaurant serves you a large platter of various Italian appetizers. And when you’re a college student on a budget, sometimes aperitivo doubles as time with friends and dinner.