One aspect of Italian life that most flummoxes Anglo-American visitors to Italy is the mystery surrounding breakfast. While many Brits are fundamentally suspicious of a nation that seems impervious to the charms of the fry-up, Americans similarly wonder at the indifference to bacon and eggs.
Evidence of mature Italians relying on a petrol-thick espresso and a cheeky smoke while propping up a bar in the morning do little to assuage these fears. But when you are on holiday in Italy, there are in fact many enticing ways to approach breakfast.
How to eat breakfast like an Italian
Start the day with latte
Unlike in other parts of Europe and America, the time for milky coffee in Italy is primarily at the beginning of the day. Milk is considered part of your meal, so breakfast is the time to have a caffè latte or cappuccino. Remember that latte means milk in Italian, so unless you want a glass of milk, remember to say caffè latte.
Adults begin their meal with a caffè latte; children with a cioccolata calda (hot chocolate) or latte caldo (warm milk). If you are intolerant to milk, ask for latte vegetale which includes soia (soy), avena (oat), mandorla (almond) or riso (rice).
Add a baked good
Now you can choose your baked goods to accompany your coffee. You might pick a hard roll of bread (freshly baked from a bakery, not sliced from a supermarket) with butter and jam or Nutella, biscuits (that’s cookies, for our American friends, not crackers) or cake.
Fette biscottate, the less sweet rusk option, are a dry biscuit, twice-baked. While these are an acquired taste, they point to the Italian habit of dipping whatever bread product is available into the coffee or hot chocolate, to absorb the flavour and soften it. An almond biscotti on its own is rough on the old teeth but accompanied by a caffè latte, it’s a super-biscuit, filled with flavour and a lovely texture.
Or add a very sweet pastry
If you’re eating out, you’re likely to want to order a cornetto alongside your cappuccino or caffè latte.
A cornetto is just the Italian name for a croissant, and these can come stuffed with pastry cream, Nutella or jam if you are especially keen to indulge a sweet tooth. Beyond the croissant, you might also consider crostata — a tarte with a buttery pastry crust that is filled with fruit jam, or a donut, otherwise known as a ciambella — which may be stuffed with jam or custard.
Just as you’ll find few Italians ordering a glass of Chianti for breakfast these days, even in Tuscany or Umbria, where this was once typical, there are also plenty of options for the gluten or dairy intolerant.
Italy is, perhaps surprisingly given its heritage of pasta and baked goods, one of the easiest places in Europe for those with coeliac disease to find suitable bread alternatives. Keep an eye out for titles like senza glutine (without gluten) or senza latticini (without lactose).
For something completely different
If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime breakfast, you might consider booking a balloon ride during your holiday. You’ll watch the sun rise above the olive groves and vineyards of Tuscany before enjoying a celebratory — though not very traditional — Prosecco breakfast picnic. Speak to our award-winning Concierge Team to organise your own private experience.
If you fancy a mix of Continental and American breakfast options, have our Concierge Team arrange a chef to whip up your own private breakfast feast at your villa in Italy. Wake up and smell the coffee!