When To Eat in Italy

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Want to know more ? Check out this free culinary guide to Modena Italy.

Want to know when to eat in Italy?

Well of course the answer is all day!

But seriously I think one of the toughest things for North Americans to decipher is when to eat in Italy. We always show up for dinner far too early. Not only do Italians eat dinner much later than we would, they also have more meals in a day.  Instead of showing up at a restaurant at 5pm learn when Italians eat. I promise you it will be worth it.

In Modena I mastered the art of Italian meal times. Here are the basics:


coffee in Italy

Breakfast…  La Colazione


Much different than what exists in the UK or North America, breakfast in Modena is modest. It is often served with hot coffee and milk (caffè e latte) and something sweet, either bread with condiments or fette biscottate cookies.

In fact many Italians eat breakfast at a bar on their way to work, ordering cappuccino or espresso with a cornetto pastry.

If you are eating at a hotel restaurant you can also find cappuccino, cereal, fruit and yogurt. Don’t worry if this doesn’t seem robust enough as it’s common to have a second breakfast mid-morning. You can easily find a coffee and small panino to satisfy you until lunch.



Lunch…  Il Pranzo


I know you’re thinking 1pm – that’s way too late! But remember you need to have a panino for your second breakfast to survive until lunch.

As with much of Europe, this is the most important meal of the day as well as the largest and usually includes pasta. Many Italians go home to eat lunch and so there is a pausa pranzo – similar to the Spanish siesta and many shops close down 1-4pm.

The first course and more substantial than antipasti. Expect a pasta dish, likely tortellini, tortelloni, lasagne, tagliatelle or gramigna.

Don’t be fooled by those who tell you Italians eat smaller portions of pasta than their American cousins – they are the same so if you plan on also eating a main course you may want to split the pasta.

If you’re not keen on a large lunch with several courses you can get a panino at a bar, piadineria or tigellerie.


Aperitivo is Not Happy Hour


Aperitivo is not an Italian happy hour. In fact, drinks are more expensive, but includes snacks at the bar. As Italians eat at a later hour, it acts as a pre-dinner drink and snack with friends.

As students, many locals used this as an allyou- can-eat buffet as you can often order a drink and eat for under 10 Euro. But keep in mind not all aperitivo are the same, while some bars will have pizza and pasta, others serve chips and crostinis.

In Modena you’ll find locals on Via Taglio, where young and old pack the bars and pour out onto the streets.

BONUS: Order Like a Local
Any cocktail from gin and tonic to mojito is available but the local choice is Spritz made with Campari or Aperol (lower alcohol) mixed with sparkling wine and water.


Dinner… La Cena


Dinner is about socializing so take your time and enjoy.

Slices of cured meats with cheese – shaved parmesan cheese served with culatello, mortadella, prosciutto and salame. Also try baccalà salted cod fritters, polenta fritters or gnocco fritto.

While pasta is more common at lunch you’ll find it on the menu at dinner. Tortelloni and big brother tortelloni are fresh egg pasta filled with a mixture of meat or ricotta and/or pork and vegetables.

The home to delicious pork, be prepared to find it many different ways and opportunities to try it with the classic Modenese balsamic sauce.

Side dishes served with the secondo, these vegetables are almost always
served on a separate dish.


If you want to know more about eating in Italy – the customs, traditions and food
check out my free culinary travel guide to Modena.

Join the Conversation

  1. Yum, Italians really know how to eat! I love the late night dinners. That’s how I was brought up in the UK so I’m used to eating late but in the UK we don’t take enough time over our food like they do in many other European countries. Leisurely meals with good company are part of the secret to a happy life in my opinion!

  2. It always takes me a while to get used to eating patterns and times when I am traveling. In Argentina we just couldn’t seem to match the local’s time of nearly midnight for their big steak dinner!!

  3. I loved Italy so much, and I think a big part of it was the food. Your post reminded me how much the Italians value and appreciate in a way that we Americans never can. And it made me hungry, too 🙂

  4. Love Italy! I studied and lived there for over a year and the food was… unmistakably tasteful! Thanks for sharing your adventures…

  5. Italians have eating down to a fine art … it is reflected in the plating of their food as well!

  6. TheSaTASTEfiedChef says:

    The best food in the world!

  7. Yummy.. Mouth watering.

  8. Milena Yordanova says:

    It is a real mystery to me how the Italians can eat all this for dinner! Even antipasto and pasta are way too much for me. 😀

    1. Actually we don’t eat all those things, but this is what You can find in an italian menu. We normally have only one breakfast, a lunch, which is often a sandwich or salad or pasta and then dinner where you isually have a soup, meat or fish and vegetables. On sunday or special occasions our meals are bigger by the way.

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