Adventures Abroad

To Chicago, Love Rome: Wining and Dining

Before leaving to study abroad in Rome, people would always ask me what I was most excited about. Of course, I’d say the famous sites, art and history, but there’s one thing I never forgot to mention.

“The food!”

But before I get into that, it’s at the request of my fabulous Italian professor, Dr. Ionta, to give an update to my last article. In recent months, Italy has applied for UNESCO status for their espresso, as it is an important and pivotal part of Italian heritage.

Italians are serious about their coffee.

Yes, the food in Italy is everything I imagined and more. While that was expected, I didn’t anticipate the differences in dining at a restaurant over here.

Similar to how Italians enjoy their coffee, they like to take it slow when having a meal.

Natalie Doyle | The Phoenix Italian food often includes fresh ingredients, Doyle writes.

There have been times I’ve walked into a restaurant with friends and they’ve asked if two and a half hours will be enough time for us to finish since they have a reservation coming in then. While this is ample time to sit and enjoy dinner in America, for some Italians it may not be.

This is in part because of the structure of a traditional Italian meal, which often consists of eight dishes: aperitivo (drinks and sometimes small snacks), antipasto (appetizers), primo (first course, typically soup, risotto or pasta), secondo and contorno (second course, typically meat or fish, and a side of vegetables), dolce (dessert), caffe (espresso) and digestivo (post-dinner liqueur).

Sure, in America, sometimes we’ll order an appetizer or a dessert. But it’s also normal to just order one main dish as your whole meal. While just ordering a main course isn’t looked down upon in Italy by any means, it’s just less common.

A major difference between Italian and American restaurants is the water situation. In America, water is free at restaurants and is usually loaded with ice. 

Italians seem to have an aversion to ice in their water, and instead give the table a large glass bottle, which typically costs 2-3€.

Natalie Doyle | The Phoenix Doyle enjoys a cup of Gelato.

At every restaurant I’ve been to, they have given me the choice of “aqua naturale” (still) or “acqua gassata” (sparkling). While I have always been a La Croix girlie, my love for sparkling water has only grown since coming to Italy.

A major upside to the food in Italy is the quality itself. No matter where you go, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get fresh, high quality food without all the preservatives that plague American food. I can eat as much pizza, pasta and gelato as I want here and never get a stomach ache, but will eat a singular french fry in the U.S. and feel disgusting.

A downside to dining in Italy is the lack of variety of options. In Chicago, you can walk down the street and find everything from Chinese, to Ethiopian, to Mexican and Italian food all on one block. In Rome, you’ll be lucky to find a block that has any of the above.

Although it may be harder to find, in a major metropolitan city like Rome they’ll usually have what you’re looking for. Interestingly enough, Rome and Chicago have approximately the same population number at 2.8 million inhabitants — though Chicago is far more diverse due to the massive amount of immigrants in the past couple hundred years. The point being, Rome certainly isn’t quite the melting pot that Chicago is.

When it comes down to variety, America beats out Italy. But I have to say that Italy wins when it comes to food and the dining experience. The high-quality, flavorful and authentic food abroad can’t be beat, especially when you can get an eight course meal for a reasonable price. 

Getting to eat the best pizza and as much of it as you want isn’t so bad either.

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