Ernest’s Travel Tips for Eating and Drinking in Italy

Over the years, one of the things that has been cool to see is more and more wine lovers thinking of Italy as their home away from home. Since I live and travel here every week, folks ask me for my short list when they are planning their trip (or are hungry at 3pm).  So, I’ve thought to be a bit more organized about this all and post my various lists.

Below are my Travel Tips for Eating and Drinking in Italy:

  • This is my short list of places I have been to many times and enjoy. You’ll have your own. I live in Italy and know the average places, the tourist places, the tourist places that are popular for a reason, and the off the beaten path places with aged wines so cheap that you’ll be calling me an importer- crook during the antipasti.
  • Take all this information through my point of view: I enjoy throwing on a jacket and eating at Michelin restaurants, but it’s rare that I am starry eyed with them. But, if I am, I’ll iron my underwear in anticipation of an upcoming meal, spend all of my budget on aged wines, and sleep in the cheapest hotel I can find.  I’m also the guy gnawing rabbit bones in the trattoria, and asking why there aren’t more vegetables on the menu. I abhor the oxymoron of ‘affordable luxury’ and spit on posers who have shitty wine lists and sub-par materia prima (raw material). Underground cellars are important part of my appreciation of the interior design.
  • Ristorante = restaurant. Trattoria and Osteria both signify a casual place nowadays.  Either of these places could have a wine list that sucks or rocks.
  • Wine lists: every month I see places with better lists in Italy. Still, you’ve gotta work. Give the sommelier or waiter an example of a wine and producer that you like. My classic warm up phrase is: what are some wines that you enjoy that are savory (sapido), don’t have lots of oak taste on them (senza il gusto di barrique), from a small or medium producer (da un piccolo o medio produttore).  Ask what could be a could match with a dish you’re ordering.
  • If you’d like a professional and perhaps more useful list and map, download the app from Slow Food Osterie. For ristoranti / restaurants, there are many guides, and sadly I wouldn’t recommend any one of them.
  • If you want to wing it, the sandwiches at the highway Autogrill aren’t the worst by any means. But, you didn’t come to Italy just for sandwiches and highways, did you?
  • And, by the way, if you’re the obsessive nervous type, do try to relax. In general, the average place to eat is much higher quality  in Italy, so you’ll find something to nurture you. It’s not like we are in France ; ).
  •  I am the obsessive nervous type and  don’t like average (and I gather you don’t either if you’re reading this list). So: plan a little to get a lot, and always be open to changing your plans, especially when talking to someone local who is really in the know. Organization with pulses of spontaneity is the way to go. You must call places you cancel at – or you are a douche. It takes 30 seconds.
  • Italy revolves around lunch and dinner times, which are approximately: 12:30am – 2:00pm and 7:30pm – 10:00pm.
  • Italians *are* organized – maybe just not like you. Don’t call a year in advance for a dinner reservation. No one does that. Do plan a few weeks, maybe a month or two, before hand. Then, for out of the way places, confirm the day before.
  • Alas, and I hate to say this, bring cash. Many out of the way places appreciate it (read: tax evasion) and ATM machines are not always around the corner.
  • If you’ve found anything  useful, drop me an email at ernest@portovinoitaliano.com.  I often read emails after dinner. A grazie! and thank you! or  a correction or well phrased observation, makes my amaro taste so much better.