The majority of Italians love to have breakfast at a “bar”, pastry shop, or at home! A classic Italian breakfast at a “bar” or pastry shop is caffè espresso (or cappuccino) and croissant. At an Italian home you will probably find cookies, croissants, toasted bread with jam, bread with nutella or jam, cereal, yogurt, pastries, or fruit, a glass of fruit juice or milk, and of course caffè espresso, cappuccino, or tea!! If you go to a bar or pastry shop, make sure you have a little cash on you, and remember to ask for the receipt. It is very common to have a small sandwich or a slice of pizza for a mid-morning snack.
Eat like an Italian: breakfast
Italy has a very important and worldwide known food and wine culture. However, most foreigners do not really understand the Italian culture until they come to Italy. With these guides we would like to give some practical tips to those who desire to understand better about when we go to a bar, when to an enoteca (wine shop) or a restaurant/trattoria/pizzeria, at what time we eat, when we like to have a cappuccino, what we drink with a pizza, how we choose a restaurant and a lot more!!!
Let’s start with the first meal of the day: breakfast!
Although it is commonly known as “the most important meal of the day”, we personally believe that in Italy it is not always interpreted in this way. According to many specialists, breakfast should be a very rich meal with a good balance between carbs and proteins, providing the right amount of calories. This does not always happen here in Italy, not only with reference to the carbs/protein balance, but also because several million Italians are “breakfast skippers”.
However, the majority of Italians love to have breakfast, especially with relatives or friends, at a “bar”, pastry shop, or at home!n1
The classic Italian breakfast essentially consists of sweet foods.
Breakfast at a bar
A typical Italian breakfast at a bar is caffè espresso or cappuccino and croissant (also know as “cornetto” in southern Italy, or “brioche” in northern Italy). The cost for this kind of breakfast at a bar is of € 2-2,50 circa.n2
Caffè espresso (espresso coffee)
Italians drink caffè espresso!! There are many different ways to drink a caffè: normale (regular), lungo (long), ristretto (short), macchiato caldo (with hot milk), macchiato freddo (with cold milk), macchiato con latte di soia (with soy milk), schiumato (with milk foam), in tazza bollente (hot cup), al vetro (in a glass cup), lungo schiumato (long with foam), ristretto macchiato caldo (short with hot milk), decaf, with white sugar, with brown sugar, etc.. Obviously, it is also possible to combine them. For example, you can order “a decaf, with soy milk, in a glass cup, with brown sugar”. The fact is that it’s always very good!!
This is why in Italy we are used to saying that if 10 friends go to a bar together they can order 10 different types of coffee!!!
We love to drink caffè not only during breakfast but at anytime of the day, after every meal, whenever we have to meet someone, before going clubbing, whenever we are tired or anytime we feel like having one!n3
The cost of a caffè at a bar is of € 0,80-1,20 circa.
Many Italians love to drink a cappuccino for breakfast together with their croissant. A cappuccino is an espresso coffee with hot milk in a big cup (similar to a tea cup). As for the caffè, you can ask for a cappuccino chiaro (pale: the milk covers the top of the cup), scuro (dark: you don’t see the milk on the top), al vetro (in a glass cup), con zucchero di canna (with brown sugar), etc..
It is very important to know that Italians drink cappuccino only in the morning and usually only for their (first) breakfast!!! Even if we really love it, we don’t drink a cappuccino after lunch, or during a break in the afternoon, or after supper, or in any other moment. In Italy we say that whenever you see someone drinking a cappuccino after breakfast…it’s a foreign tourist!!
The cost of a cappuccino at a bar is of € 1-1,50 circa.
Caffè and cappuccino are certainly the most common breakfast beverages. Nevertheless, some Italians prefer a latte macchiato (milk with coffee), caffè latte (coffee with milk), orzo (barley), tea, etc..
Croissant (aka cornetto/brioche)
The croissant is probably the most common breakfast food among Italians. When hot, it is irresistible!!
When you go to a bar or pastry shop you can generally find many different kinds of croissant – with different shapes or names (saccottino, fagottino, danese, etc.) – such as semplice (regular), cioccolato (chocolate), crema (cream), mele (apple filling), frutti di bosco (filled with berries), nutella, marmellata (different kinds of jam filled), etc.. Bars that are pastry shops generally have really, really good homemade croissants.
It might not be the best breakfast in terms of calories, and it’s true that it’s better not to have a croissant every morning, but when you find a good one at a bar or pastry shop…it’s fantastic!!
The cost of a croissant at a bar is of € 1-1,50 circa.
Breakfast at home
To be honest, in Italy there is not one typical breakfast food. Before listing Italians favorite breakfast foods, we can tell you what you won’t generally eat if you have breakfast at the home of an Italian:
donuts, pancakes, scrambled eggs, ham, sausages, bacon, peanut butter, brownies, and similar.
On the contrary, at an Italian home you will probably find cookies, croissants, toasted bread with jam, bread with nutella or jam, cereal, yogurt, pastries, or fruit (bananas, apples, pears, etc.),a glass of fruit juice or milk (hot or cold), and of course caffè espresso, cappuccino, or tea!!
Some people like to bake cakes or pies to have for breakfast, but it’s not very common. Fresh muffins are not part of the Italian tradition, therefore it’s unlikely to find them in a average Italian house, even though in the last five/six years they have become quite easy to find in bars or pastry shops.
As said above, the average Italian likes to eat sweet food for breakfast. This is why a savory breakfast (toast, ham, pizza, etc.) is not very common among Italians. However, it is very common to have a small sandwich or a slice of pizza for a mid-morning snack.
- An Italian will always ask for “un caffè” or “un macchiato caldo” or “un ristretto”, etc.. It is very unusual to enter a bar and ask for “un espresso”. This kind of request usually comes from a foreign tourist.
- At a bar you are not obliged to leave a tip, especially for breakfast. However, if you drink a coffe which costs for example 90 cents, it’s nice to leave the 10 cent change that you usually get on the bar.
- Unfortunately, some bar owners try not to print receipts especially if the client is a foreigner. Thus, remember that you always have to ask for the receipt before you leave the bar, because you, as well as the owner, risk getting a fine!!n4
- It’s generally possible to pay by credit/debit cards at a bar. However, in Italy we don’t use credit/debit cards like in the US or other countries for small sums of money. Italians don’t usually pay for a € 2-5 breakfast by card. Be aware that some businesses may not accept payment by card for purchases of € 5 or less. Make sure you always have a little cash on you!!
- Local small bars usually don’t have menus. Bars for tourists or those who serve lunch usually have them.
- Bars serve and sell fresh water, fruit juice, cold tea, beer, wine (not always), spirits, coca-cola, etc. Some bars sell cigarettes.
- It’s prohibited to smoke inside a bar. If you are sitting at a table outside the bar, it’s not “polite” to smoke near someone who is having breakfast, lunch, or an aperitivo.