8 Menu Terms You Should Know At An Italian Restaurant

Italian food is among the most popular cuisines in the United States. And it’s for a reason. It’s classy, sweet, and a great way to connect with friends and family. 

Italian Restaurant

Although some Italian food options have been Americanized, the restaurant menus are written in Italian in most authentic Italian cuisine. It would be advantageous to familiarize yourself with key phrases you will likely encounter the next time you order spaghetti bolognese.

1. Antipasti

If you enter an Italian restaurant hungry and eager to order everything on the menu, you should begin with the “Antipasti” section. 

The term translates to “before the meal” or “before the pasta,” and this is where you will find appetizers. Here you can find soups, salads, and traditional Italian appetizers.

You should choose the appetizers that you love the most. The food you choose will be served before pasta, risotto, or any other Italian dish. 

2. Primi

While many perceive pasta as a complete meal, it is typically served as a separate course in Italian restaurants. 

The menu section labeled “Primi” is the first (or primary) course, where you will find all your beloved pasta dishes.

Besides pasta, you will also find risotto, gnocchi, polenta, and even dumplings. Remember that in traditional Italian restaurants, Primi items are typically served in smaller portions than in American restaurants (hence the need to separate pasta dishes into separate courses; you’ll likely still be hungry!).

3. Secondi

You should expect a second course if there is a first course, or “Primi.” 

On menus, this section is labeled “Secondi” (or Secondo), where you will find your protein-based main courses, such as meat and seafood.

Traditionally, these dishes do not include sides, so if you want a side dish, find a section on the menu labeled “Contorni.” You will find vegetables, potatoes, and other side dishes to complement your Secondi main course here.

4. Melanzane

Whether dining in Italy or at a traditional Italian restaurant, when searching for vegetarian dishes, look for terms such as “melanzane,” which signifies eggplant. 

When you find the term, it means that the restaurant offers eggplant parmesan, a delicious vegetarian alternative to chicken parmesan.

5. Gliglia

As you peruse the Italian menu, you may come across a few unfamiliar terms essential to know so that you can precisely tell what you are ordering. These terms pertain to how your cuisine is being prepared. 

For instance, you may encounter ziti “al forno,” which translates to “baked.” 

What about griglia, though? This term indicates that your meal will be cooked on a grill. This phrase may appear when you order your Secondi course, consisting of chicken or steak.

6. Gamberi

You can expect to find a variety of seafood dishes on an Italian menu; some are simpler to translate than others mentally. 

For instance, there is “salmone,” which refers to salmon, “calamari,” which seafood aficionados will recognize as squid, and “frutti di mare,” which is a combination of various types of shellfish.

If “gamberi” appears on the menu, it indicates that your entrée will contain shrimp, prawns, or crawfish. 

Since the term can be used interchangeably, you should confirm with your server which type of shellfish is contained in your meal.

7. Al Pomodoro

Ziti, penne, spaghetti, and rigatoni are among the pasta shapes that most people learn as children. As a result, many people quickly identify them on an Italian menu. 

However, when ordering pasta (likely in the Primi section of the menu), be sure to inquire about the sauce accompanying your dish. 

Al Pomodoro is an example of a fundamental tomato sauce that you can order. Other sauces you can try include pesto and Bolognese.

8. Agnello

On Italian menus, it is simple to identify traditional proteins such as “pollo” (chicken) and “bistecca” (steak). 

However, many Italian restaurants carry a variety of meats, some of which you may only immediately recognize if they are written in clear English.

“Agnello” is one of these meats. It is a lamb and may appear in the Secondi section of the menu alongside other meat dishes. 

You may also encounter “ragù D’Angelo,” a lamb-based meat sauce for pasta dishes on the same menu.

How Do You Know You Are In An Authentic Italian Restaurant?

Besides the menu, there are several other things that you can look out for to tell that you are in an authentic Italian restaurant and you are going to have the time of your life. 

1. You have freshly made bread and pasta.

There are no authentic Italian restaurants whose pasta and bread are not freshly made. For a great experience, the first thing to look for in a restaurant is whether or not the food is made in-house.

 A good rule of thumb is to ensure that the bread and pasta are made in the restaurant. If they aren’t, that is likely not a genuine traditional Italian restaurant, and you should avoid it. 

2. They serve more than pasta.

When many people think about an Italian restaurant, their mind automatically goes to pasta. You should note that an authentic Italian restaurant is more than just pasta. It also should have plenty of food options. 

For example, it should have plenty of meaty and seafood dishes. 

If you come across a restaurant that only serves pasta, it’s best that you avoid it. 

3. Use genuine raw materials

Since you want a genuine Italian experience, you should be cautious of where your favorite restaurant gets its raw materials. 

For peace of mind, ensure the restaurant gets its supplies from a genuine Italian food supplier such as Rovagnati.

Founded in Italy in 1943, Rovagnati is a leader in the charcuterie industry, providing top-of-the-range meat dishes.

All of its products are prepared using the traditional Italian techniques of steam cooking, curing, and brick oven cooking, which preserves the properties and natural characteristics of the meat while assuring a high digestibility.

If you suffer from allergies and other intolerances, you shouldn’t worry when you hear your restaurant gets its meat and other products from Rovagnati as you are sure the food will be free of allergens. 

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