Eating With The Family, The Italian Way


Food is everything in Italy, it’s what brings the family together to sit a round a table after a long day working or at the beach. Meal times are where extended families will sit for hours discussing life, family matters, Italian politics (always popular) and the world as a whole.

Whenever I go to Italy I love sitting down with my immediate family to eat, the whole process is different to what we do at home in England. There may still be five of us sat around a table but it’s not the same. Meal times are a relaxed affair in Italy, you don’t feel the urge to eat your meal down as quickly as possible so you can rush off to do something else.

The food is brought to the table at a more leisurely pace, eaten slower and after the meal we all hang around and talk.

Similarly in an restaurant in Italy it’s not uncommon to see people sat at there table for hours after they’ve finished eating and holding court with the family or as most restaurants in Italy will have a television on it’s not un common to see finished diners still sat their table watching and discussing the latest Italian quiz show. When we have a big family gathering we start the preparation hours in advance of the first guest arriving and when the first person does arrive they’re usually armed with more food that needs preparing.

It’s not until everyone arrives that the event gets underway, it’s an un-written rule that until all the guests have arrived and all food prepared that anyone can get in the mood to enjoy themselves. This is of course except for the children who run around getting under everyone’s feet and pinching salami and cheese from the table when the adults aren’t looking. When you finally sit down for the meal it’s usually a very long, relaxed and drawn out process. Italians think nothing of sitting down to a meal of in excess of 10 courses eaten over 3 hours, the bigger the family gathering the more courses there will be as everyone usually brings something with them to add to the table.

This will always be good traditional home-made Italian food. Granted the courses are generally rather small and are usually served on large platters in the centre of the table for everyone to dig into. If you’ve never experienced this before the trick is not too get too over confident on the fist few courses as there will always be another course further down the line that you’ll regret not having space for.

The courses usually consist of cheese and salami, pickles, vegetables, one or two fish dishes, a couple of meat courses, cheese again and dessert. All of these are washed down with lots of wine or beer over the course of an afternoon or evening. There is always something going on at an Italian dinner table and I’ve never known a quiet Italian dinner table. The females of the family are usually rushing back and to from the kitchen with more trays of food, the older men are sat at the head of the table discussing the old days, the younger generation, competing to be heard sit around the centre of the table discussing the state of the world and the children do what children do.

As the meal reaches it’s finale a few people may saunter off to relax but generally everyone stays around the table with conversations going on for hours or maybe a game or two of scopa, a traditional Italian card game. At the end of the meal you are generally exhausted and unable to eat a single thing, but at night you’ll sleep well and be as relaxed as you’ve ever been before.