Rita Mae Brown once said, “language is the road map to culture;” one must simply pay attention to its reading. A day in language class or ten minutes in Italy reveal one of the greatest cultural values: cibo. Food and words related to food fill the Italian peninsula, and the subject is a serious matter for natives; eating and cooking is an integral part of who they are. Visitors hoping to authentically experience the Italian culture of eating may want to brush up on Italian food terms and pronunciation in order to catch an insider’s view of Italy’s cuisine.
Pronunciation is Key
Uninformed tourists are quickly pegged as such upon placing their order in restaurants. Knowing the correct pronunciation and forms of popular food items will place you at a level far above your fellow American tourist.
One of the most notorious mistakes of English-speaking tourists is the mispronunciation of bruschetta. In the Italian language, a c followed by an i or an e result in the ch- sounds. For example, ciao (tschau) or cena (chay-nah) have a ch sound at the beginning because they begin with a ci and a ce. However, chi and che produces a hard c, pronounced like a k. The same rule can be applied to the popular Sicilian nut, Pistacchio (Pis-TAK-ee-oh).
The singular form of “sandwich” is panino. Impress your Italian friends when ordering and ask for just one panino or several panini for everyone.
A subtle but significant difference in pronunciation of the famed Italian coffee is the s sound, not the x sound (as in express) at the beginning of the word. Soften your s next time you order a caffè from the local barista.
Whether strolling the streets of Rome or wandering the canals in Venice, one verb remains ubiquitous: mangiare, or “to eat”. It is repeated morning, noon and night by concerned Italians discussing what they will mangiare tonight, what they wish they could mangiare, what they just have mangiato, who they mangiare with, and where to find the best food to mangiare. Show off your skills when seated at an Italian table when the food arrives, announcing mangiamo (meaning, “Let’s eat!”), or when you are hungry, by asking your fellow travelers mangiamo? (“Shall we eat?”)
Buon Appetito (bwohn appe- TEE- toh)
After the declaration of mangiamo!, there is another sacred ritual that takes place at all tables: those present wish each other the Italian version of the French Buon Apetit. These words are not to be taken lightly and will be uttered regardless of events beforehand . In fact, there have been cases in which multiple Italians, deeply absorbed in a fervent argument or an emotional conversation, will pause for three seconds to bestow a Buon Appetito to fellow diners, who then return the good will before recommencing with equal or more gusto than before. In short, this is an essential piece of the Italian experience that is never to be disregarded.
What other significant Italian food words have you picked up during your experience with Italy? Share them with us below!