After moving here, we had to get use to the way Italians eat. Dinner is super late. Lunch is enormous. And breakfast, as we know it, is non-existent. We say it’s the most important meal of the day, but Italians don’t eat when they wake up; they drink coffee from their espresso machines or brew some in a tiny coffee maker at home. If coffee isn’t enough, many have a cigarette along with it.
It’s not until 10 or 11 am when the cafes open that Italians take a break from their morning and get a bite to eat. But there are no breakfast menus. No eggs Benedict. No oatmeal. No bacon. Just pastries. And here in Italy, powdered sugar donuts and huge cinnamon rolls aren’t just for kids. Men in business suits eat whipped-cream filled croissants all the time.
Most Italians enjoy their morning snack while standing up. The cafes serve customers along a bar. Traditionally and most commonly, patrons order an espresso to accompany their sweet bread and then eat on their feet. You can sit at a table if there is one, but you have to pay more. (And it doesn’t feel as authentic.)
We haven’t entirely acclimated to this routine yet. Once in a while I’ll make breakfast for the kids. When some local friends heard about this, they wanted to know more. What is a traditional American breakfast? We got to talking and then decided to have them over for Sunday Brunch.
It took a week of planning and experimenting before we settled on the menu. I wanted something with syrup. And Matt wanted to include savory dishes. We bought all sorts of ingredients in our search for the perfect flavors. Since Italians don’t have breakfast meats like bacon, we bought an assortment of cured meats and sampled them all throughout the week. Pancetta was too salty, so was guanciale. We tried prosciutto crudo, prosciutto cotto and speck (smoked prosciutto). Eventually, speck won the vote.
On Sunday morning we woke up early to start squeezing oranges. By the time our guests arrived, all was nearly ready. We had just a few frantic minutes with the oven and all four burners on at once trying to cook and talk in Italian while appearing in control (too difficult). I finally abandoned the cooking part and Matt took over.
When it was ready, we served big American cups of coffee, French toast, a breakfast casserole, egg sandwiches, apples with lemon and sugar, and smoked salmon toasts. We even found a bottle of maple syrup (imported from Canada.)
As we were eating, we talked a little about a typical Sunday at home: hanging out, watching football, going on a walk, barbecuing, etc. However, since we are in Italy, Milena and Sergio proposed a visit to a nearby ruin. This sounded perfect, albeit in great contrast to an American Sunday. So after we finished brunch, we walked down the street for a tour of the 2000-year-old Etruscan acropolis that was discovered underneath Perugia’s giant cathedral in the 1980s. It was just opened to the public this year.
The oldness of it all was mind-boggling. During our tour, we walked up and down ancient roads that had been buried for two millennia. We stood in the remains of an Etruscan family’s house. We saw an ancient cistern for collecting rain water. We touched a tall wall that at one point extended to the highest reaches of the city. All the while, we were just two blocks away from our apartment and just a little bit underneath.
Later, when we got back home, all the dishes from brunch were waiting for us. By the time we cleaned up, we were tired and ready for bed. The last thing we wanted to do was cook dinner. So instead, we walked downstairs for an ice cream cone and a beer, neither an Italian nor American meal.