Breakfast in Italy

Breakfast, the most important meal of the day

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.

A case full of choices at Santino

It’s 11:00 and the cafes are busy.

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.)

The guys at Bar Pasticceria Accademia waiting for our order

Serving espresso and croissants on the bar at Antica Latteria

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.)

French toast cooked in lots of butter.

Egg McMuffins

Sunday Brunch

As we were eating, we talked a little about a typical Sunday at home:  hanging out, watching football, going on a walk, barbequing, 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.

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7 thoughts on “Breakfast in Italy

  1. Pastry and a smoke. Icky! Surprised they don’t have a traditional breakfast. In Ireland that would be two eggs, potatoes, blood sausages (super nasty) and broiled tomatoes. Your brunch looked amazing! I enjoy your blog and seeing how the Italians live….. good photos too! Thanks Matt and Jill.

  2. So, what do your friends think about Sunday Brunch? Great blog…….again. We are so ready for our visit to your city. Love, Grandpa John

  3. Are they all really hyped up and cranky until the big noon meal? I’m trying to imagine anyone in my family (myself very much included) making it until lunch on espresso and baked goods. Someone would be killed. And then yelled at repeatedly. In Spain, they have churros con chocolate for breakfast , which consists of a cup of thick, melted chocolate and a fried churro. SO delicious and so very bad for the blood sugar. Maybe that’s where the nicotine comes in? It must be so fun to share what is culturally American with your Italian friends. Sometimes it’s impossible to see your own culture until you are asked to do something “typical.”. Fun. Miss you immensely…

  4. Sweet rolls and espresso. I could live on that! Your brunch looked and sounded awesome! Walking on roads so old, doesn’t it seem surreal sometimes?

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