Traditions of Italy
Italy is rich in culture and traditions, many specific to the different regions across the country. The Italian way of life is markedly different from the rest of Europe, with an emphasis on la dolce vita. The traditions of Italy are underpinned by the holy trinity – food, festival and folklore. Gastronomy infuses every section of Italian culture and food traditions are a major part of daily life. Other Italian traditions include festivals and local superstitions.
Italy is renowned for its food culture, and for good reason. Food is the glue that holds many families together and meals are considered a sacred ritual in Italy. They follow a precise order, starting with antipasto, then primo – usually a rice or pasta dish, followed by contorni, or sides, and then the main course, or secondo. An Italian meal typically ends with dolci, or dessert, and a cup of strong espresso, sometimes spiked with amaretto.
Traditional Italian foods include popular dishes like pizza, pasta, risotto, as well as desserts like panna cotta, gelato and tiramisu. However, regional food traditions also exist within Italy. In Rome, locals seek out sweetmeats; in Naples the margherita pizza attains perfection unmatched in other parts of the country; in Venice, the residents dine out on cichetti, little plates of seafood usually taken with a glass of sharp, bubbly prosecco.
Another Italian custom is the art of coffee drinking. Traditionally, Italians only drink cappuccinos or café lattes in the morning, with breakfast. After the morning meal, custom dictates that you stick with espresso, which should have a rich, thick head of foam, called the crema, floating on top.
There is often a local feast or festival going on in most Italian towns every month. Most festivals are religious in nature, but there are also food based festivals such as the Sagra degli Spaghetti all’Amatriciana, a food festival held in Rome or in the surrounding Lazio region to celebrate the Amatriciana pasta.
In Siena, the annual Palio is held, when jockeys ride bareback around the main square, racing against each other amidst vivid colours, snapping pennants and the crowd’s cheers. During Easter, traditional processions are held, the most famous of which is the one in Rome on Good Friday, when a large cross is marched from the Colosseum up towards the Palatine Hill.
The most well-known Italian superstition is the one associated with the Trevi fountain in Rome. Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the fountain over your left shoulder, you are sure to return to Rome. Other Italian customs include slipping in a coin or a small note into a wallet or purse if you are gifting it; giving an empty wallet is akin to wishing poverty onto your recipient! Another folklore dates back to ancient Roman days, when travellers would make offerings to the gods before embarking on long journeys. In the modern version, people now toss spare change into the back of a new vehicle for luck instead.