There are Italian-American restaurants — the type where you can order delicious spaghetti or pizza — and then there are more authentic Italian restaurants, where you can order dishes like carbonara, cacio e pepe, and bolognese. In the United States, people get so used to the former that when they step into a more authentic Italian restaurant, they can feel a little out of place.
Here are a few questions you may have as you dine in such an establishment, along with their answers.
Why isn't there any butter with the bread?
Authentic Italian restaurants almost always bring out some sort of bread or foccacia at the beginning of the meal. If you're looking around for the butter and can't find it, that's because there is not any. Italians do not typically eat butter on their bread; they eat olive oil. Look on the table for bottles of oil, and perhaps balsamic vinegar. That is what you are expected to dip your bread in. Some Italian restaurants will instead bring out a bowl of olive oil and vinegar mixed together that you can dip into.
What are primo and secondo?
You may see the menu broken down in this way. All it really means is "first course" and "second course." Instead of eating numerous dishes on a plate together, as Americans often do, Italians typically eat their meals in courses. They will eat the first course, primo, and then the second course, secondo. If you're not very hungry, it would be appropriate to order a primo dish, but no secondo dish. It would be considered rude or odd to order a secondo dish without first having enjoyed a primo dish. Typically, primo dishes are pasta, and secondo dishes contain meats and seafood.
Why is there no salad course?
Look at the menu again more closely, and you will likely see that there are salad selections, but that they're not placed where you would expect. Italians do not eat salad at the start of the meal as Americans tend to do. Instead, they eat salad after the second course. It is believed that finishing the meal with vegetables helps aid in digestion. Italian salads are typically leafy and are served with just olive oil and vinegar as dressings.
Hopefully you now feel more acquainted with the process of dining at an authentic Italian restaurant. Order some delicious food and relax; you're in for a great treat.