Traditional Italian Meal Structure

1. Aperitivo

Appetizers provided at the beginning of the meal, such as wine, prosecco, champagne or sparkling drinks. Sometimes light small bits of food are consumed, such as olives, crisps, nuts, cheese, sauce dips and quiches.

2. Antipasto

The antipasto is a slightly heavier course. It is usually cold (but not always) and lighter than the first course. Cold meats and hams (salami, mortadella, Parma ham etc.), cheeses (mozzarella, scamorza), sandwich-like foods (panini, bruschette), cold salmon or shrimp are common, as well as more elaborate cold and hot dishes.

3. Primo

“First course.” This is course is always hot, heavier than the antipasto, but lighter than the second course. It usually consists of non-meat foods. Examples include risotto, pasta and spaghetti, soup and broth, gnocchi, polenta, crepes, casseroles and lasagna.

4. Secondo

The secondo is the heartiest and main course of an Italian meal, sometimes called the piatto principale or the main course. It normally consists of meats and seafood: turkey, sausage, pork, steak, stew, beef, zampone, cod (baccala), salmon, lobster, lamb, chicken, or roast.

5. Contorno

Contorno is served with the secondo as a side plate. It usually consists of vegetables, raw or cooked, hot or cold.

6. Dolce

The secondo is followed by the dolce, or dessert, which greatly depends on the region and the occasion. Common desserts include tiramisu, panettone, pandoro, zuppa inglese, panna cotta and ice-cream.

7. Frutta con frutta secca/formaggio

Fruit or frutta, often served with nuts or cheese.

8. Digestivo

The digestivo, also called ammazzacaffè if served after the coffee. Examples include Grappa,Amaro and Limoncello. The word digestivo indicates that these drinks are meant to ease digestion after a long meal.

9. Caffé

Coffee is often served at the end of the meal, even after the digestivo. In Italy, this is usually strong coffee such as espresso, often consumed very quickly in small cups at very high temperatures.

Meal descriptions and photographs from Wikipedia were used for this article.

See also:

Italian wine code (food & wine pairings)
Italian wine customs and etiquette


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