Breakfast, Italian Style
October 14, 2021
Italians never eat breakfast as we know it: cereal, eggs, toast and bacon. No, they start their day to the clank of cups and whooshes of steamed and foamed milk as they stop at their nearest neighborhood bar before work and order un cappuccino e un cornetto (a cappuccino and a buttery pastry croissant).
A bar in Italy is not a place where you mosey up and order a beer or martini in the evening and chitchat with the stranger next to you. An Italian bar is refinement with a take-your-time attitude. It’s one of the first things you see in the airport. Shiny counter tops with glass mirrors and snappily dressed baristas who take you order and pump out copious cups of cappuccino faster than you can say un cappuccino per favore.
Cappuccino (which means little cap) starts out as espresso but is brewed in a larger cup after which a fluffy white cloud of steamed and foamed milk is poured on top. Espresso is a strong brew that results from hot water being forced through ground beans at very high pressure to extract as much flavor as possible. Espresso is served in small demitasse cups.
There are some rules to ordering espresso or cappuccino. You first tell the cashier what you want and pay for it. You’ll then be handed a receipt that you take to the bar and give to your server. NEVER order a cappuccino after 11 a.m. That will immediately brand you as a tourist! Espresso is the drink of choice among Italians after 11 a.m. And please don’t call it expresso. It’s espresso – pronounced “AspressO”. Don’t ask for a lemon peel to go with it either because you will just get a blank stare.
Believe it or not, there are other rules that apply to cold drinks. One never orders an ice laden soft drink in the dead heat of summer; one orders espresso if you want to cool off! I learned this early on in my travels to Italy. Italians believe icy drinks are bad for your digestive health.
One of the great la dolce vita moments you could have in Italy, is sitting at an outdoor cafe enjoying an espresso or cappuccino and watching the world go by. No plastic cups with plastic lids to spoil the moment. So, when in Italy, drink in those time-honored traditions.
Espresso is one of the main flavor components in tiramisu, a fashionable dessert that is made all over Italy but is said to have origins in the north. The right ladyfingers are critical to the dessert’s success. They must be dry and hard.