Trattoria Taboos: Five Things You Should Never Do in Italian Restaurants

| June 20, 2012


Most Americans’ idea of authentic Italian dining experiences stem from two sources: that restaurant from Lady and the Tramp and Mafiosi yelling in Brooklynese with gobfuls of gabagool in The Godfather trilogy. Italian-Americans revel in their heritage, yet some would feel quite out of place in the motherland if they abided by the dining dictates of the new world. Remember Paulie Walnuts’s visit to Naples? (This forty-five-second clip sums it all up)

The Italians have rigid dinning rules from sunrise to sunset; many are nonsensical by today’s standards though all are steeped in tradition and superstition. And while you could surely get away with breaking some these rules stateside, you’re definitely going to want to abide by nuovo Etruscan etiquette abroad.  Capiche?



1. Cappuccini* after Breakfast
Italians consider this frothed affair to be a breakfast-only beverage. Enjoy your “capped hat” java, named after the hoods of the Capuchin friars, before noon or expect eyerolls. Generations ago, Southern Italians believed that milk after a meal was bad for digestion and taking more than a macchiato’s amount of milk after noon has become ingrained throughout the country. (*plural for cappuccino)

2. Cheese on Seafood
I once saw a woman in an upscale Italian eatery in New York ask exhaustively for cheese on her linguine alle vongole, believing the waiter was slighting her. She then turned to her guest when the server was done snowing Parmigiano-Reggiano all over her clams, and exclaimed, “He didn’t offer any to me because I’m a woman!” Her friend told her the real reason — that Italians would rather ketchup carpaccio than cheese their seafood — and the woman shrunk three sizes. But why? Cheese won’t curdle with citrus, and there’s really no reasoning behind it; it’s just not done. You could suck consommé through a straw, but you shouldn’t do that either.

3. Spooning
Italian imposters will slip you a spoon prior to spaghettiing, and Emily Post thinks it’s perfectly proper, yet it’s not so much that it’s improper; it’s simply unnecessary. If your pasta is served in a bowl (as it should be), you needn’t any other utensil other than a fork. The reason pasta is not plated is so that you can twirl it against the side of the bowl. And anyone who cross-cuts their strangolapreti should be strangled. Period.

4. Campari After Sunset
Campari from lunch to apperitivi is the way to go: from Garibaldi, to Americani, to Negroni, but bitter-cocktailing after the sun has set simply not does sit well with Italians. Wine or water is poured for dinner, unless you’re enjoying pizza, in which case a soft drink is acceptable.

Thanks for the heads up, Santa!

5. “Mafia”
If you see a goumba gorging himself on galamad and think that stating the obvious to your friend that he’s probably “in the mafia!” is a good idea, you should think again.

While you may very well be right, do you really want the don to hear you? If you don’t own a storefront business, deal with contractors, or work in an Italian restaurant, then you should leave well enough alone. Those in the know certainly know better than to ever say the word in public — after all there’s a hand gesture for that. Raise your eyebrows, take your right index finger, lay it beside your nose and casually push your nose to the left.

For example, “That maitre d’ gave you grief about ordering a cappuccino with dessert? Get the fuck outta here! I’ll have my cousin Frankie take care of that stupid mamaluke for you. You remembah Frankie — he’s uuuh — [insert hand gesture].”


Five Things Not Found in Italy

  1. Chicken Parmesan (sadly).
  2. Penne alla Vodka (first clue: “vodka.”)
  3. Fettuccine Alfredo
  4. Cappuccino with whipped cream
  5. Chicken on pizza


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Category: Consume, Featured

Comments (12)

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  1. Adam says:

    Thank you.

  2. Julie Gilbert Coleman says:

    Enjoyed this one very much.

  3. Adam Di Carlo says:

    Cheese on seafood is indeed a crime — unless its a tuna melt. Why does everything have to have cheese on it anyway?

  4. dstrongdisco says:

    You know what else you shouldn’t do in an italian restaurant? bad mouth the food before you’ve tasted it.

    • Michell says:

      Or, season it before you taste it. Especially, not in front of the wait staff. If they go back and tell the Chef, you may get a very loud talking to, and rightfully so!

  5. dstrongdisco says:

    ps. cute article. but cheese isn’t such a no-no on fish. in the jewish communities of italy cheese and anchovies are in everything together, as in carciofi alla romana, or polenta fritti. It’s actually more a matter of putting northern cheeses on southern dishes. Parmaggiano Reggiano has no place on vongole, because spaghetti alla vongole is a calabrian dish, and in calabria the “cheese” they put on everything is a sprinkle of chili pepper and bread crumbs. they call it “formaggi calabrese”. but a sheeps milk cheese like pecorino can be put on any southern pasta with out argument, and can be stuffed into squid or eaten on toast with bottarga.

  6. Barbara from Bangkok says:

    I am almost as addicted to this website as I am my hot Thai coffee — good think I get to have them every morning at the same time! LOL! I will never swirl my pasta with a spoon again — thanks for that part!

  7. agliopiccante says:

    Your awesume.

  8. Tiff J says:

    Ha, this was a fun read.

  9. Janet says:

    Enjoyed the article. Thanks for the head’s up.

  10. In the small graphic at the end added by James C Taylor entitled “Not Found In Italy” #3 and #4 are indeed found in Italy. Penne alla Vodka comes from La Vecchia Bettola in Florence and is called Penne alla Bettola…it does include the Russian liquor. Fettuccine Alfredo, though usually referred by the ingredient names instead of the name we know so commonly in the USA, was introduced at the restaurant Alfredo on the Via della Scrofa in Rome in 1914. Just sayin’.

  11. George says:

    I just saw some travel show a couple of months back that featured Italy. The host said she was invited to dinner at 2AM and that it was custom there for people to have a strong Cappuccino AFTER DINNER, which she noted was often very late at night or even early morning before dawn. This seemed real strange to me as I always cut off the caffeine after 12 noon. She went on to add that a good barometer for authentic Italian dining is that they offer top notch Expressos/Cappuccinos, which I don’t doubt, but I still can’t imagine having after dinner. I’m sure there’s good reason for it, so I’m not trying to judge.. only to understand, that’s all.