Thursday, November 5, 2009

Italian eateries: vocabulary

We all aspire to eating in Italy, or to eat there again, or to continue eating there if we are in Italy now. Here's a mini-guide to the names of food-associated places in Italian.

I'm listing them in loose order of formality/expense. However, nowadays the unassuming names of trattoria or osteria may well be given to more costly establishments. Also, there are combinations of the categories, notably ristorante pizzeria. Outside of Italy, these names are often given inaccurately or randomly, just to have a fashionable Italian name. Note that in Italy there are no liquor licenses- almost all places serving food or drink will serve alcohol, including fast food places. Exceptions may be small storefront operations like a pizza-by-the-slice joint (pizzeria da asporto).

Ristorante- a restaurant with tablecloths and service and all that good stuff.

Locanda- this literally indicates an inn, and historically was an inn serving food. Technically a locanda should have rooms, and they should not be expensive. Technically. The Locanda Cipriani in Torcello (an island near Venice proper) is expensive and has rooms which are also expensive.

Trattoria- a more informal venue, with a simpler and more limited menu, often of comfort food (or the local intepretation thereof)

Osteria- historically, a place dedicated to the worthy pursuit of imbibing wine; now, another name for less formal restaurant. May in fact have a counter with people imbibing along with tables of people eating (and imbibing). Sometimes given the old-fashioned spelling ostaria or even hostaria, which fill me with indignation and make me suspect inflated prices.

Enoteca- a relatively recent addition, a wine bar dedicated to sampling different wines. May or may not have food. The word is along the lines of biblioteca (library) and pinacoteca (picture gallery), suggesting a cultural or educational experience. As opposed to just imbibing.

Pizzeria- what the Italians call a pizzeria.

Birreria- an informal eatery where the emphasis is on beer rather than wine. Thus the food will be food that goes more with beer than wine. Like hot dogs (yes Italians eat hot dogs).

Tavola calda- practically defunct as terminology. Means they have hot dishes, minimal fuss. Inexpensive.

Rosticceria- Neglected by Americans in Italy. A sort of take out with things like lasagna, mozzarella in carrozza, arancini, roast chicken and other fun things.

Paninoteca- another recent addition. Specializing in sandwiches, with a great variety of same.

Pasticceria- pastries, some desserts. Can save money by not having dessert in restaurant but going to one of these later. Will often have coffee.

Bar- central to Italian life. Is not like an American bar. Previously discussed here.

Agriturismo- not all have an eatery. In theory, should be attached to a farm or at least be in a rural location. The best will serve good, fresh local food, often grown on their estate. I like them a lot. The authentic ones should not be expensive. Many also have accommodations and all sorts of amenities.

(in the photo, the enoteca/agriturismo Bacco e Arianna near Padua in the Veneto)