Monday, January 31, 2011

Order you Breakfast at the bar in Italian- Buona Colazione

Colazione al bar, as I mentioned in my previous post, is a very civilised Italian habit and a great way for visitors and burgeoning anthropologists to observe Italians first thing in the morning. It is also a perfect opportunity to practise your Italian. For a start if you make a complete fool of yourself (brutta figura) you need never return. However don’t be afraid to try out your linguistic skills. If the barista replies in English, which is very off putting, just persevere. It is more the Italian desire to be helpful or practise their English than a criticism. I haven’t ever found the Italians judgemental, unlike the French who are sticklers for grammatical correctness.
The Italian language is still quite formal and there is the formal lei meaning you or the informal tu. If in doubt go for the formal option or ask if you can use the tu form.

You will be greeted generally by buongiorno. Ciao is only used when you are known or to children. Teenagers and children will also address each other with ciao. After a couple of visit you could change from the formal buongiorno to my favourite greeting, Salve which literally translates as Hail a sort of Roman Hi, before moving onto ciao when you become a regular.
Now it is smiles all round especially if you are in a small place. So next you need to decide what you would like to order. Italy in my opinion rightly has shunned coffee bar chains like Starbucks or Caffé Nero. Sadly teenagers seem to think they represent all things hip so lets hope that after trying a poor imitation of what somebody incorrectly imagines is an Italian coffee, they will think again. Italian friends visiting the UK and US get totally confused that the Italian sounding words in theses chains bear little relation to the Italian language. The options may seem less but in fact there is a huge repertoire of variations on a theme of breakfast Coffee.

Your choices are likely to be:
Un caffè -a normal expresso, Italians don’t generally say espresso. This is the most popular form of coffee in Italy. Please note that in Italy we say espresso not expresso.
Un caffè doppio – a double espresso, only for real caffeine junkies. (An Italian would never order this!!)
Un caffè lungo - a long espresso, the water from the spout runs for longer giving you a longer weaker coffee but still in an espresso cup. If you are in Tuscany you can also say un caffè alto (a tall coffee!)
Un Americano - an espresso served in a cappuccino cup with added hot water.
Un macchiato - Literally translates as a stain or mark. An espresso with a dash of steamed cappuccino milk in it.
Un macchiato in tazza grande - this option is only available in certain regions. In Tuscany since last year, bars have charged an extra 10 cents for this type of macchiato believing it was a way the locals had for paying less for what is a small cappuccino in reality!
I however love this in the morning not too milky but a little less aggressive than a caffè first thing.
If you would like ordinary cold milk in your coffee you need to order a
Un macchiato freddo.
Un caffè ristretto also called in some areas un caffè corto, which literary translates as restricted coffee. The espresso cup is removed early form the spout of the machine meaning you are left with a sip of much stronger coffee.
Un cappuccino - one of the great Italian exports and deserving the famous Made in Italy label. This is an ordinary espresso served with steamed milk and as an option served with a sprinkling of cocoa powder on the top. Traditionally, only drunk at breakfast time but now drunk throughout the day even by Italians.
If you want a really hot cappuccino remember to ask for Un cappuccino ben caldo.
Un latte macchiato or un caffelatte is a glass (or sometimes a large cup) of hot milk with a dash of coffee. If you ask for latte you just get plain milk.
Visitors tend to think of Italian coffee as an unhealthy drink. I am told that an espresso has far less caffeine than a cup of filter coffee.
Now after you have made your choice you need to order it. 
If you have to pay at the cash desk you only need list your requirement
Un caffè,  for instance.
You will then be told the price. You can always take a peep at the cash register, if you are not sure. Take your receipt to the bar and give it to the barista. They will then tear your receipt and leave it on the counter. Your coffee will then appear.
In Tuscany we don’t tip but in Naples you would leave a few cents with your receipt. In Naples you are also automatically given a glass of water. In Tuscany you must ask for one (and usually pay for it).

It is always better as I have said to via towards formality. We have two forms of you in Italian and like in French there is also the polite form. In Italian the third person Singular is used as the polite form. If you need a pronoun use the female lei form even if you are addressing a man.
Like in English we use the conditional tense to be polite - for example.
Vorrei un caffè  - I would like a Coffee.

Or a simpler version would be:
Un caffè per favore  - meaning a coffee please.
Un caffè per piacere- you might think means the same, but with the nuances of the Italian language it can put a slightly harder edge on your request.
If you wish to make it plural:
Vorrei due cappuccini - I would like two cappuccinos or
Vorremo due cappuccini - We would like two cappuccinos
Cappuccino becomes cappuccini in the plural.
Caffè however stays the same.
Macchiato singular, Macchiati plural.
Due caffè doppi - Notice that though caffè stays the same, doppio becames doppi
Latte also stays the same
Due caffèlatte it can also be spelt caffèllatte but this is very unusual
The same rule works for un cornetto (singular), due cornetti (plural).
In other words if you have an o in the singular it becomes i in the plural and if have an a it becomes e in the plural.

Now I am certain you won’t be able to resist either un pezzo dolce (pastry) or un cornetto (croissant).
Some types of cornetti:
Cornetto con crema – filled with crème patisserie 
Cornetto con marmellata - filled with jam
Cornetto vuoto - just a simple plain cornetto with perhaps some glacé icing
Bombolone – similar to a  doughnut, round and filled with crème patisserie (or jam) sprinkled with sugar.
Pasta con mela or due paste con mele (plural) - apple pastry
Pasta con riso - pastry with a dessert rice filling.
Just to save any confusion, pasta means dough.

These are the names of our most common types of cakes in our local bars here in Tuscany but each region has its own specialities.
Thank you is not used as much in Italy and you can overdue it.  However in this case a nice smile and Grazie.
On leaving, either wish the barista buona giornata (have a good day), or a simple
Arrivederci  (good bye).
It only remains for me to say Buona Colazione al Bar.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Breakfast in the Bar Italian style – Colazione al bar

I love the Italian habit of breakfast in the bar. It starts the day off with a buzz and is an easy way to meet neighbours, catch up on the local gossip and make new friends.

Now there are unwritten rules and rituals that go with Colazione al bar. Local councils in Italy cap the price of an espresso taken while standing up at the bar counter. The price is therefore almost the same at the most elegant and sophisticated bar in the city and the one behind the railway station, but beware if sit down, the bar owners can charge what they like. However, in small out of the way villages and bars in the suburbs they probably won’t charge extra. Sometimes bars in cities and tourist spots waver the charge for regulars. Breakfast or prima colazione, normally shortened to colazione, is usually eaten on the hoof. 

The breakfast generally consists of some type of coffee and a cornetto, the Italian equivalent of a croissant or another type of dolci, sweet pastries for those not dieting. Now cornettos come in many disguises. They are less rich than their French counterpart as oil is used rather than butter but they are the same shape. The simplest and my favourite are  “vuoto” literally meaning empty though they are often coated with glacé icing which is the way I like mine. If you feel like something heavier you can have it filled with jam or if indulgence is the name of the game oozing with crème patisserie.  Not very healthy I hear you say but Italian nutritionists tell us that in fact it is and we need some sugar first thing in the morning to get us going. My other favourite breakfast is an apple dolce, a light pastry filled with apple and sprinkled with sugar.

Coffee of course is the essential ingredient and elixir of any Italian breakfast whether in the bar or at home; it is drunk first thing in the morning from top to toe of the peninsula. The choice in the bar may seem more limited than your local Starbucks but every bar knows exactly how each of their regulars like their coffee.  It gives me a great sense of belonging that Alessia or Diva (such a wonderful name!) start preparing my Macchiato in tazza grande (large cup) as I open the door. In the village it is the same with Alessandro or Alessandra. Though in the village for me breakfast is usually a more leisurely affair and will certainly include a sit down unless I am waiting to catch the bus. Once a week I am part of a “giromacchina” car sharing scheme and this being Italy we always have a coffee stop during our 40minute journey. It is these little Italian habits of putting quality of life first that make life here so pleasant. Macchiato seems to be the preferred drink. We women hold back on the sugar but prefer our macchiati in a tazza grande (a variation particularly Tuscan). The result is a mini or concentrated cappuccino. The men seem to prefer a simple caffè and be less diet conscious going for the sugar, some taking cane sugar while other sticking doggedly to the traditional white.

What about Cappuccino? The rule says this is the only time of day when you can drink a cappuccino. However now most bars except tourists drink them at any time of the day so the rule is relaxed and you won’t be mocked. After lunch an Italian will tell you that only a caffè will aid digestion and all that milk isn’t good for you after a meal! In a bar to order an espresso you need only utter the word caffè. When you order your Cappuccino you might be surprised how small it is. The milk mustn’t drown the taste of the coffee out. Cappuccinos are also served at rather a tepid temperature perhaps because most Italians seem to gulp them down. Therefore, if you like yours steaming, ask for a Cappuccino or Cappuccio (as it is know in the local Tuscan slang) ‘ben caldo’. The other thing is to take note of, is when you pay. In Village bars you generally pay after you have finished and even in Lucca this is generally the case, however in big cities and tourist centres like Florence you generally have to order and pay at a cash desk and then go to the bar counter with your receipt except of course if you are being served at a table.
So if you are staying in a hotel why not shun the hotel breakfast and join the locals in the bar.
Look out for my next post, which will give you all the vocabulary you need to order your colazione al bar.

My locals

Bar Diva
Piazza Cittadella, Lucca

Bar Pizzeria Ristorante
Acquolina in Bocca, Benabbio

Bar Ristorante
Cavallino Bianco, Benabbio

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mirò exhibition in Pisa - Myths of the Mediterranean

Photograph Alexandra Koray- Tuscanyarts
As much as I revel in the Mediaeval and Renaissance art that surrounds us every day I love to visit the incredible Modern art exhibitions that the Palazzo Blu has offered us these last couple of years. Last winter the colours and magic of Chagall and this year Mirò with his electric colours and evocative lines have delighted its audience. I am no art historian but got caught up in his use of the line with or without end that seems to have fascinated Mirò. His series of poems and illustrations in book form based on the Japanese Haiku form of poetry, brought me back to my former life as a bookbinder and made me remember why I love beautiful printing. I even felt a little tingle in my fingers!
One is guided through the exhibition by Mirò own words and poetry so and this is exhibition for all the family. Small children can read their own imagination into these pictures.
Mirò says:   “The painting rises form the brushstrokes as a poem rises from the words. The meaning comes later”
So if you are in this part of Tuscany during January the exhibition is open until 23rd January.


Blu Palazzo d’Arte e Cultura
Lungarno Gambacorti, 9
56125 - Pisa
Until 23rd January 2011

Opening Time
Tuesday to Friday 10:00 am - 7:00 pm
Saturday and Sunday 10:00 am - 8:00 pm
Monday closed
(Ticket office closes one hour earlier)

Individual tickets  price: euro 8,00 
With discount: euro 6,50
With discount by conventions: euro 6,00

Also see the article and Video on Tuscanyarts