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.
Piazza Cittadella, Lucca
Bar Pizzeria Ristorante
Acquolina in Bocca, Benabbio
Cavallino Bianco, Benabbio