Breakfast in Italy
In Italy, colazione (or prima colazione), from the Latin meaning “collation, meal,” (or, the translation of prima colazione from the Italian, “first meal”), is a very light meal.
Types of espresso to order at an Italian bar
- Lungo (literally, “long”): this espresso is made with a little bit more water than usual, so it is less thick.
- Ristretto (literally, “restricted” or "limited"): this espresso is made with a little less water than usual, so it is thicker than the regular espresso.
- Corretto (literally, “corrected” or “improved”): a spirit alcohol – such as grappa, sambuca, whisky, brandy, scotch, Cointreau – is added to the espresso; this is usually drunk after dinner, not at breakfast!
- Macchiato (literally, “stained”): this is a regular espresso with a drop of steamed milk.
Eating Breakfast at Home
At home, most adult Italians usually have a quick caffè alla Moka, a style of espresso made in a Moka coffeepot. It is usually served black, with sugar, in a small cup. Some Italians may have a larger cup of caffè latte, which consists mainly of boiled milk and some espresso, also made in the Moka. (Starbucks, and coffee houses in the U.S. in general, mistakenly call this simply a latte. But, beware: in Italy, if you ask for a latte you will get a glass of cold milk, most likely accompanied by a quizzical look!)
Those adults who actually eat something at home may have a slice of toast with butter (or pre-packaged fette biscottate, small slices of dry, crisp, toasted bread). Usually, though, if anything at all is eaten it is something sweet. However, Italian pastries and cookies are not as sweet as American, Greek, or sweets from other cultures. Some Italians may eat a biscotto (a brittle, dry cookie; biscuit – though a biscotto may also be a tea biscuit or digestive – essentially, a biscotto is somewhat sweet, baked, and dry enough to withstand dunking in coffee or, sometimes, tea).
What Italian Kids Eat for Breakfast
Children in Italy eat a little more than their adults at breakfast. Sometimes, the breakfast is similar: either a slice of toast or a fetta biscottata, a biscotto or two, a bignè (the Italianized form of the French word beignet or “donut”), cornetto (the Italian croissant), or other pastry, accompanied by a cup of orzo (the best-selling brand is Orzo Bimbo – the word bimbo in Italian means “little kid, little boy”), which is a drink made with powdered barley, sugar, and steamed or boiled milk, cioccolata calda (hot chocolate), or tea (Italian-style tea is very light; we leave a tea bag in until the water just changes color. This is called tè biondo or “blonde tea”). Sometimes, kids will drink a glass of cold milk.
Cold cereals, American-style, such as Froot Loops or Rice Krispies, have been introduced into the culture, but are usually given to kids in the afternoon, for their merenda (or “tea,” “afternoon snack”). Yogurt may also be served at breakfast. Dannon even makes a slightly sweetened plain yogurt sold in Italy (I have never seen it in U.S. supermarkets, much to my disappointment), especially for kids. Other times, a fruit, such as a banana or an orange is served to children at home. One of my particularly favorite breakfasts was banana schiacciata, a mashed banana mixed with a splash of cold milk.
A hot breakfast for kids may be a bowl of semolino, or Cream of Wheat (also called porridge in other, more British, parts of the English-speaking world), made with milk and seasoned with a little salt and a pat of unsalted butter. This is especially served in winter.