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Breakfast in Italy

Updated on July 29, 2013
A cappuccino (espresso made with steamed milk, capped off with thick foam) is sometimes the beverage of choice for an Italian breakfast. Italians never order this at any other time of day.
A cappuccino (espresso made with steamed milk, capped off with thick foam) is sometimes the beverage of choice for an Italian breakfast. Italians never order this at any other time of day. | Source

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.

The Moka is the "machinetta" (literally, "little machine") that most Italians use to brew espresso at home.
The Moka is the "machinetta" (literally, "little machine") that most Italians use to brew espresso at home. | Source

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.

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  • everymom profile image
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    Anahi Pari-di-Monriva 4 years ago from Massachusetts

    Peachpurple, yes, "bimbo" in English means a not-very-smart woman (usually young), but in Italian it is an affectionate term for "little boy" - like saying "kid." :-) Thanks for reading and voting up!

    Clairemy, writing this made me nostalgic for Italy, my family and friends, too. I hope you get to go see your daughters and grandchildren soon! Thanks for reading!

  • clairemy profile image

    Claire 4 years ago

    Reading this has made me eager to return to see my daughters and grandchildren. Thankyou, what a lovely hub

  • peachpurple profile image

    peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

    wonderful hub. I thought "bimbo" means something bad in english. Your hub provide good information of what the Italian kids and adults eat at home for breakfast. Mocha is my favorite hot beverage too. Voted up

  • everymom profile image
    Author

    Anahi Pari-di-Monriva 4 years ago from Massachusetts

    Thank you so much, Kasman, for reading and for sharing my hub and your wife's experience (and validating mine!). I miss Italy, too; I haven't been in many more years than a "few," my 11 year old has only been once in her life (when she was 3), but I, too, used to go very often. In fact, since I started working at 18, I used to go every six months and stay for a month visiting my grandmother, cousins, friends. I realize that I scrunch my shoulders here in the States, never 100% relaxing (probably because of cultural differences; I'm still always afraid I might not understand a social cue - in my personal and professional life - here) but, as soon as I land at Malpensa, I feel my shoulders relax and the "whole" me emerges! I hope you and your wife manage to go for a visit soon and I hope to read a Hub or more about your experiences!

  • Kasman profile image

    Kas 4 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

    Loved this hub. My wife is originally from Catenzaro, Italia and she is always talking about italian this and italian that in terms of the food and the culture.....how she misses it so much. Before I met her she had visited every 2 years since she was a child. We are planning on going again soon but it's been a few years already. We also have the italian espresso maker here at home and it's the exact same one in the picture. We actually picked up another one in Brazil as they have similar tastes. Great job on the details of the breakfast in Italia as well. My wife rarely eats too much in the mornings, reserving her bigger meals in the afternoons and evenings.

    Voting this up and I'm sharing. Great job.