To mark the publication of my third book in collaboration with Stefano Manfredi, Stefano Manfredi’s Italy, below you’ll find a guide to the almost bewildering number of names of the different places in which you can eat in Italy. In this important book, Stefano has provided recipes from each of Italy’s twenty regions, and I have contributed a short culinary history of Italy (there’s a longer version, email me if you want it) and introductions to each of the twenty regions. As we say in the book, the hidden agenda is that you should buy the book, read the recipes and history – and then go and eat out extensively in Italy. This will help you.
The Italian language has more names for places to eat than any other, from the simple and easily understood ristorante – from the French – to such specialties as the tripperia, serving only tripe. Below a collection, but in your travels you may find regional names we have missed.
Agriturismo: the two Italian words, agriculture and tourism combined to mean a system of holidaying in farm house resorts. An agriturismo stay can be Spartan, luxurious or romantic, for the whole family or for a couple. An agriturismo provides food prepared using local ingredients, often grown on the farm or at least locally. It will usually serve foods to guest prepared from raw materials produced on the farm or at least locally. Some will have a facilities for guests to take part in farm activities, others are shamelessly luxurious and indulgent.
Albergo con ristorante/osteria: A hotel with either a restaurant or an osteria (see below)
Autogrill: an Italian-based, multinational catering and retail company controlled by the Benetton family of fashion fame. Autogrill provides good basic food by the side of the autostrada, in airport terminals or motorway service areas.
Bar/Caffé: coffee, panini, cakes et cetera but also wine and sprits.
Enoteca: a wine cellar where you can often also eat snacks – spuntini – to go with the wine
Friggitore: A fried food stand, usually seafood and vegetables, frying most often done with extra virgin olive oil, prevalent in Palermo, Messina and Naples
Rosticceria: A ‘slow food’ takeaway service, usually serving roast meats. They can be fixed or mobile stands.
Pizzeria: From a hole in the wall to a full sit down restaurant
Osteria: historically a Roman eating house along a well-travelled route, often with a few rooms to stay. Today, a place serving wine and simple food. Lately the emphasis has shifted to the food, but menus tend to be short, with an emphasis on local specialties. In the 19th Century, when the ‘Grand Tour’ was in vogue for the wealthy English, German and Scandinavian visitors, the osterie were known as places where you could get inexpensive and authentic regional food, a role they are again fulfilling.
Gelateria: as elaborate as a large café or a stop by the side of the street where you can buy a cone or a coppa of gelato or sorbetto.
Gastronomia: A place where you can buy local specialties – salume, cheeses et cetera – but where you can often sit down and eat and have a glass of wine
Gargotta: rare, but a small osteria which has a small and pared down menu designed to accompany the wine which is most important. The name is onomatopoeic from the verb gorgogliare, the sound of pouring liquid, and wine going down the throat.
Locanda: from locality, location. Primarily placers to stay, but often serving regional food.
Mensa: a rectangular table around which you sit and eat. today usually a canteen in its pared back service and surrounds, either for workers or students.
Ristorante: a restaurant in the international sense
Taverna: has become synonymous with osteria, but it was a little down market from that and was primarily to drink and pass time. The comes from the Latin taberna which was a room in a Roman from which drinks were served and was accessible from the street.
Trattoria: the word has an interesting provenance. In Roman times, when officials were sent on business of the state, they were given a document called the littera tractória. It was enough to show this along the way to obtain food in certain authorised places. They became trattoria. Today, essentially, a place where you eat without table cloths, but, being Italy, you’re sure to find a trattoria with a table cloth.
Tripperia: a stall or a hole in the wall which serves tripe in various forms.