How One Week in Italy Changed My Relationship With Food

The differences between Italian and American food culture that I experienced firsthand on my recent trip abroad.

Kristen Kubek drinking coffee in Italy at cute outdoor table

Image: Kristen Kubek

Traveling is always an opportunity to try something new and exciting. It’s not only a time for relaxation or exploration, but a time to break from your daily routine. When I go somewhere new, I try to really dig deep and embrace local customs to get the most out of my trip. 

This spring, I spent a week in Italy enjoying incredible art, culture, and (of course) food. When in Rome, I had to “do as the Romans do.” I tried all the local dishes and did my best to change my routine to be more Italian. 

You guys… food culture in Italy is so different from the USA!

It was an experience that completely changed my relationship with food. But ultimately, it changed for the better! Whether you’re anticipating an upcoming trip, you’re just curious about what Italy has to offer, or you’re looking for mouth-watering food pics, this article is for you. Here are some of the major differences between Italian and American food cultures.

pizzas in Italy fresh ingredients food culture relationship with food

Image: Kristen Kubek

Fresh ingredients are a must

Italy is a small country compared to the USA (it’s roughly the same size as Arizona). That means they often source food locally and don’t need to use a lot of preservatives to transport food over long distances. As someone who often experiences bloating and indigestion, eating food with fresh ingredients meant that I didn’t have to worry about stomach pain during my trip. 

***Disclaimer: In America, the ability to eat a diet containing all fresh ingredients is a privilege. If you don’t have the access or the time to cook with fresh ingredients, that is not something to be ashamed of, nor is it inherently unhealthy!

Cornetto pastry in Italy

Image: Kristen Kubek

Breakfasts are small (and sweet!)

Breakfast usually consists of a cornetto pastry (i.e. an Italian croissant) and an espresso or cappuccino. As a certified brunch enthusiast, this is the only part of Italian food culture that left me disappointed… I need a big, savory breakfast!

But, I embraced the Italian breakfast (and maybe also consumed a protein bar along with it). After all, their pastries were like nothing I’d ever tasted before! 

Cup of Italian Coffee

Image: Kristen Kubek

Starbucks is nonexistent (and so is iced coffee)

Fun fact, there’s only a handful of Starbucks in Italy. But, you’ll never fall short on your caffeine fix.

Locally-owned “Bars” serve coffee on every street corner. However, it’s not like your American coffee shop. Your ordering is limited to a few options, usually an espresso, americano, or cappuccino (Latte means milk in Italian; if you order that, you’ll just get a cup of milk. I learned the hard way).

Instead of having one venti-sized drink in the morning, you get a small drink and then have another one as a midday pick-me-up. 

Plate of pasta with a cream sauce, cheese, and mushrooms in Italy

Image: Kristen Kubek

Prepare to eat late

Growing up in the midwest, lunch was between 11 and 12:30 and dinners were always between 5:30 and 6:30. In Italy, prepare to eat much later.

Most eat lunch between 1 and 2pm, but don’t eat dinner until 8 or 9 at night! A lot of restaurants close at 3pm for an afternoon break and don’t open until 7:30 for dinner, but stay open until around midnight. 

…But stay as long as you like!

Eating in Italy is a social experience. Instead of having a get-in-get-out mentality, having a meal at a restaurant or cafe is a time to catch up with friends and family. People eat slower, laugh more, and have a great time. Leisure is the name of the game!

Because waiters are paid a living wage, they don’t rely on tips and don’t need to worry about rushing you to get the table filled with their next customers. In fact, they don’t even bring the check until you ask for it! 

Aperitivo Aperol spritz before dinner Italian food culture

Image: Kristen Kubek

Appetizers & pre-drinks are a whole thing

Because dinner is so late, the hours before your evening meal consist of aperitivo, which is sitting down with friends to a fizzy cocktail and snacks (Drinks before dinner? Count me in!).

The most common combo is an Aperol spritz with some chips, nuts, and olives. It’s a delicious combo that holds you over until dinner and acts as a fun social event. 

You walk it allllll off (seriously)

On my trip to Italy, I averaged 22,000 steps per day. Granted, I was a tourist, so I was determined to see everything the country had to offer.

However, the average Italian still walks more than the average American. Their cities are very walkable, so that’s one of the main modes of transportation! Walking everywhere made my appetite stronger, but also helped with digestion. Being constantly active meant that I could enjoy food more and not feel like it was sitting heavily in my stomach. This means that not only did the food look and taste good, but it felt good too!

Hand holding Italian pastry on a cobblestone street in Italy

Image: Kristen Kubek

My overall thoughts

What I love about Italian food culture is that they don’t just view food as fuel. They view it as a work of art; something that should be high quality and savored by those who consume it. There’s no stigma of needing to do anything to “deserve” food; walking a lot makes you hungry, and when you’re hungry, you eat. No room for toxic diet culture here! 

While there are some things I’ll leave behind (*cough* late meals and no brunch), incorporating some elements of Italian food culture into my daily life is the starting point of a better relationship with food. This trip taught me that food is something to be enjoyed with friends and appreciated as something incredible and good.


7 thoughts on “How One Week in Italy Changed My Relationship With Food”

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  1. Karin says:

    Morning after our two week trip to Italy and I googled “what two weeks in Italy taught me about food culture” and this came up. SPOT ON!!! I never had an issue with my stomach once in two weeks, lost a pound and never walked so much in my life. All this and having a croissant every single day for breakfast. Great article that I’ll share! Grazie Mille!

  2. elena says:

    Man, you’re making me wanna drop everything and hop on a plane to Italy! It sounds lovely there, with delicious food, fun people and being able to walk everywhere. I do appreciate the note about eating preservative-free being a privilege here, though. Sometimes we forget that cultures differ, and that we shouldn’t shame one culture for being “less healthy” than another. Btw, your food pics are gorgeous!!

    1. Kristen says:

      Thanks Elena! We LOVE traveling and being able to try new things, but also think it’s important to acknowledge why certain cultural differences occur. Glad our content resonated with you!

  3. Zakiya Alake says:

    Well done! You made me want to experience Italy someday.
    And walk more this day!

    1. Kristen says:

      So glad you’re feeling inspired! Italy is such a great place. And walking can be an easy way to enjoy your daily routine and take in the awesome environment around you, right where you are! <3

  4. Chrissie Smith says:

    Love this article! My husband & I just got back from a week on Rome and we have been sharing similar thoughts with our friends and family back home. We ate a lot of pizza & pasta but the ingredients were so fresh ( combined with the walking) we never felt like bloated. It definitely has inspired me to try and substitute fresh ingredients when I can. Such good, quality food!

    1. Kristen says:

      Sounds like such a fun trip! Absolutely agree. It’s so great to know that you’re eating well ~and~ feeling good after. Love that your time abroad is inspiring you to live your best life back home 🙂