10 Random Things I Learned (and Loved) From and About the Italians

Spell Prada, Ferragamo, Gabbana!

We all have had our share of espressos and cappuccinos, of spaghettis and fettuccines, of linguini and risotto, and loved (will always love) them too.

We empathised with Diane Lane when she went on that serendipitous trip to Tuscany in Under the Tuscan Sun and fell in love with Venice that was so magically sketched in Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey, Jr.’s rom-com Only You. We all picture Venus as the pedestal of beauty.  In fact we live all these things that are just irrefutably Italian. Some even thought Cavalli was a type of pasta! But that’s alright it’s just that the Italian influence is so adorably easy to embrace.

It may be said about the Italians that they’re better at life than the rest of the world. On some levels yes, for one – their culinary masterpieces.  Through travel I got myself immersed in the Italian culture, particularly Lombardian (Northern Italy) culture, and I can say, thus far, it is not only in the food department have I found Italy and the Italians easy to love.  I can go on forever with a list but I have saved a short list of my Top 10 amongst them… for now, at least.

So when in Rome, do what the Romans do. Which is exactly what I did – I emulated the Italians and in the process, fell in love with their heritage, their lifestyle.

ere are 10 random things I learned, loved, and embraced about the Italians.

1. Italians are dog lovers. And quite endearingly so.  The first thing that struck me about these descendants of the great Roman gods is they are not any different from the rest of us when it comes to pets – dogs, in particular.  They are such BIG ‘cane’ (read: KA-ne) lovers.

They take their dogs for a nice cool afternoon walk.
… for an evening walk
Or for a ‘leisure’ walk uptown. (Ooops! Please excuse the lack of modesty!)
A man walking his canine companion late into a beautiful Italian spring night somewhere in Porta Genova.
Alesso and his dog, Bat, out for a morning walk in Lake Como.
They take their loves with them to the market on Market Day Thursday.
They take their loves with them to the market on Market Day Thursday.
They take their best friends to church, too. Photo taken in front of Duomo Di Como (Como Cathedral).

2. A cafe is a ‘bar’. Or a bar is a cafe. It is where they get their morning coffee, have their cappuccino breaks, or their ‘Campari-soda’ after a long day’s work and yes where they gather for a glass of wine or a beer in the evenings.

Ebony Bar, Via Porporra, Milano
Ebony Bar, Via Porpora, Milano
Ebony Bar, Via Porpora
a typical bar (cafe) in Italy
A typical bar (cafe) in Italy. (Ebony Bar)

3. Espresso and cornetto is brekky.  Ever wondered what a typical Italian breakfast is like? I did. My friend, Juno, who used to live in Bologna, Italy for a few years before migrating to Hawaii encouraged me to try getting breakfast from a local ‘bar’ (cafe as explained in No. 2) so only when I got to getting one did I know – a quintessential Italian breakfast unceremoniously consists of an espresso and cornetto (croissant), or a tiny cup of cappuccino, macchiato, or a latte paired with an Italian brioche (a Danish pastry, or any sweet roll or bread). There goes a typical morning scene. No sunny-side ups!

strudelini and cappuccino
strudelini (apple and cream-filled delicate puff pastry sprinkled with powdered sugar) with cappuccino – Ebony Bar, Via Porpora, Milano
an assortment of brioches on display at a cafe

4. No cappuccino after 11.30 am. Next on the list is actually a ‘note’ to No. 3: Italians generally do not drink cappuccino after 11.30 in the morning. It’s that old belief that the milk in the cappuccino would spoil their appetite for lunch. Remember these Italians are known for their multi-course lunches.

marmellata (honey croissant) and cappuccino
marmellata (honey croissant) and cappuccino
A local tip: When at a cafe or ‘bar’, eat standing at the bar for the lowest prices. Table service generally costs more.

5.  Wine flows ever so seamlessly, drinking it is equally as endless.

Rosso Di Montalcino, wine du jour for the bespoke dinner I had at the Leonardo Restaurant at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Milan.
Fine wine expertly being poured.
“Either give me more wine or leave me alone.” ― Rumi

6. Wine goes with practically anything.

A cocktail of delectable Italian breads whose names I can’t even begin to spell.
Ossobuco with red wine. Probably a match brought together by the Roman gods.
No-fuss-no-frills lasagna at a nice, cosy bar in Lake Como.

7. Pizzas are not meant for sharing. I’ve read and heard about it quite a few times before. All pizzas in Italy are personal pizzas (size-wise that is), and obviously, no, they are not actually meant for sharing – a setup that totally works for me!

‘La Joseph’ pizza, the classic parma ham and rockets pizza is a house specialty at Pizzeria ‘I Due Fratelli’

8. (Another food entry!) There’s more to risotto than what we may think.  Hands down I am truly convinced of all risotto the Milanese risotto is the best – with its perfect creamy consistency.  But what we didn’t know is that what happens to leftover risotto? Yes, I have learned that they turn it into another beautiful culinary piece, maybe, even better – they make them into risotto balls, stuff them with ragu (meat sauce) and roll them on breading and deep fry to perfection. This is called an ‘arancini’.

Risotto alla milanese served with ossobuco alla milanese at the Leonardo Restaurant of the Radisson Blu Hotel Milan.
A perfectly fried arancini on marinara sauce with pecorino shavings. (Image: Cornichon.org)
Spizzico’s arancini balls
Spizzico, a famous Italian fastfood chain that serves good arancini.

9. Fashion is in their heart and soul. As if we didn’t know this?! But since we have always adored Italian fashion so this has got to be in my list.  Bulgari, Missoni, Fendi, Giorgio Armani, Bottega Venetta, Max Mara, and Versace are just a few in the long list of famous fashion houses known globally. The Italians just basically live and breathe fashion.

Milan Fashion Week 2014 poster as seen on Linate Airport.
Dolce & Gabbana store on Corso Venezia, Milan
An Italian man walking hurriedly along Via Monte Napoleone in the fashion district of Milan.
Oh, there’s me trying my hardest to at least blend in with the fashion-ista culture of Milan. Photo taken in front of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele Shopping Centre.

10. I found the people generally polite and friendly whilst not forgetting that they are a fun bunch. (At least that was my first-hand personal impression of them.)

Christienne and Nera... Lake Como locals on their way home from school.  They unreluctantly obliged to pose for this shot. How nice and such friendly kids.
Christienne (left) and Nera… Lake Como locals on their way home from school. They unreluctantly obliged to pose for this shot. How nice and such friendly kids.
Front desk guy at Radisson Blu Via Villa Pizzone.
Front desk guy at Radisson Blu Via Villa Pizzone.
He was just glad to help me on the ins and outs of the metro system. He could not have been more helpful. Grazi!
The hotel staff member was just glad to help the tourist in me on the ins and outs of the metro system. He could not have been more helpful. Grazi! (He in turn, quite automatically, replies ‘Prego’!)

“As they say in Italy, Italians were eating with a knife and fork when the French were still eating each other. The Medici family had to bring their Tuscan cooks up there so they could make something edible.” – Mario Batali

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy” Giuseppe Verdi

Images: Author’s own.

Photo Locations: Milan, Lake Como


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