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Useful Italian Words and Phrases

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This Every Day Life Guide will help you understand terms, traditions, proverbs and curiosities while in Florence:
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Useful Italian Words and Phrases

Italian Word: Pasta

Meaning:literally means paste or dough. The word is used to say "pastasciutta" (dry "pasta"), such as spaghetti, penne, maccheroni, and other multiple varieties, which are found in restaurants as "primi" or "primi piatti" (first dishes) in numerous varieties of sauces; it is not used in the plural
  • the "pasta" can be "corta" (short), such as
    • maccheroni, maccheroncini
    • penne, pennette
    • rigatoni
    • fusilli
    • farfalle
    • etc.
  • or "lunga" (long), such as:
    • spaghetti, spaghettini
    • bucatini
    • fettuccine
    • tagliatelle
    • taglierini
  • the "lasagne" are not "pastasciutta", they are called directly their name, as well as the "cannelloni", the "pappardelle", made of the lasagne pasta irregularly cut, and the "tortellini", "tortelloni" and "ravioli", among others

Pasta is also used to say "pasta dolce" (sweet "pasta"), also "pastina", such as "ciambelle" or "bomboloni" (lit. lifesavers), brioches, "sfoglie" (a way of preparing the dough) and other multiple varieties found principally in "pasticcerie" and "bars"; it is also used in the plural "paste".

Italian Word: Bar

Meaning: A bar is similar to a café; it is not a pub. In an Italian bar you can ask for: coffee in all its (Italian) varieties, "paste", "salati" (quick salted snacks) such as sandwiches, "tramezzini" (lit. small "in the middles" a word that refers to sanwiches of soft white bread, cut in triangles) or "schiacciate", "schiacciatine" (lit. "crushed, squashed", they are flat salted crunchy dough-cakes with olive oil); sweets, liquors, and common alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages...

It is a place where you usually have a coffee, a snack or a "pasta", read the newspaper or watch the news on the tv, exchange a few words and leave.

"Bar Tabacchi" – here, they also sell cigarettes and common cigars such as "toscani", their complements, bus tickets, cellular cards and international phone call cards, among others...

These bars have a T outside over the entrance.

Snack Bar – refers principally to the selling of snacks, such as pre-packed fried chips of different flavours, sweets, etc.

Wine Bar – specifies that they serve a good variety of wines and complementary food and apéritifs. It has a quieter ambiance than a cocktail bar.

Cocktail Bar – they serve all alcoholic beverages, including good varieties of cocktails; these places are usually complemented by good lounge music..

The specification american bar of some cocktail bars may refer to the fact that they also work during the day, serving light lunches and good lounge ambiance...

Pub and "Birreria" – pub and beer pub.

Italian Word: Aperitivo

Meaning: Aperitivo has three meanings:

  1. aperitif – in a menu is the food before the first main course
  2. aperitif – the drink, before dinner time
  3. aperitif time – after work or, anyway, before dinner: the occasion to meet with friends and other people, have a drink and pick some tasty fingerfood and other

Italian Word: Caffè

Meaning: meaning coffee and it can also mean cafè (and it is usually specified in the name of the place), even though bars are more common than Caffè’s in Italy.

Varieties of coffee:

  • "caffè": espresso with no milk
  • "caffè macchiato" (lit. "spotted milk"): espresso with a few drops of milk
  • "cappuccino": coffee with more milk and milk foam on top (no cream), served in a medium-size cup
  • "caffellatte": coffee with milk, served in a medium-size cup or in a glass
  • "caffè corretto" (lit. "corrected coffee"): espresso with a few drops of liquor (the liquor either has to be specified or the barman offers the possibilities)
  • "caffè americano": coffee prepared the american way, lighter, served in a medium-size cup
  • "affogato" (lit. "drowned" coffee): coffee with a ball of cream ice-cream, served in a medium-size cup
  • "caffè corto" and "lungo": respectively short and long coffee; if you don’t specify, the espresso will be served "corto", if you want a double portion, you ask for a "caffè lungo".

The time to drink a coffee is usually: in the morning before starting to work; at mid-morning during the break; after lunch; at mid-afternoon during another break. After dinner people drink coffee if, for any reason, they need to keep going.

Coffee in Italy is commonly accompanied by a cigarette.

Italian Word: Menù

Meaning: A menu in Italy is usually divided as follows:

  • aperitivi: apéritifs
  • primi piatti (first courses): pasta, lasagne, etc.
  • (minestre): soups
  • (insalate): salads
  • secondi piatti (second courses): meats and sometimes fish; if a restaurant has a wider variety of meat and / or fish it divides the "secondi piatti" into meat and fish; as well as, if a restaurant is specialized in either one or the other or in some way to cook them, it may divide the menu according to the specialties
  • contorni: side dishes (usually vegetables cooked in different ways)
  • dolci: desserts, fruit and ice-cream usually included here
  • bevande, vini (drinks, from water to common alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer; hard liquors and alcoholic drinks, if there is a good variety, may be in a list apart, with the after-dinners or liquors).
  • Each menu varies, according to the specialties and the interpretations of the restaurant.

Italian Word: Ristorante

Meaning: Italian word for restaurant. In Florence however many different names define places to eat, some of the most common are:

  • "trattoria" – in ancient times this was a place where the guest was given food, beverage, transportation, if necessary, and a bed to stay warm and be well treated; today, it has perhaps a better structured and maybe more varied menu than an osteria
  • "osteria" – the "oste" (host) received foreigners and gave them some food, beverage and a space to spend the night; perhaps less complete and attentive a service than that of the ancient trattoria...; very simple menu, few things, sometimes what is for the day, and that’s it...
  • "tavola calda" – lit. "warm table"; it refers to a place where one can eat what is offered, commonly in front of his eyes, that particular day; it is a sort of tastier, more varied, genuine and fresher fast food...
  • "zupperia" – simple restaurant where they offer some soups and related dishes and beverage, like water and wine; let’s remember that soups in ancient times were with bread and other ingredients like oil, garlic, etc.; today, their consistency is usually similar but recipees vary a lot
  • "cantina" – cellar. Among different sources of this word, there is the one that defines the "cantina" an underground place where wine was kept; it is so now, and several "cantine" are also transformed into places where to eat dishes which complement the good variety of wines offered. "Cantinetta" and "cantinone" are respectively a small and a big cellar.

Italian Word: Fiaschetteria and vinaino

Meaning: both are similar small places where wine is served to the guests, commonly with sandwiches, some cheeses and charcuterie, but less pretentious than a wine bar and busier during the day.

Italian Word: Banco or Bancone

  • counter where one eats, either seated on simple stools or standing
  • counter of a shop

Italian Word: Crostino and Crostone

Meaning:The difference between "crostino" (plur. "crostini") and "crostone" is that the first is small, with simple toppings and eaten as an apéritif, and the second is a bigger slice of bread more elaborately topped with a larger variety of ingredients and eaten as a main dish.

Italian Word: Rustica

Meaning: means rural, from the country.

Italian Word: Pasticceria

Meaning: pastry shop. In these shops all kinds of pastries, or at least the most common, are served; they serve cakes, "pasticcini" (lit. "small ...muddles", referring to the mixes of the dough, but it means small cakes, cookies, biscuits), etc...

Italian Word: Pasticcio

Meaning: "Pasticcio" on the other hand is a pie.

Italian Word: Gelateria

Meaning: A "Gelateria" is an ice-cream shop. They serve all kinds of ice-creams, and according to the main characteristics of each "gelateria", ice-creams can vary from the most traditional to the most extravagant ones. There also are "gelateria / pasticceria" shops.

Italian Word: Pizzicheria and Salumeria (or Salumificio)

Meaning: Respectively delicatessen and charcuterie shop. Pizzicheria comes from an ancient word which meant "corner of the table"; the second comes from "salumi" (charcuterie; the term "salume" perhaps comes from "sale", salt, which is quite abundantly used either in their mixture or on their surface); here they sell fresh: charcuterie, cold cuts, cheeses and related foods.

Italian Word: Alimentari

Meaning: store where retail items to eat are sold.

Italian Word: Salume

Meaning: is also called "insaccato" (lit. "inside a sack", the skin which contains the mixture) and "affettato" (lit. "cut in slices", cold cut).

Italian Word: Rosticceria

Meaning: means rotisserie, delicatessen. In a "rosticceria" roasted food is prepared and sold to be taken away: meats, vegetables, together with some complements, which vary from main dishes such as "lasagne" and other pastas to salads; all is presented in displays for the customer to see.

Italian Word: Ortolano

Meaning: greengrocer, selling fresh vegetables and fruits.

Italian Word: Pescheria

Meaning:A "Pescheria" is a fishmonger

Italian Word: Macelleria

Meaning: a Macelleria is a butcher’s shop.

Italian Word: Drogheria

Meaning: grocery store.

Italian Word: Mesticheria

Meaning: A "Mesticheria" is a store where they sell colours, mixes of different substances to paint or brush the house; but today they sell almost everything small related to the house (not decorative) and its construction or maintenance.

Italian Word: Merceria

Meaning: store where all elements and instruments to sew are sold; today they also sell related items such as stockings, pantyhoses, bodysuits, etc.

Italian Word: Ferramenta

Meaning: an ironmonger’s shop, iron goods. Some of these items can also be found in a "mesticheria" more and more frequently, even though the "ferramenta" is still more specialized.

Italian Word: Pane

Meaning: Italian word for bread. There are various types and shapes of bread in Florence, and if not specified, it is assumed that it’s Tuscan bread, it has white flour and is "sciocco" (without salt).

The most common shapes are:

  • "filone" (lit. "long thread"): it is elongated, and is usually of ½ ("da mezzo chilo") or 1 kilo ("da un chilo")
  • "ruota" (round)
  • "schiacciata" - (flat with olive oil and a bit of salt, from the oven)
  • "focaccia" - like a "schiacciata" but a little less flat, its consistency is between that of a schiacciata and that of a pizza, it’s topped with herbs and / or spices and olive oil, and sometimes it folds the ingredients inside; the place which sells more varieties of "focaccie", which sort of "specializes" in preparing varieties of them (as sandwiches), is called "focacceria"
  • "ciabatta" (lit. "slipper"): it is a bit elongated and broad loaf of bread, commonly made of wheat; it is commonly used to make a sandwich ("panino")
  • "carré" (lit. "square" bread): usually of white flour, it is smooth, made from wet dough; it is usually pre-made and pre-packed and sold in its entire block or previously cut (very thin)

Bread can be made of different types of flour, and it is also called accordingly; hare are some simple examples:

  • "integrale" – of wheat and / or other flours and / or seeds
  • "mais" – maize
  • "granturco" – corn
  • « bianco » (lit. "white") – with white flour; this is the common bread

Bread can be from other regions of Tuscany and Italy, and it may be specified in its name or definition, but it depends on the individual "forno" (lit. "oven") that prepares and sells them.

Finally, each "forno" can produce their particular types and forms of bread.

Italian Word: Panino

Meaning: A Panino is a sandwich. When the sandwich is made of "pan carré", it is usually cut in two triangles and is called "tramezzino". Sometimes more varieties of "panini" are especially sold at a "panineria".

Italian Word: Forno

Meaning: is a bakery. "Forni" shops commonly prepare, (serve and) sell from breads to "schiacciate", "focacce", fresh pizzas, "pizzette" (small pizzas), "schiacciatine", a few fresh pastries...

Italian Word: Merenda

Meaning: A "Merenda" is a snack. The phrase "fare merenda" (to have a snack) is more associated to children and young people and refers to pastries, "schiacciate" or "schiacciatine", "panini", etc. at mid-morning or mid-afternoon. For adults it means a light meal to eat during a break or as lunch.

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