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Italian cuisine is a combination of regional traditions which vary a great deal from one town or village to the next since each dish is interpreted in a different way according to local products and seasonal ingredients. Pork dishes, pulses and thick soups are served in the Winter; truffles, mushrooms, game and fowl, nuts and chestnuts in Autumn; zucchini flowers and fresh vegetables in the Spring: tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, pesto, fish and seafood in the Summer. Travelling around Italy you will enjoy discovering regional specialities on the restaurant menus where food is traditional and made with the freshest seasonal products.
Watch out for the trattorie in the smaller towns where you will get a real flavour of what is local. Italy has a wide range of choice in restaurants and prices will vary accordingly.
Pizzas originally came from Naples and the genuine Neapolitan pizza is baked in a wood fired oven.
The most famous pizza is the Pizza Margherita covered with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, basil and olive oil, but pizza can be cooked with an endless variety of toppings (ham, mushrooms, olives, shrimps, grilled vegetables, etc). Italians do not usually drink wine with pizza, but prefer beer or a soft drink.
Italy is full of lively pizzerias, always popular with students, tourists, professionals and locals alike. They are also great destinations for family outings since the atmosphere is relaxed and they are generally cheaper than restaurants. Consequently, pizzerias are busy all year round and especially at the weekends.
A Margherita pizza, a medium-sized beer and an espresso coffee will cost around 10 to 15 euros depending on where you are.
As the international community grows in Italy more and more ethnic restaurants are appearing especially in large towns. Italians who enjoy travelling abroad are keen to re-discover the exotic ingredients and flavours of these different cuisines. Especially popular are Tex-Mex, Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants. Many of them are also very reasonably priced.
You will never need to look far for a bar in Italy. It is a real Italian institution and always busy from early morning to evening serving coffee in its many varieties.
Many of these bars also provide snacks and simple meals at lunch time and have become a cheap alternative to restaurants. If you are just popping in for a coffee or a drink, remember that it costs more if you sit down at a table. Most Italians consume at the bar. Remember that you need to go to the cash desk first and purchase the food or drink you intend to consume. You then take your receipt to the bar to collect your order.
There is not a standard percentage for a tip in Italy. Most restaurants and pizzerias charge a fixed cover fee called coperto and Italians will leave a few extra Euros in cash depending on the quality of the service, the type of restaurant and the size of the cover and service charges.
The tip should be an expression of satisfaction with the service and poor service is generally not rewarded. In bars, the staff often leave a small plate on the counter where you can throw in a few coins from your change.