Writing a post about Italian breakfast feels a bit redundant to me. Indeed, breakfast in Italy only really became a thing in the last couple of decades – and even then it’s definitely not nearly an elaborate meal as it may be in other countries. Weird for sure, in a country where food is such a big part of the culture.
Growing up my colazione (breakfast, in Italian) literally consisted of a mere glass of hot milk or, at most, hot chocolate milk or caffellatte (milk with a drop of coffee). I asked my mom what she had for breakfast in her childhood and she said she’d at most have a glass of milk too. My dad only started eating breakfast after he retired: while he worked, he just used have a quick espresso before heading out.
Breakfast is such an important meal that things have thankfully changed and we are now putting more focus on breakfast in Italy. So, you may find asking yourself: what’s the typical Italian breakfast? Furthermore, what can you expect to have for breakfast in Italy?
Continue reading, and I will tell you all about it!
Italian Breakfast At Home
Most Italians – and that includes myself – prefer eating breakfast at home. I can’t say for others, but in my case it’s just because I am incredibly slow in the morning, and personally I am not a fan of eating out for breakfast.
Italian breakfast has improved a lot since the time we only used to have a glass of milk or an espresso before heading to school or work. Coffee is obviously ever present, and most families use a moka (Italian coffee pot) to make it. Waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee (or to the noise of coffee coming out of the pot) is simply heavenly!
Albeit the improvements, breakfast in Italy continues remaining a simple affair, and typically loaded with carbs.
Many Italians find the thought of eating savory food for breakfast revolting, and their preference goes to milk in various forms – plain (hot or cold), or with coffee in what we call caffellatte. Others (that’s me!) prefer yogurt. To accompany that, most would have hard cookies of some sort, fette biscottate (which look like small slices of toasted bread, but much sweeter) which they either dunk in the milk or spread with butter and jam, or the ever-present Nutella.
Alternatives to cookies and fette biscottate can be merendine (merenda means snack in Italian, and merendine typically refers to baked sweet goods), home-baked cakes, fresh bread (with jam or nutella), and even cereal or muesli.
Some (again, that’s me!) will also eat some fruit or have fresh fruit juice.
Colazione Al Bar – Typical Italian Breakfast At A Café
What’s a Bar in Italy?
Bar in Italian means coffee shop, though a typical bar will also serve alcohol (I know, confusing). Most coffee shops in Italy open very early – around 6:00 am; and remain open until 8:00 pm, serving light meals, snacks and aperitivo.
While some bars are also pasticcerie and produce their own pastries, most buy their baked good from other local pasticcerie, or buy pre-cooked ones that they then finish baking in-house before serving. Inevitably, the choice of pastries in a pasticceria is much better, and pastries usually fresher.
What can you have for breakfast at a café?
You will find an incredible array of coffees at any Italian bar, but most Italians would have espresso or cappuccino (which by the way we only drink in the morning).
The good news is that milk variants are now available at most coffee shops so you can have lactose free milk; soya milk and occasionally even oat milk.
For more about Italian coffee, read this post.
The most typical colazione al bar in Italy consists of cornetto e cappuccino. Cornetto is similar in shape to French croissants, but it’s actually quite different in taste and texture. It’s not nearly as buttery, and you can have it in many forms: the most common ones are plain; filled with crema pasticcera (custard) or marmellata (jam). In recent years, cornetti have started being filled with honey, pistachio spread and chocolate spread – they are sweet and incredibly decadent. There even are vegan cornetti.
Cappuccino was invented in 1683 by Marco da Aviano, a capuchin friar sent by the Pope on mission to Vienna. Having ordered a coffee and displeased with the taste, he added milk and was not only pleased with the flavor, but also with the color, which resembled his habit. Cornetto, on the other hand, was also invented in Vienna in the same year: its shape was meant to symbolize the crescent on the Ottoman flag. The pastry was initially named kipferl, but it soon became “chifel” in Venice and, once it made it to southern Italy, it became cornetto for superstitious reasons. In France, it became known as croissant.
Depending on how good the bar you visit for your breakfast is, you may have an incredible array of pastries. There also is an element of regional variation:
- Bomba or Bombolone – literally translated as bomb, it looks a bit like a giant donut filled with custard.
- Pesca – the shape resembles that of a peach. It’s two donut-like pastries whose internal edges are soaked in a light red liquor called alchermes and joined together by custard.
- Maritozzo – typical of Rome, it’s a pastry stuffed to the brim with whipped cream.
- Brioche – mostly found in Sicily, you could say that the texture and flavor is similar to brioche bread.
- Fatti Fritti – giant fried donut-looking pastries typical of Sardinia.
- Pasticciotti – traditional pastries of Lecce, and found across Puglia, they have a harder crust and are filled with custard, but there are new variations so you may have them with chocolate custard, apples and custard, pistachio custard etc.
Coffee shops in Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, also serve pizzetta sfoglia. Despite the fact that the name translates as “small pizza,” this is not a pizza proper: the dough is flaky, a bit like phyllo dough, and it is stuffed with tomato sauce, anchovies and capers.
Coffee shops will also serve freshly squeezed orange juice and a selection of bottled juices.
Now, let me try to answer the ever-eternal question…
Sitting or standing?
Having breakfast at a café in Italy always bears the question: should I stand at the counter (bancone, in Italian) and eat my cornetto and drink my coffee in one gulp while elbowing other customers; or should I pay the extra (small) fee to sit down to take advantage of the servizio al tavolo (table service)?
This is completely up to you, really, and there is no right or wrong answer. While some Italians will have their quick breakfast standing at the counter; others prefer sitting down and taking their time (I am a fan of taking my time!).
What To Expect For Breakfast At Hotels In Italy
Unless you are staying at an Airbnb, and unless otherwise specified, breakfast in Italy will be included in the price of your room pretty much anywhere, and though it hardly ever is that special, you may as well take advantage of it. What you can expect will vary depending on the kind of place you are staying at. In some cases, you will find that the offer is pretty similar to that of a bar – with pastries that are delivered fresh in the morning from a local pasticceria. Here are the main options:
Smaller, family run places will be serving a variation of a family-style Italian breakfast so you can expect to find some packaged baked goods, yogurt, fruit, a choice of milk, and tea and coffee made to order. In the best family run places you may be lucky enough to taste home-baked cakes and cookies and even homemade jam!
Agruturismi will have a focus on local products, so you can expect to taste traditional cookies and cakes, and oftentimes even fresh homemade goat milk or yogurt. Coffee and tea are served to order.
Larger hotels will usually have a larger selection of food. In the majority of cases you can count on a buffet-style breakfast spread with a choice of both savory (typically cheese, ham, salami and soft or hard-boiled boiled eggs) and sweet, plus the typical fruit, yogurt, cereal and milk. In some cases, you can also ask for eggs cooked in whichever style you want, and there is a choice of pancakes (which are becoming more common).
While some hotels now have coffee machines available for guest use (so you can literally load up on caffeine), in most cases a waiter will come to the table so that you can order your coffee.
Brunch In Italy
Until a few years ago, brunch in Italy was similar to apericena – a full, cold buffet with pasta, meats and what not served a bit earlier than your regular dinner (or lunch, in this case). If you know what brunch is meant to be like, that is quite disappointing.
But I have good news!
Call it the power of social media, but finally in many cities you will now be able to find a handful of restaurants that have finally geared up to serve you a selection of pancakes, french toast, avocado on toast, eggs in a million different ways and what not for breakfast. It honestly isn’t Italian at all, but if it is tasty, who cares?
The best brunch in Cagliari is at I Sarti del Gusto and Bliv. In Rome, head straight to Marigold.
Has this post made you hungry? Are you looking forward to some Italian breakfast?
Traveling to Italy? Make sure to read my other posts:
- The Best Traditional Italian Food
- What To Do And What To Avoid When Planning A Trip To Italy
- The Most Useful Travel Tips For Italy
- A Guide To Tipping In Italy
- A Fantastic Italy Itinerary
- The Best Places To Visit In Italy