Credit: Michela Chiappa
Food for Italians isn't a trend; it's a way of life. Italians live to eat and the importance of food in family life is absolutely paramount and engrained in everyday routines.
Children are part and parcel of foodie rituals in Italy and this is exactly what our new book Baby At The Table is all about. How to feed your baby and family the Italian way... we wanted to write a really simple guide that any parent can follow where they can take baby from the weaning stages to eating with the whole family by aged 1yr, just like the Italians. The baby weaning focuses on fuss-free recipes like Baby Brodino and No-Cook Purees, and then the family recipes are wholesome so all the family can enjoy them, have minimal ingredients can be prepped in under 15mins, saving you valuable time. Feeding the family, the Italian Way... One Family. One Meal.
In Italy, kids are encouraged to be part of every social occasion that revolves around food - it's not about dividing the kids from the adults, giving them separate meals or putting them to bed early. The kids are part of the social activity of everyday life and they are encouraged to eat, smell, touch and experience new tastes day in day out.
Letting your kids experience food like an Italian will develop not just their palette but also their social skills, manners, teaching them new and mature ways to interact.
So here we have highlighted the top five Italian foodie rituals that are part of every child's upbringing. If you are planning a visit to Italy anytime soon, try and immerse your kids in these fun experiences of Italian life.... we even try to recreate them back home in Wales!
One of the most celebrated Italian rituals is the morning caffé (coffee); you'll be hard pushed to find a bad coffee in Italy. Coffee shops and bars have customers streaming in and out of them each morning as the Italians get their daily dose and this wonderful morning ritual is just as much about the social setting as it is about the coffee. Locals chat, hang out, kids run up and down the streets and friends relax watching the world go by. Children are very much made to feel part of this experience and our children love coming with us when we are in Italy - just ask any barista for a "schiumetta" (little foam cup or babyccino as it's become known in the UK) accompanied by a cornetto alla crema! Our kids also enjoy continuing this ritual back in our own homes each morning when we all stop around 10am and enjoy "coffee and schiumetta" time together.
Credit: Michela Chiappa
Whilst the morning is all about coffee, pre-lunch or dinner it's all about the aperitivi; and a pre-meal drink is always accompanied by nibbles or snacks. Again, Italian city centres and piazza's are jam packed with locals who come out with their kids to enjoy this pre-dinner treat and children are encouraged to enjoy the array of snacks available - from nuts or foccaccine, to crostini covered with a range of toppings from local cheeses, to pickled fish, fresh vegetables, porcini, sliced lard or even cured prosciutto. This is a brilliant way to get your kids to try new flavours without the pressures of meal times.
Whatever time of day, you will always be encouraged to bring your children to a restaurant with you. It's not unusual to see children in restaurants with their parents at 10pm at night and most waiters love to chat and interact with the kids. Equally, kids' menus do not exist in Italian restaurants - kids are treated like the adults and if anything, they will just be offered smaller plates off the main menu. Our kids have always been encouraged to sit with us at the table when we eat out and they will devour a range of meals from a porcini risotto to tortelli di zucca. Equally, most restaurants will be happy to serve a plate of pasta al pomodoro, which few kids will say no to.
Whatever the weather, 12 months of the year, the ice-cream parlours in Italy always turn over a huge trade. Families can be seen wrapped up with duffle coats, scarves and hats and yet they will still enjoy a large gelato for their "merenda" (afternoon snack). Again, it's not just about the food - the gelaterie are meeting points, places for the local community to hang out and most ice-cream parlours will have seating outside for families to perch, interact, catch up before heading off. You can't go to Italy without hanging outside one of the famous gelaterie and trying to feel like a local!
Credit: Michela Chiappa
Traditionally la passeggiata (afternoon stroll) happens on a Sunday. Italians will often head to church on a Sunday morning, enjoy an aperitivo in a local bar before meandering off for a big afternoon lunch. This is usually followed by a small "riposo" (nap). Post lunch most cities can be quite deserted as everyone dines and rests, and yet by 4pm onwards the crowds start to emerge... one by one, families will spill out, the streets with liven up and everyone will begin their afternoon stroll to get fresh air and wander the streets of the town. Food can often accompany these walks, particularly as the Italian "street food" scene is becoming more and more popular. Each region has their own specialities and treats and also, different seasons will have traditional snacks to enjoy. For example, in Livorno, a favourite street food snack is fried polenta called " Scagliozzi" whereas in Milan, Luini serves the famous Panzerotti which always has queues out of the door (and sometimes even security men are brought in for crowd control). In Parma, Pepen's hole in the wall always has a queue around the corner at lunchtime serving utterly divine local sandwiches! These snack points are often holes in the wall, but definitely worth finding them as they have local delicacies you won't taste anywhere else (just be prepared to queue... )
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Our book Baby At The Table can be found here https://goo.gl/hsRknQ