Understanding Italian Menus

By knowing a few of the most common Italian menu words, you can find selections that you'll like, and avoid the ones that you'll hate.

If you're planning a trip to Italy, or just looking to expand your culinary horizons, there's a strong chance that you'll eventually encounter a menu that's written entirely in Italian. However, you don't have to let a language barrier stand between you and the foods that you love. With this handy guide for understanding the most common menu items, you'll be able to avoid the things that you don't like, and find meals that will satisfy your hunger.

Deciphering the menu sections:

This section will help you understand what to expect under the most common menu headings.

Appetizers - antipasti

Soups - usually zuppa

Bread - pane

Salad - insalata

Primi Piatti - first courses, usually pasta

Secondi Piatti - main courses

Piatto Principale - main dish, usually meat

Dessert - dolce

Preparation Styles:

Trying to stick to special dietary program? Here are some keywords to help you know what preparation style to expect from each dish.

Baked - al forno

Boiled - lesso

Cold - freddo

Cured - salato

Fried - fritto

Grilled - ai ferri

Hot - caldo

Mashed - il pure

Poached - affogato

Raw - crudo

Roasted - arrostito

Smoked - affumicato

Spicy - piccante

Steamed - cotto al vapore

Toasted - tostato

Keywords for dieters:

If you're avoiding dietary fats, here are the most common forms that you'll find in Italian dishes.

Butter - burro

Cream - panna

Cheese - formaggio, cacio, caprino

Common cheese varieties - parmigiano, mozzarella, asiago, fontina, gorgonzola, mascarpone, pecorino, provolone, ricotta, robiola, taleggio.

Oil - olio

The Pasta Lineup:

Stumped by anything other than spaghetti, lasagna, and macaroni? These basic pasta descriptions will help you find the al dente dish that you're hungry for.



Agnolotti - much like ravioli, but smaller. Usually stuffed with meat, cheese, or vegetables.

Calciuni - fried ravioli

Cannelloni - a large, tube-shaped pasta, usually filled with meat or cheese.

Cappellini - very thin pasta, often called angel hair.

Conchiglie - shells of pasta

Farfalle - shaped like a butterfly or bow tie

Fettuccine - thin noodles that are somewhat wider than spaghetti

Fusilli - corkscrews

Gnocchi - potato-based pasta dumplings

Lasagne - Broad, flat noodles, usually baked with meat, cheese and tomato sauce

Linguine - Flat noodles, wider than spaghetti, but narrower than fettuccine

Maccheroni - elbow-shaped tubes, also called macaroni

Orecchiette - small shells

Pappardelle - broad, long noodles

Penne - short pasta tubes

Ravioli - pillows of pasta, usually stuffed with cheese, meat, or vegetables

Rigatoni - short, large tubes

Spaghetti - long, thin strands of pasta

Tagliatelle - long, flat strands of pasta

Tortellini - small, folded pillows of pasta, usually stuffed with cheese, meat or vegetables

Ziti - large noodles, shaped like macaroni

Topping It Off - Sauces:

What's on top of my pasta? While sauces may vary from restaurant to restaurant, base ingredients will usually remain constant.

Boscaiola - tomatoes, butter, cheese, mushrooms, olive oil, garlic

Bolognese - meat, tomatoes, cheese

Carbonara - olive oil, cheese, egg, bacon or ham

Diavolo - tomato sauce with hot spices

Genovese - basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil

Marinara - tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, sometimes olives

Napoletana - cheese, tomatoes, herbs

Novelli - tomatoes, anchovies, cheese

Puttanesca - tomatoes, black olives, peppers, olive oil, garlic

Quattro Formaggi - literally, four cheese

Siciliana - provolone cheese and eggplant

The Green Stuff - Vegetables:

Artichoke - il carciofo

Asparagus - l'asparago

Broccoli - i broccoli

Cabbage - il cavolo

Carrots - le carote

Celery - il sedano

Corn - il grano

Cucumber - il cetriolo

Garlic - l'aglio

Green Beans - i fagiolini

Lettuce - la lattuga

Mushrooms - i funghi

Olives - le olive

Onion - la cipolla

Peas - i piselli

Potatoes - le patate

Radishes - i rapanelli

Main Course - meats, poultry, seafood:

Anchovy - l'acciuga

Bacon - pancetta

Beef - il manzo, la bistecca

Chicken - il pollo

Clams - le volgone

Duck - l'anitra

Eel - l'anguilla

Eggs - le ouva

Fish - il pesce

Goose - l'oca

Halibut - il palombo

Lamb - l'agnello

Liver - il fegato

Lobster - l'aragosta

Meat - la carne

Meatballs - le polpette

Mussels - le cozze

Oysters - le ostriche

Pork - il maiale

Prawns - scampi

Rabbit - il coniglio

Salmon - il salmone

Sausage - la salsicca

Seafood - frutti di mare

Shrimp - i gamberi

Squid - i calamari

Trout - la trota

Veal - il vitello

Washing It Down - Beverages:

Beer - la birra

Champagne - spumante or champagne

Coffee - il caffé

Ice - il ghiacchio

Juice - il succo

Milk - il latte

Soda - la soda

Tea - il té

Water - l'acqua

Wine - il vino

Sweets Stuff - Fruit and Desserts:

Apple - la mela

Apricot - l'albicocca

Banana - la banana

Cake - la torta

Cherries - le ciliegie

Chocolate - la cioccolata

Cookies - i biscotti

Custard - la crema

Flavored Ice - granita

Fruit - la frutta

Grape - l'uva

Grapefruit - il pompelmo

Ice Cream - gelato

Peach - la pesca

Raspberries - i lamponi

Sugar - lo zucchero

Whipped Cream - la panna montata

While this list is by no means comprehensive, you can use this glossary to identify the menu selections that you most want on your plate, while giving you the vocabulary to sniff out those ingredients that you want to avoid. Memorize a few of these key terms, and you'll be on your way to ordering confidently!

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