When's the last time you were at an Italian restaurant and encountered a menu written entirely in Italian? Did you and your date stare at each other hoping that one of you would be able to do at least a fair job of translating?
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, whether it's in America, or in Italy!
Deciphering the menu sections
This section will help you understand what to expect under the most common menu headings.
Soups: usually zuppa
Primi Piatti: first courses, usually pasta
Secondi Piatti: main courses
Piatto Principale: main dish, usually meat
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
Grilled: ai ferri
Mashed: il pure
Steamed: cotto al vapore
Keywords for dieters
If you are avoiding dietary fats, here are the most common
forms that you will find in Italian dishes.
Cheese: formaggio, cacio, caprino
Common cheese varieties: parmigiano, mozzarella, asiago, fontina, gorgonzola,
mascarpone, pecorino, provolone, ricotta, robiola, taleggio.
Stumped by anything other than spaghetti, lasagna, and macaroni?
These basic pasta descriptions will help you find the al dente dish
that you are 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
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 s
tuffed with cheese, meat or vegetables
Ziti: large noodles, shaped like macaroni
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
Artichoke: il carciofo
Asparagus : asparago
Broccoli: i broccoli
Cabbage: il cavolo
Carrots: le carote
Celery: il sedano
Corn: il grano
Cucumber: il cetriolo
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
Meats, Poultry, Seafood:
Beef: il manzo, la bistecca
Chicken: il pollo
Clams: le volgone
Eggs: le ouva
Fish: il pesce
Halibut: il palombo
Liver: il fegato
Meat: la carne
Meatballs: le polpette
Mussels: le cozze
Oysters: le ostriche
Pork: il maiale
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
Beer: la birra
Champagne: spumante or champagne
Coffee: il caffe
Ice: il ghiacchio
Juice: il succo
Milk: il latte
Soda: la soda
Tea: il te
Wine: il vino
Fruit and Desserts
Apple: la mela
Banana: la banana
Cake: la torta
Cherries: le ciliegie
Chocolate: la cioccolata
Cookies: i biscotti
Custard: la crema
Flavored Ice: granita
Fruit: la frutta
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 with confidence!