Tuesday, May 15, 2007

My Favorite Italian Phrase: "Self Service"

Italy has "self service" restaurants (yes, they use the English expression), which are jazzy cafeterias serving fresh and freshly made food. In front of your eyes, you can have a pizza baked to order or watch a chef swirl olive oil in a skillet before she adds pasta and sauce. Often there are several varieties of pasta cooking on a stove, but not in such large quantity that the food sits around. The chefs keep busy during lunch hour, when these places fill up with Italians and tourists alike.

For the non-Italian speaker, the "self service" restaurant takes some of the mystery out of ordering as you can peek at all the choices before selecting, to both figure out what they are and to see if they look appealing. And frequently you can build your own salad; they charge by the plate size, not by weight, so if you have no shame about loading up a small bowl with all sorts of vegetables you can have a healthy meal for just a few euros.

In Italy, eating at a cafeteria is no less festive than dining at a restaurant. Wine is readily and plentifully available, in sizes ranging from a full bottle to a single serving, reds and whites both. And of course there is an espresso machine!

Because the food is relatively inexpensive (about half the price of a regular restaurant), I am often tempted to order many things, just to try them all. But my waistband keeps getting tighter, and I need to leave room for my daily gelato fix...I may need to return to Italy to complete my due diligence!

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