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Tell me what city you are in and I will tell you what typical Italian breakfast to order from the café

When in Rome, do as the Romans do: a tour of Italy in 6 cities, discovering the morning rituals at the café

4 minutes

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, as doctors and nutritionists claim, the meal that gives us a boost of energy, the one that most affects our metabolism, it is equally undeniable that the ritual of breakfast and the ingredients it consists of vary considerably depending on the regions in which we find ourselves, steeped as they are in local food culture, traditions and pace.

In Italy, the country of bell towers, much more than elsewhere, the ritual of breakfast is in fact interpreted rather differently from city to city, from North to South, from sea to mountains: the flavours, the combinations, the calorie intake all vary. And while the typical Italian products brought to the table range from sweet to savoury, the one common denominator of the typical Italian breakfast is coffee, which is indispensable.

So, if you're planning a sabbatical, a holiday or a weekend away and don't want any surprises, this brief tour of the Peninsula on the customs in use in the main cities early in the morning will help you to start your day in the best way possible and order at the bar like a local. So, what is the typical Italian breakfast? Let's find out together.

Milan, the morning flow, for all tastes

Milan, the morning flow, for all tastes

To find your way around the Milanese cafés, where breakfast is served strictly standing up and in limited time, you need to have quick reflexes and an in-depth knowledge of the menu. Here, the waiters are accustomed to satisfying the most bizarre tastes and dietary requirements: coffee can often be decaffeinated, barley, ginseng, and can be marocchino, mocha, macchiato or spritzed (hot and cold), American, long, medium, short in a large cup, long in a small cup.

Cappuccinos are made with lactose-free milk, soya or oat milk, brioches are vegan, gluten-free, filled or plain, sweet or savoury... But if you are overwhelmed by the choice and do not dare interrupt the frenetic flow of Milan, order an espresso (or better, an espressino) and a pastry brioche (brioscina) and you will be on the safe side.

Genoa, sweet and a little salty, by the sea

Genoa, sweet and a little salty, by the sea

While in almost all of Italy the typical breakfast is 'sweet', in Genoa we dare you to mix sweet and savoury as the locals do. Here, as soon as you wake up, the custom is to order focaccia and cappuccino, focaccia and caffe latte, for the purists: a ritual to be consumed at a leisurely pace, perhaps sitting by the sea, taking your time to make peace with the day.

The focaccia genovese, it goes without saying, must be the traditional one (la fugàssa): low, 'pinched' on the surface, covered with extra virgin olive oil and grains of coarse salt, served in strips no wider than the diameter of the cup, because the custom is to dunk it in the cappuccino and enjoy it slowly, letting the sweet and savoury harmonise on the palate, while preparing to face the world.

Rome, a 'bombshell' awakening

rome an awakening

Beware, however, of ever uttering the word 'brioche' in a Roman café or you will be regarded with suspicion. Instead, ask for a croissant, even if it is not quite the same thing: as you go down from North to South, you will find yourself faced with more and more elaborate versions, dripping with icing, icing sugar and filled with various jams and custards.

If you are not afraid of the calorie and glucose rush, in the shadow of the Colosseum you must try the traditional maritozzo, a sweet loaf cut in the middle and filled with cream; or the bomba, fried and sugar-coated - the name says it all - or its variant with a hole, the ciambella: essentially a doughnut, but twice the size.

Naples, the true espresso with a soft heart

napoli express

Crumbly enough to shatter at the first bite into an uncontainable explosion of crumbs, until it releases a soft, sweet heart of ricotta and semolina: the Neapolitan sfogliatella riccia is a delicacy comparable only to the babà, strictly rum-flavoured.

But here, in the shadow of Vesuvius, the real delicacy is the Neapolitan espresso, already a World Heritage product before UNESCO saw the light: here it is served with a small glass of water on the side, preferably sparkling. What else? Among the Neapolitan coffee traditions, one of the most typical, and generous, is that of the suspended coffee: customers at the bar often order one cup and pay for two, giving the second to any needy patrons.

Bari, the fisherman's breakfast

Bari fisherman breakfast

And if challenges don't scare you, the local-style breakfast in Bari, the beautiful Apulian capital overlooking the Adriatic Sea, is for those with a strong stomach.

Indeed, they call it colazione del pescatore (fisherman's breakfast) and it is still very popular; it is based on seafood: sea urchins, oysters, mussels, cuttlefish, octopus, prawns, all strictly raw and freshly caught: definitely a healthy and low-calorie choice.

And although coffee is not exactly the best accompaniment, you can enjoy it with fresh juices or water and lemon. The best place to eat it is Nderr La' Lanz (literally 'spears ashore') one of the most typical places in Bari; the small San Nicola pier is in fact a sort of open-air restaurant where local raw fish is always served very fresh.

From Palermo to Messina, sub-zero sweetness

palermo messina breakfast

And speaking of daring combinations, the Sicilian breakfast mixes not only flavours, but also different temperatures and textures, in which the granita is combined with the typical 'brioscia', a leavened pastry flavoured with vanilla or citrus fruits and topped with the so-called 'tuppu', which evokes girls' chignons. The brioscia should be served hot together with the granita, which should obviously be frozen, creamy and grainy at the same time, lemon, coffee, almond, black mulberry, depending on the city on the island where you are located, and, for those with a sweet tooth, garnished with a dollop of cream. It is up to you to decide whether to dunk the brioche in it or eat it separately: it will still be a superb way to greet the new day.  

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