The author with her dear cousin and great uncle at Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe’ (photo taken by her husband)
…So in my post The Italian Breakfast, I was telling you about Il Bar. Not an establishment of ill repute or a public house, a bar in Italy is where coffee and treats are served. THIS is where the locals go to eat. In fact, if you see a sign that says “American Breakfast” you can be sure no locals will be there.
“American Breakfast” as it is called on the sign is designed to lure you in with promises of what they think Americans eat each morning. Eggs. Bacon. Toast. Cafe Americano. (Italians think this coffee is watered down and silly. Why drink all that liquid when you can have an espresso for the same caffeine hit?) The problem with this breakfast is that, for me at least, I don’t eat that. Cereal and milk is difficult to find.
This is where you have to open your culinary horizons. You are better off going to one of the said “bars” and watching for a moment what the locals do. They already know by your bone structure that you are American, so don’t get worried. They will make you feel welcome, and they will love that you are honoring their local customs. You can point and smile and they are so helpful!
There are lots of famous ones throughout La Citta Eterna, but there are a couple you might want to go to just to steep yourself in history, culture and coffee. One is Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe’, just off via Monetrone near the Piazza Rotondo. The other one is the oldest caffe in Rome, Antico Caffe’ Greco on the world famous via Condotti. The photographs alone are worth the trip.
The oldest caffe’ in Rome. (Photo by Michael Sirni)
You order your espresso then point to what you would like in the displays. They put it all on a plate, much like a cafeteria with “il conto” (the bill.) You pay and then stand and eat it at the bar like the locals. Espresso is literally a shot. Add sugar and gulp. It’s over. While Americans may nurse the same foam cup of coffee all day long, Italians finish it all in a sip. (They do go back and have them all day, so don’t think they have taken any kind of higher ground….no coffee pun intended.)
If you sit down, there are additional charges, much like a tip. It is called “coperto” which is an umbrella term for bread, use of forks, table services, etc. If you want to appear really in the know, watch someone order ahead of you. Smile at the counter worker, nod your head to the said person ahead of you and say, “lo stesso.” This means, loosely translated, “I’ll have the same thing.” Just hope they didn’t order something you’re allergic to…. 🙂