Italian is a language that is not within the top most studied languages in the world. In fact, people mostly study Italian for specific reasons. One would be because of family, another would be long term travel to the country usually for work or education, and third because one just wants to learn Italian, period. English, French and Spanish are more popularly studied across the globe.
If you are into the arts and a lover of food, Italian is a must learn language. It is the language of gastronomy. If you want some exposure to Italian, learn it through food. Italian food is so readily available and accessible. Italian restaurants are a dime a dozen. Italian cooking shows, cookbooks and recipes are at your finger tips.
Before Giada De Laurentiis and Mario Batali graced the television screen with their easy to do and very tasty Italian dishes, there was Biba Gaggiano. She introduced Italian cuisine and made cooking enthusiasts realize that there is more to Italian cooking than pizza and pasta. Hearing her explain Italian cooking terms and processes back then was simply a joy. Thankfully Giada, Mario and other real Italian chefs continue to expose viewers and cookbook readers to real Italian food and in the process, to the language of Italy.
If you are interested to learn a little bit of Italian but are not ready for a full blown Italian language lesson, learn the language through pasta, gelato and caffe! Spaghetti is not the only pasta in the world. There are a hundred different varieties of pasta. Here’s a few that may have graced your plate in the past.
• Bigoli is a type of whole wheat pasta similar to spaghetti but thicker.
• Bucatini means little hole. It looks like spaghetti but is hollow inside.
• Cannelloni is a large pasta tube that is packed with a filling or sauce then baked in the oven.
• Conchiglie looks like seashells.
• Farfalle makes you think of butterflies because of its butterfly or bow-tie shape.
• Fusilli means little spindles. This pasta is made from flat twisted pasta resembling corkscrews.
• Gnocchi, made from potato, is said to have originated from the Middle East. A typical gnocchi is thick and the size of the thumb.
• Orecchiette, meaning little ears, are shaped like small bowls.
• Vermicelli when translated means little worms. It is long like spaghetti but thinner.
Ready for dessert? Then have some Italian ice cream. The Italian gelato, is so creamy, so smooth, oh so good. It’s irresistible. When you go to a gelateria, which is what Italians call an ice cream shop, know what you are ordering. You can order gelato or sorbetto (sorbet).
• Caffe (Coffee)
• Cioccolato al latte (Milk chocolate)
• Cioccolato fondente (Dark chocolate)
• Cioccolato all’arancia (Dark chocolate and orange)
• Cocco (Coconut)
• Pistacchio (Pistachio)
• Fior di latte (Flower of milk; sweet cream flavor)
• Nocciola (Hazelnut)
• Fragola (Strawberry)
• Limone (Lemon)
• Mela (Apple)
• Pera (Pear)
• Melone (Melon)
• Pesca (Peach)
• Albicocca (Apricot)
• Frutti di bosco (Fruits of the forest)
Cap your meal with Italian coffee. When you find yourself in Italy, don’t expect that you can order your favorite Starbucks beverage there. Italians take their coffee seriously so make sure you know your Italian coffee terms.
• Caffe means coffee. If you want a single shot espresso, you don’t say ‘un espresso’ in Italy; order ‘un caffe.’ Don’t be surprised if Italians don’t use the word espresso. It is best if you stick to the term caffe.
• Americano is watered down espresso. It’s in between Italian coffee and American coffee.
• Cappuccino is made with a third of each of the following: espresso, steamed milk and foam.
• Corretto is an espresso shot with a shot of Sambuca, Baileys, grappa or another type of liquor.
• Caffe doppio is double espresso; two shots of coffee goodness in a bigger cup.
• Freddo literally means cold. It is caffe served cold or at least slightly cool.
• Latte is milk. If you order latte in Italy, don’t be surprised if you are served only a tall glass of milk. Say caffe latte if you want steamed milk with a shot of espresso.
• Macchiato is an espresso shot with a small amount of hot milk. The word macchiato stems from the Italian term for ‘stained.’
• Panna is cream in Italian. Say ‘con panna’ after your caffe order if you want a dollop of whipped cream on top of your caffe.
The best way to learn any country’s language is to travel to that country and live there for a few years. But if you don’t have that luxury, learn a little Italian at least through food. Watch cooking shows that feature Italian cooking or attend an Italian cooking class. Who knows, the more Italian food names you learn, the closer you get to actually taking language lessons.