Italian cuisine is popular globally. Whether in the United States or India, you’re never more than a few blocks away from an Italian restaurant. Some Italian dishes are more well-known than others. For instance, lasagna and pasta are widespread worldwide. Likewise, anyone who knows anything about pizza will rave about the taste of Italian pizza.

You might be thinking that this is all anecdotal evidence. However, that’s not the case. YouGov conducted a study in 2019, where they asked over 25,000 participants from 24 different countries to rate their favorite cuisines. Unsurprisingly, Italian cuisine came out on top in their study. The participants rated pizza and pasta as their favorite dishes. The popularity of these foods garnered Italian cuisine an 84 percent rating across the board.

Most people would assume that Italians would favor their cuisine over anything else. The study showed that while that assumption is true, other nationalities also enjoy Italian cuisine. These nationalities included the French and the Spanish.

In Italy, a meal isn’t just something for you to devour. It’s an experience. As a result, when you sit down in an authentic Italian eatery, you’ll find they have a traditional meal structure that they adhere to religiously. We’ll explore the traditional Italian meal structure in detail in this blog post.

A Guide to the Traditional Italian Meal Structure

Here’s what the traditional Italian meal structure looks like:


It’s sacrilege to start an Italian meal without the aperitivo. The aperitivo marks the beginning of the meal. It also resembles the French aperitif in that it starts with bubbly beverages like prosecco and champagne. In addition, you’ll find small dishes of cheeses, nuts, and olives accompanying your drinks.


The antipasti serve as the starter in Italian meals. Antipasti dishes are usually slightly heavier than the aperitivo. Bruschetta is a common antipasti dish in Italy. Likewise, you’ll often see restaurants serving salami, mortadella, or prosciutto with bread and cheese as antipasti dishes.

Bruschetta for antipasti


The primi follows the antipasti. It’s also usually the first course to feature a hot dish. Typically, most primi dishes don’t feature any meat. Instead, they comprise decadent ingredients like truffles. Some common examples of primi dishes include lasagna, pasta, risotto, and gnocchi.


Meat lovers can rejoice when the secondi arrives on the table. Usually, you’ll find meat and seafood options in the secondi course. Dishes can range from roast beef to lobster. It’s also not uncommon for two separate dishes to be a part of the secondi course. In such instances, you’ll likely have a sorbet palate cleanser served to you between dishes.


Contorni dishes are usually an accompaniment to secondi courses. Unlike secondi meals, contorni dishes usually feature vegetables as their main ingredient. Restaurants will serve them on a different plate to preserve the integrity of flavors.

Formaggi E Frutta

If there’s something Italians love, it’s cheese and fruits. The Formaggi E Frutta is an entire course devoted to these. It serves as a transition between the main courses and dessert.


In Italy, no meal is complete without dessert. Hence, you’ve got Dolce. You’ll find an assortment of options, ranging from tiramisu to panna cotta. In some restaurants, you might also get gelato to cleanse your palate. Depending on where you are in Italy, you might also be presented with regional desserts like cannoli or zeppole.


Your time at the table isn’t finished without having a strong espresso. Italian restaurants typically serve you a coffee without any sugar or milk.


A hearty Italian meal requires something to aid your digestion. As a result, you’ve got digestivo. Digestivo typically includes an alcoholic drink like amaro or grappa.

Learn More About Italian Cuisine with Irina Bukatik

IrinaBukatik is a food lover and a travel enthusiast. She’s constantly searching for new ways to mesh the two. Visit her website, Wanderlust Food, to learn about the seamless integration of food and culture for those yearning for adventure

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