Food Shopping for Vacation Renters in Italy
One of the best things about staying in a vacation rental in Italy is the chance to experience daily Italian life. Part of that experience is shopping for food and supplies.
Your vacation rental kitchen comes with the pots, pans and utensils that you need to prepare a meal, maybe even salt and pepper, but usually not much else (although some will leave a welcome basket with local products). For supplies, there will be a roll of toilet paper in each bathroom, some cleaning supplies, and a few garbage bags.
So, you will rather quickly have to make a trip to the local stores. You may want to pick up some essentials before you arrive, so when you get "home" you can kick off your shoes, pour the wine, and relax. If you are driving to your check in and see a COOP or Esselunga sign within an hour's drive of your rental, pull in, experience Italy's large grocery store chains, and pick up your basics. If your rental is near a good sized town, wait until you arrive and then head out to your local stores.
Remember that food stores may close for several hours in the afternoon, but then stay open until 7pm or later. And they may be closed on Sunday.
Small Food Stores
There are plenty of grocery stores in Italy, typically much smaller than you are used to. But, to get a true cultural experience, try to shop at the single purpose shops where you are often dealing directly with the proprietor who is usually a neighborhood resident as well as an expert on his or her items. If you are there when the store isn't jammed, you have a chance for a personal interaction and some special advice on your purchases.
Here are the types of small stores that you will encounter.
- Alimentari - Small grocery store with foods of all kinds
- Drogheria - Grocery store with mostly dry goods (canned goods, spices)
- Enoteca - Wine
- Farmacia - Pharmacy
- Formaggeria - Cheeses
- Frutta e Verdura - Fruits and vegetables
- Gelateria - Ice cream (gelato)
- Latteria - Dairy (milk, butter, cheese)
- Macelleria - Fresh meat, salami, and sausage
- Mesticheria - Hardware
- Panificio - Bread
- Pasticceria - Pastries, cakes
- Pescheria - Fish
- Pizzeria - Pizza
- Rosticceria - Take out and eat-in roasted foods, usually meats and vegetables
- Salumeria - Cold cuts, cheese, salami, some canned goods (also called a Pizzicheria in some regions)
- Supermercato - Supermarket (larger grocery store)
Food Shopping List
This shopping list is handy if your brain is jet lagged. Click for a printable version. Before you head out to the stores, check to see if any of these items have been provided in your vacation rental.
|Basics||For Breakfast||For Lunch/Dinner|
|[ ] Toilet paper||[ ] Coffee||[ ] Vegetables|
|[ ] Paper towels||[ ] Tea||[ ] Pasta|
|[ ] Dish soap||[ ] Milk and/or cream||[ ] Pasta sauce|
|[ ] Laundry soap *||[ ] Sugar||[ ] Parmesan cheese|
|[ ] Bottled water||[ ] Bread||[ ] Meat|
|[ ] Salt & pepper *||[ ] Butter||[ ] Fish|
|[ ] Spices (basil, oregano) *||[ ] Jam and/or honey||[ ] Olive oil|
|[ ] Wine||[ ] Fruits||[ ] Vinegar|
|[ ] Beer||[ ] Yogurt||[ ] Flour|
|[ ] Breakfast cereal|
* Some travelers bring a few essentials with them to avoid having to buy them in a larger quantity than they need. For example, salt, pepper, spices, laundry powder (why buy a whole box when you can toss a ziploc with enough for a few weeks into your bag?). You can also bring a cloth napkin for each person (or buy them there) to cut down on use of paper towels and to make your dining elegant!
Here are some of our favorite quick-fix items from Italian supermarkets.
- Antipasti from the deli counter - olives, zucchini in oil, eggplant in oil, little mozzarella bites, arancini (rice balls), regional specialties.
- Insalata capricciosa - sliced fresh mozzarella with sliced fresh tomatoes, drizzle of oil, sprinkle of salt.
- Frozen arancini, rice balls with mozzarella center.
- Packaged salads are excellent, drizzle with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar.
- Prosciutto (cured ham) with fresh melon. FYI, what we call prosciutto is called prosciutto crudo (raw because it is cured not cooked) and cooked ham is called prosciutto cotto. You may also see spek - smoked, cured ham.
- Bresaola (finely sliced dried beef) with sprinkle of lemon.
- Frozen, pre-prepared soups. "Findus" brand is good. Zuppa di Farro, Minestrone, they are all great.
- Plenty of choices of pasta and bottled sauce or fresh pesto from deli counter.
- Pre-sliced, ready to fry veal, beef, port and chicken fillets.
- Frozen, pre-prepared pasta and pizza is usually good.
- Fresh bread. There is often a whole-grain selection, called integrale.
Random tips to help you on your food shopping expeditions.
- Bring a cloth shopping bag. Most locals bring their own shopping bags. If you don't have shopping bags there is a small fee per bag.
- Produce at the supermarket is self service. Remember to put on one of the little plastic gloves provided next to the plastic bags before handling produce and weigh and price your produce (note the item number on the bin, weigh the produce on the scale by pressing the matching item number, affix the ticket that the scale prints out to the plastic bag).
- When buying anything over the counter, whether in the grocery store or in the open air market, be aware of the quantity you need. You can certainly gesture or tell them how many people you want to feed or show the size of the container you wish to fill. Measurements are by kilo (1 kilo = 2.2 lbs) or fraction thereof. A half kilo (mezzo-kilo) is about a pound. For small amounts you order by etto, or tenth of a kilo. One etto is close to a quarter of a pound, about the minimum weight you can order for anything.
- Bag your groceries. The cashier does not do it and there are no baggers.
Open Air Markets
- Find out where the nearest open air market is located. In smaller towns they are held once a week. There you will find the freshest produce, meat and fish. Also, it is a great experience.
- In an open air market, fruit and vegetable shops and stalls are not self-service; point to the produce you want and the vendor will show it to you for you to accept or not. You don't get to choose the items yourself.
- Bottled water is popular in Italy. Frizzante, con gas or gassata is bubbly (sparkling) water. Naturale, senza gas or liscia is flat water. We recommend getting plastic bottles instead of glass because they are lighter to carry. Remember that the tap water in Italy is good quality so you don't have to buy bottled water.
- We love the Sicilian red oranges and red orange juice but most of the packaged orange juice in the stores is a "juice beverage" with a small percent of real juice. To avoid disappointment, read the contents. The word for juice is succo and for orange arancia.
- Butter is unsalted. It is hard to find salted butter but we have occasionally found salted French President brand butter in large supermarkets.
- We love perusing the pasta aisle(s) for unusual pasta shapes, always the most bountiful section of the supermarket. Some stores even have a dried pasta section for dogs.
- Paper towel 2-packs look deceptively like toilet paper 4-packs. Double check to make sure you have carta igienica for toilet paper.
- The laundry soap aisle is confusing. Look carefully to make sure you buy the right kind of soap for the washing machine and not bleach. Also look for a picture of clothes or dishes on the package; you don’t want to mix them up. If you do you could ruin the appliance and have to pay for the damages. If in doubt, smile and ask a shopper nearby.
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