Italy has its fair share of supermarkets, everything from budget establishments to the higher-end store and with more people choosing to use them, you’d expect the smaller independent shops to succumb to the same fate as those in other European countries.
However, this isn’t so, as outside the major cities, independent traders are holding their own against the multi-nationals. The traditional village shop thrives due to two things: the Italian way of shopping for food and their love of tradition.
So here are a few language tips for buying food in the independent shops, or alimentari, where you’ll be able to buy everything from cheese, formaggio, to milk, latte, cured meats, salumi, to bread, pane.
When speaking to the shopkeeper, the simplest way to ask for something is to use the word vorrei, which simply means I’d like - so if you’d like to buy an apple, you can simply say, vorrei una mela, per favore (I’d like an apple, please). It is considered more polite to use vorrei rather than voglio, which means I want.
Most alimentari will have a small range of fruit and vegetables, but for a larger range you will need to visit a greengrocer, fruttivendolo. It’s important to take note that in most Italian stores, the fresh produce sold is mostly seasonal, stagionale.
Rather than give you a list of fruit and vegetable names in Italian, a quick Internet search or any good phrase book will have comprehensives listings of these, including fish and meat.
Most shops are self-service, but if you cannot see what you want to purchase, it’s acceptable to say, avete? Meaning, do you have? For example if you wanted lettuce, but can’t see any on the shelves, you can say, avete della lattuga?
If the store isn’t self-service and you’d like to inspect something before you buy it, you can ask to be shown it by saying, può mostrarmi or potete mostrarmi, for example to ask to be shown a cucumber you can say, potete mostrarmi un cetriolo.
If you’re looking to buy fish, you’d drop into the pescheria and for meat, you’ll need to visit the macelleria (butcher’s shop). Although most small shops will sell meat, the butcher’s shop will have more choice and is often better value. If you are planning to use the butcher’s, then it’s a good idea to memorise your favourite cuts of meat, making your shopping experience better.
Bistecca – Steak Filetto – Fillet Girello – Rump
Lombata – Sirloin Spalla – Shoulder Cotoletta – Chop
Gamba – Leg (shank) Pancia – Belly Costine – Rib
If you’re looking for cured meats and cold cuts, salumi, you’ll find these at the salumeria, delicatessen. Here you’ll be able to order as many slices of cold cuts as you require; to ask for three slices, you’d say, vorrei tre fette, or for five slices of mortadella you can say, cinque fette di mortadella, per favore. A point to raise here where many people become confused is the difference between salami and salumi. Salami is a cured and processed meat in a skin (the singular, salame, is most frequently used in Italian), while salumi is the Italian word for cold-cuts/cured meats.
We recently ran two features about Italian bread and most high streets will have a pasticceria (confectioners) or panetteria (bakers), and here you’ll be able to purchase loaves, rolls, cakes and pastries.
Here are a few words to remember when shopping for bread:
Pagnotta – Loaf Grissini – Bread sticks Panino – Roll
Morbido – Soft Pane a fette – Sliced bread Integrale – Wholemeal
Most bakers will also sell pizza al taglio, slices of pizza, which can be very tempting whilst you’re shopping, as can the dolci, sweet cakes and pastries. If you’d like a box of assorted cakes, you can ask for un assortimento di dolci or simply, dolci misti.
Once you’ve chosen your food shopping, all that’s left is to bag it up and carry it away: to ask for a carrier bag, you’d use the phrase, mi dà un sacchetto, per favore? (Another word you may hear for a carrier bag is busta).
As Italy outlawed the use of plastic carrier bags back in 2011, unless you want to pay for a biodegradable one, it’s a good idea to take your own reusable bag on your shopping trip.