Portion Confusion

My jaw dropped when I saw the plate of pasta. My first thought was, aren’t the portions supposed to be smaller here?  Of course, the food looked delicious, but I wondered how I would eat my way through two other courses when this one looked so huge.

Upon further reflection, I realized that perhaps the portions were not as large as I thought, considering that Italians break up what we call entrees into several courses:  primo, secondo, and contorni, with antipasti (appetizers) and dolce (dessert) as other options.  Primo, or the first course, is reserved for pasta or soup while secondo, or the second course, is for meat, seafood, or poultry. Contorni are side dishes, usually consisting of vegetables.

This system of courses seemed strange to me at first, almost like picky eaters who need all their foods on separate plates.  However, perhaps this separation of dishes is meant to allow for optimal food enjoyment, to savor and appreciate the individual flavor components of each food and to allow time to do so.

Eating out at restaurants so frequently during the first week in Italy made we wonder about what a typical day’s worth of food would look like for an Italian family.  Are separate courses served at lunch or are foods eaten together?  How do their eating patterns compare with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans ?

Luckily, I may have the opportunity to find out.  Next week, I will be visiting a native Italian, a relative of one of my friends on the trip.

Big or large portions aside, one cannot deny that the Italian dedication to fresh, quality ingredients that are artfully prepared makes for a superb meal.


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