Italy’s Food Shopping: Grocery & Market Tips

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Even if you aren’t stocking your apartment’s fridge or preparing food for your picnic, a visit to an Italian market or grocery store can be fun during your Italy trip. It’s always fun to explore the cuisines of a specific place, especially for foodies. If you’re on self-catering vacations, picking up food should be your first order of business. This is how to shop in Italian food markets and grocery stores.

Grocery Stores in Italy

Many Italians still shop at multiple shops, such as the butcher, produce shop, etc. However, there are larger all-purpose grocery stores in smaller cities as well. You can guess that the quality of fresh foods is not as high at larger markets. However, they are more convenient. A smaller, all-purpose grocery store is known as an “alimentari”, while a larger shop is called a “supermercato”.

Italian grocery stores are often crowded and have narrow aisles. Although smaller than regular grocery carts, they are still available for purchase. However, there is a charge. Each cart is usually connected by a chain and can be released only by inserting a euro. You get your coin back when you return the cart by pressing the chain into its slot. Many shops have smaller baskets that can be carried, and some even have handles and wheels. These baskets can be carried around in your hand and are easier to maneuver through the narrow aisles.

You might want to have something in your home or hostel kitchen so you can make a better breakfast than the one served at the cafe. It’s easy to make cereal and milk, as well as scrambled eggs. The eggs should not be found in the refrigerator. They are on a shelf and do not need to be kept at room temperature. Some milk can be stored in the refrigerator, while others are shelf-stable.

Fresh fruits and vegetables make excellent snacks. However, the process of choosing and purchasing them in an Italian grocery shop is unlike any you have ever experienced. You’ll find a dispenser for gloves near the plastic baggies dispenser.

  • Before you pick up produce, put on the plastic gloves. If you don’t have it, you might get stern words from an employee or another shopper.
  • After you have bagged your items, find the number associated with them. A number may be posted on a sign above or in the bin where the carrots, oranges, or other items are kept.
  • Next, you will need to determine the scale. You will find one in each produce section. Place your bag of goodies on a scale and find the appropriate number. Then, take the sticker that appears. The sticker is placed on your bag and tells the inspector how much you should be charged.
  • There are not scales at the check-out.
  • You will find some self-service areas with pre-packaged, weighed cheese and meat. However, if you are looking for something more from the inside of the deli case, you need to inquire about quanitity according to weight. It uses the metric system. “Uno Chilo” or one kilogram is approximately 2.2 pounds. “Un’etto,” which is one hectogram is less than one quarter pound, is one hectogram.

    A few Italian grocery shops will still give you a paper or plastic bag free of charge so that you can carry your groceries home. However, many stores will charge for bags if you do not bring one. You’ll be asked “Busta?” or “Sacchetto?” which is Italian for “bag” so you can respond accordingly depending on whether your shopping bags are purchased from them. This is the reason I have one of these Flip and Tumble bags inside my purse in Italy.

    You will most likely bag your groceries. The checker has a divider that he or she can move at the counter so they can ring up next person’s orders while you are still bagging yours. This allows them to keep the two sections separate and prevents them from mixing.

    You can find a wide range of food stores in Italy .

    Italy’s Food Markets

    Even though I was not shopping, I found the smells, sounds and colors of Italian outdoor food markets appealing. These markets are even more fascinating if you’re stocking your pantry or picnic basket. Here are the basics.

    The most important rule is to not touch the produce. While you may be used to picking your own fruits and vegetables at home, in Italy almost all vendors will do it for you. The vendor will pick and bag the fruits and vegetables you specify. You can rest assured that they won’t pick the “bad apples” – quality will be good, but it is also true that long-term customers get more choices.

    Some sellers will ask you what your plans are for your purchase. They are not being intrusive, they just want to make sure you get the best product for your needs. Baking apples are different from eating apples. Vendors may also offer produce according to when you’re ready to eat it.

    You can often judge the quality of peaches sold at larger markets by their lines. If you want to find the best quality peaches at a market, then follow the lead of locals.

    Even if you don’t plan to cook or buy anything from a market, it is worth exploring an Italian market. You can see which fruits and vegetables are most popular, and what fish names are the most common among stalls. This is a great way to find out what’s in season and local so that you can later look for them on restaurant menus.

    A food market may only be open one day a week in a small town. In some cities, there is a market that opens every day. To find out the location and times of the food markets in your destination, you can search online or visit the tourist information office upon arrival. You will also find many other stalls at these outdoor markets selling everything, from clothes to CDs to housewares.

    A handy vocabulary to use when you go shopping for food in Italy

    • toh) – “Un etto” is a tenth of a kilogram, or a bit less than a quarter pound. tee.
    • loh) – “Un chilo” is one kilogram, or a little more than two pounds. “Un mezzo chilo is one pound.
    • stah) – Cashiers will often ask whether you need a bag at check-out. They may also use this word.
    • KEH
    • jee) – “Per oggi” is what you’ll say to a market vendor if you want something ripe to eat right away.
    • numbers I believe it’s useful to know numbers when traveling, especially numbers 1-10. In Italian, 1-10 are: uno (OO|noh), due (DOO|eh), tre (treh), quattro (QWAH|troh), cinque (CHEEN|kweh), sei (say), sette (SEHT|teh), otto (AWT|toh), nove (NOH|veh), dieci (dee|EH|chee).

    It is important to note that the Italians use commas and periods differently than Americans when writing numbers. An item costing two euros and 50cs can be written EUR2,50, while one that costs one thousand Euro is written EUR1.000.

    This video, made by Cross-Pollinate, has always been a favorite of mine. It not only gives great tips on shopping in Italy but also shows how easy it is for kids to do it.

    Tips for shopping in Italy via Cross-Pollinate travel to Vimeo.

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    4 Responses to “Food Shopping In Italy: Grocery & Market Tips”

  • Roy says:

    Are there baby carrots available in Italy?

    • Jess has the following:

      Roy, I can’t remember noticing it. I have only ever purchased carrots from a market stand, which would not sell full-sized carrots. Worst-case scenario: If the grocery stores don’t stock carrots that are baby-ized, it means that you have to buy large carrots and then cut them into carrot sticks.

  • Ashley

    Thank you! We are grateful!

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