Buying bread in Italy always feels like one of those glorious quintessential Italian moments from a movie or book.
Sometimes I even buy a big loaf wrapped in brown paper, put it in my bicycle basket, one end sticking out, and ride gleefully down the street, yelling “buongiorno” to anyone I see.
Somehow, bread and Italy just go hand in hand (kind of like bicycles and buongiornos – or is that just me?).
Hands down, one of my favorite things to do in my day to day life in Italy is to head to my local bread store or panetteria.
These shops, often also called panificio (a bigger panetteria), are filled with walls of sweet smelling, fresh baked pane, desserts, croissants, mini pizze and other pieces of baked deliciousness.
At first though, I found the experience overwhelming, as I had no idea what the different types of bread meant, or even what their names were.
In fact, I’ve found very few bread shops actually label the types of bread. But have no fear!
Buying bread at the panetteria is easy once you know how to do it, and below is a quick and easy to follow guide to help you navigate this oh-so-tasty expedition.
When you enter:
First, check for an automated number machine.
If they are calling numbers, take a number and wait your turn. This is not super common, but I have seen it occasionally.
When your number is called or it is your turn:
Hopefully you’ve had a few minutes to look around and find what catches your eye. If you already know what you want , you can go ahead and order it. If you’re having some trouble deciding what to choose, here are some tips.
— Do you want salted or unsalted bread?
This may seem like a strange question but in Tuscany, the bread is often unsalted and if you’re not expecting it, you probably won’t be pleased with your choice.
However, if you’re cooking for Tuscans or making a very salty meal (like the soup, ribollita) it is better to go with the bread that was created to go perfectly with the regional specialties.
— Do you want bread as a side dish or as a standalone part of the meal?
By this, I mean are you making a sandwich, where the bread plays a starring role, or are you cutting it to go on the table next to a pasta dish?
Some breads are better for sandwiches than others, and in Tuscany, the only acceptable table bread is the sliced, unsalted loaf. If you don’t want unsalted bread to accompany your meal, keep that in mind when ordering.
Now that you have narrowed down what kind of bread you want, here are some words and phrases for placing your order:
— Vorrei… – I would like…
— Poi? – Anything else?
— Basta. – That’s enough.
— Quale pane ha il sale? – Which bread is salted?
— Quale pane non ha il sale? – Which bread is unsalted?
— Pane salato – Salted bread (oftentimes called “pane Pugliese”)
— Pane toscano – Unsalted bread from Tuscany
— Schiacciata – “squished” bread, usually a bit oily, salted, great for panini
— Rosette – Small rose bud shaped mini-loafs that can be used for panini
— Ciabatta – Oval loaf of bread, light, salted, less oily than schiacciata
— Focaccia – Thicker schiacciata, fluffy, often served with tomatoes on top in the south (think thick crust, cheese-less pizza)
— Integrale – Wheat/whole wheat bread, sometimes with seeds
— Cornetto – Italian word for croissant, often stuffed with:
– Albicocca – Apricot
– Nutella/cioccolato – Nutella or chocolate
– Crema – Vanilla-like cream filling
– Vuoto – Empty, nothing inside
— Biscotti – General word for cookie (Side note: Our biscotti in America are called “cantucci” in Italy)
— Un etto – 1/10th of a kilo, aka 100 grams. 1kg =2.2 lb so 1/10 of 2.2 is just barely under 1/4lb
— Due/tre/etc etti – Plural of etto, for more than 100 grams
— Grammi – Grams, you can also order in grams instead of saying etti
— Mezzo/a – Half the loaf
Here is an example of how your interaction might go:
You: Buongiorno signora!
Signora: Buongiorno bella! Cosa prendi oggi?
You: Oggi, faccio la pasta e vorrei avere un po’ di pane a tavola. Cosa hai?
Signora: Ah, oggi abbiamo un buon pane toscano, lo vuoi?
You: Si, grazie!
You: Hmm, magari prendo anche due cornetti vuoti.
Signora: Perfetto. Poi?
You: Basta, grazie!
With these words in mind, you’ll have a great first experience at the panetteria.
Besides the breads above though, don’t be afraid to try new things. Some of the tastiest bread I ever tried came at the urging of the baker or just by following my eyes and nose.
Have you ever ordered at a panetteria? How did you do? Do you have any other must know words to add?