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Before I had a baby, I was a bit curious about what babies ate in Italy. They all seemed to be digging into local foods at an early age. Then, Giacomo was born and our real lessons in Italian baby meals got started.
From the doctor’s orders to common practices, here is what to expect when dining with a baby in Italy.
First Foods for Babies in Italy
The idea of what babies should eat as their first food is a bit scientific, a bit cultural, and a lot personal. It is one of the parenting decisions we researched for a long time and then had a long conversation with our Italian pediatrician.
In fact, G’s doctor printed out a recipe for me to make his first baby food and repeated everything to me very, very slowly, I suppose he did that in order to be confident that this straniera he was talking to was actually understanding everything he was saying.
Baby food in Italy is a big deal. Yes, there are jars of horsemeat for babies – but most families make baby food themselves, and have been doing this forever.
In fact, the only place you can really buy baby food is at a pharmacy and you should not expect every pharmacy to have pre-made and packaged foods in stock. There is simply not enough demand.
Also, side note: baby cereal/food in Italy is NOT fortified. The belief is that no added vitamins and minerals are needed if the baby is eating a balanced diet. The only fortified product is baby formula.
So what do babies eat as their first food in Italy?
I was told to boil vegetables (carrots, zucchini and potatoes), then to use the vegetable broth to cook baby cereal (either rice or semolina). I was then told by the pediatrician to puree one of the vegetables (alternating which vegetable the baby would try every day) and mix 20 grams into the cereal. Then, I was told to steam meat, and puree this, adding 20 grams into the dish. Finally, I was instructed to add a swirl of olive oil, a small spoon a Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a teeny dash of salt.
So, babies in Italy eat well. This dish of starch, vegetable, meat, cheese, and olive oil is usually referred to as “pappa” which can mean pap/mush/baby food. So when it is time to eat and the crank baby is letting you know, you say “è ora della pappa.”
I was told that the baby could start having pappa after he first tried grated pear at four months old (!). All of my neighbors would check on me to make sure that the baby was getting pappa, and as he got older, I was instructed to start varying the flavors – adding tomato, and sometimes substituting legumes or fish for the meat.
As I said, pappa is something that is made at home – so it is not the kind of food that you should expect restaurants to have on call for baby customers.
What to Order For Babies at Restaurants in Italy
Most restaurants in Italy are thrilled to have younger guests. Unless you are at a serious fine dining establishment, most waiters tend to encourage a little bit of noise and try to get big smiles out of baby diners. If you are making a reservation, it is best to give the restaurant a heads up that you are booking the table for X numbers of adults and X number of babies. They will likely try to give you a table with more space or plan an area where you can ditch your stroller.
If you need a high chair, it is called a seggiolone, and most restaurants have one of these, too. However, keeping the baby safe inside is going to be the parent’s duty. Italian high chairs in restaurants rarely come with safety buckles or restraints, and some look truly vintage, with leg holes large enough for a toddler to fall through. I almost always have to keep a hand on Giacomo, juuuuust in case. You can also keep the baby on your lap or in their stroller if there is space. Diners very rarely bring their own travel highchairs and while you are totally welcome to try, expect a few funny looks.
There is no such thing as a kid’s menu in Italy, and there are not really items that are specially made for babies at restaurants either. Our baby moved on to eating table food around 10 months (with lots of exceptions), so we usually try to order at least one dish that is appropriate for him to eat given that he has only seven teeth. This often includes something like lasagna that has a balance of carbs (pasta), protein (meat and cheese), and saltiness without added salt (Parmigiano).
You can also ask if there are any seasonal vegetables available which can be steamed. It is unlikely anything will be blended up but we sometimes order a vellutata (creamy -literally “velvety” – vegetable soup).
Even if there is nothing on the menu that is baby friendly, I promise you that every restaurant is willing to make pasta in bianco. This is literally plain pasta, and they will bring grated cheese and olive oil on the side to allow you to dress it for your baby’s tastes. The pasta can be cut up or you can order the smallest shape of pasta they have. Just be prepared to pay full price – you’ll be charged at the same rate as their cheapest pasta dish, even though there is nothing on it! Ask for a mezza porzione, or half plate, if possible.
When all else fails, bring snacks. No one is going to tell you that you can’t feed your baby outside food. Babies are babies and they will eat when and what they want.
Did Your Baby Really Eat All That?
True to my California roots, after researching and talking to doctors and other parents, I decided that the first food my baby ever ate would be avocado. He loved it.
His second food was pappa, and he still (at 12 months old) often eats baby pasta with parmigiano and a vegetable on the side. However, we don’t mush everything up anymore – he usually eats a simple version of whatever we are having ourselves – and we try to encourage him to feed himself.
Taste preferences are set pretty early in life based on what we are exposed to as young children. We try to vary his diet and include as many safe flavors and textures as possible – but it is already pretty clear to me that he has a preference for “Italian” flavors like Parmigiano and tomato sauce.
If you want to read more about tastes and baby foods, I highly recommend the book First Bite: How We Learn to Eat. (FYI – That’s an affiliate link, which means I can earn a small commission at no cost to you if you decide to buy it. It is a book I really own and really do recommend).
What did your baby eat in Italy? Did anything surprise you about the different dining habits with children?
Venice is the Italian city that struggles the most with over-tourism. To balance out the strain that tourism puts on city service, Venice will charge a fee to visit the city for the day.
Tourists do bring money into the city by purchasing meals and souvenirs, but overall, the number of visitors has overwhelmed city services and their buying habits have changed the fabric of the city, forcing many locals to leave in search of more affordable areas to live.
Italy’s official 2019 budget has now authorized the city to collect a fee from visitors, something that the mayor of Venice has long been asking for.
How much the fee to visit Venice will cost, and how it will be collected, remains to be seen. This is all very new and it seems that details will become more clear as actual plans to collect the Venice visitor’s fee come into place.
At the moment, there are a few things that seem likely about the cost to visit Venice:
The fee to enter Venice will be up to €10. This cost seems likely to be variable and will probably only be this high during peak season. The fee might be lower outside of the summer months.
There is already a city tax on visitors who stay overnight in Venice, so this fee is aimed at people entering for the day only. The daily fee seems most likely aimed at cruise ships, which bring a huge number of visitors to the city for a short amount of time. The logic being that these day-trippers strain city services (like trash collection) without ever paying a tax.
The fee will probably be added as a surcharge on transportation. Visitors entering Venice will pay more for their buses, cruise ships, and vaporetti. It is still unclear how this fee might be charged for Venice visitors arriving in the airport or by train. The cost is meant to only be applied to day trippers so that it does not duplicate the hotel tax that overnight visitors already pay to stay in Venice. The private companies that sell these tickets will then turn the tax over to the city government.
The cost to visit Venice for the day is expected to generate up to €50 million in revenue, which the mayor says will be used to clean the streets, collect garbage, and pay for more services like firefighters.
The move to charge a fee to enter Venice is not unprecedented. Some special villages like Civita di Bagnoregio already have entrance fees, and the Puglia town of Polignano al Mare even added temporary turnstiles to block people from entering the historic center unless they paid €5 to see a Christmas display.
As long as there are no turnstiles – I feel ok about this. Would you pay €10 to visit Venice for the day?
There is nothing like a new year to remind people to re-set and start again. The fresh start offered by January 1st is so tempting that every country seems to have created superstitions about what to do on New Year’s Eve to make sure to get off on the right foot. Most of the New Year’s traditions in Italy are no exception – they are all about what to eat, how to dress, and what customs to follow in order to ensure good luck for the next 365 days.
Here are the seven best New Year’s traditions in Italy that you can use to ring in the new year wherever you may be celebrating la festa di San Silvestro:
New Year’s Eve Traditions in Italy
Have a huge dinner Most holidays in Italy seem to naturally revolve around food and New Year’s is no exception. On New Year’s in Italy it is traditional to sit down for a huge meal – a cenone, if you will. If you plan to go out for the evening meal, expect a pricey set menu and a lot of cheerful atmosphere. But regardless of if you are dining in or eating out – there will probably be lentils somewhere on the menu.
Eat lentils In Spain, you dine on grapes at midnight, but in Italy, you eat lentils for New Year’s. The tiny legumes can be cooked in many ways, but they are most traditionally eaten with cotecchino – a kind of pork sausage. Lentils are considered to bring good luck in Italy for New Year’s because the tiny round legumes resemble coins. Eat a lot because they supposedly bring wealth in the coming year.
Throw out your old stuff, literally In Italy, “out with the old” can be taken literally when New Year’s rolls around. In some parts of the country, particularly in the south, it is customary to throw your old things (including furniture!) out of the window at midnight. Watch out if you will be celebrating out on the streets because you may be hit by someone clearing out the house in preparation for the new good fortune that the new year will hopefully bring.
Pop the prosecco When the clock strikes midnight, you should have a glass of sparkling wine in hand. Leave the champagne to France and find a bottle of Italian bubbly like prosecco to ring in the new year. As is the custom in many other places, it is traditional to seal the countdown to midnight with a kiss (or a double cheek kiss for friends) and to wish them all the best for the new year.
Wear red underwear In the days leading up to December 31st, every store and stand in Italy seems to be advertising red underwear. That is because wearing red undergarments is supposed to bring good luck in the new year. Go ahead and pick up a pair to wear while you wait for midnight. However, for the red underwear to be really lucky, it should only be worn on NYE. Throw it out the next day if you want to observe the older version of this Italian New Year’s tradition.
Watch the fireworks Like many places, Italy likes to ring in the new year with a firework display. The celebratory explosions light up the sky after the clock strikes 12, and can be seen in almost every city and most large towns. Naples and the Amalfi Coast are particularly well known for their impressive New Year’s fireworks.
Leave the house with money in your pocket Get a little shut-eye after staying up until midnight, but then get off on the right start on January 1st by making sure you have a little money in your pocket when you leave the house. This Italian New Year’s tradition plays on the superstition that if you leave the house with money on the first day of the year, you will always have something in your pocket to spend every day of the year.
Venice was once one of the wealthiest places in the world. An important center for trade, the private fortunes of the merchants was put on showy display in the lavish churches and highly decorated palaces that they created. In a city like Venice, you can see masterpieces without ever stepping foot into a museum – however, there are also incredibly unique and charming exhibits tucked away in unexpected places like the Burano Lace Museum.
Better known as the museo del merletto in Italian, the Venice lace museum is located on the colorful island of Burano, a short journey across the lagoon.
The fishing island is probably best known for its cheerfully painted homes which attract Instagrammers of all kinds – however, the island was once most famous for Burano lace.
Venetian lace was once the most sought-after in the world, and it was the lace from Burano that was considered the finest of all.
If you were European royalty or princely clergy, the impossibly delicate and intricate lace that decorated your cuffs and collars was Burano lace.
Demand for Burano lace hit a peak in the 1600s when lace was a popular accessory for both men and women.
That can be hard to imagine in these days of mass fashion, which is what makes a visit to the Burano Lace Museum so interesting.
For a tiny €5 entry fee, you can enter the building in the center of Burano that was once the lace school and wander through the exhibits of the handmade adornments.
This kind of Venetian lace was particularly expensive because it required so much skill to produce. The lacemaking style in Burano was known as punto in aria (points in the air), because it was literally created with just a needle and thread – with the pointed needle weaving through the air, wielded by the talented lacemaker.
The resulting lace is airy and detailed, looking like it could tear at any second.
The Burano lace museum is full of display drawers which you can open and close to get a better look at the diversity in this handmade craft.
Burano lace is still made by hand, and if you are lucky enough with your timing, you will find women sitting by the window on the second floor, making lace.
Lace making is a dying tradition in Burano, but there are still a few women who continue to make Venetian lace by hand.
This style of lacemaking uses a tombolo – a rounded, stuffed cushion – and the technique is a bit like embroidery.
I loved being able to see the technique in action. There are a few high-end lace shops in Burano which employ women to do demonstrations, but the best place to see the tradition alive is here at the Burano Lace Museum.
In addition to lace samples and lace making, this unique Venice museum also has a small collection of artwork.
Most of the paintings showcase lace or lacemaking.
There is also a small exhibit of more contemporary paintings of life on the lagoon, which are lovely and a bit unexpected given the museum’s laser focus theme.
The island of Burano is small and it does not take long to wander around. The Venice Lace Museum makes for an excellent short stop to learn more about the unique history of the island.