Dining in Italy and the Mystery of the Missing Bread Plates

Welcome to the 383rd Tablescape Thursday!

That title of this post sounds a little like a Nancy Drew Mystery Story, doesn’t it? lol For this week’s Tablescape Thursday, I thought I’d share one of the dinners we were served while traveling in Italy.

The tour/trip I took included some lunches and most dinners. Sometimes our lunches didn’t include meat and just consisted of salad, a large bowl of pasta and dessert. Drinks were usually already on the table when we arrived and consisted of water and wine. I wasn’t used to drinking wine at lunchtime and often found it hard to stay awake on the bus ride that usually followed.

The day we visited Assisi, our lunch was held inside a restaurant located just below and down the long drive leading up to the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. So, you know how all the guide books suggest when traveling to other countries that you stay open-minded and not expect things to be as they are in your home country. I totally understood that philosophy and felt like I had prepared myself pretty well. The one thing that consistently bugged me and I could never quite get used to was being served bread, but not being provided a bread plate.

In most restaurants, we would sit down to an empty table with glasses and wine/water lined up down the center of the table. A bread basket would be brought out or was sometimes already on the table. If you took a piece of bread, you were stuck holding it until your salad plate was brought out, then you could squeeze your bread onto the edge of your salad plate.

I always found it awkward holding the bread while trying to pour a glass of water. If I had torn or cut the bread to butter it, then I had two pieces of bread to hold until the salad plate arrived. The only alternative was to place your bread directly onto the table or tablecloth. I just couldn’t bring myself to place my bread right onto the table or tablecloth, especially when buttered, so I ended up holding it until the salad arrived. Occasionally, I could find a small paper napkin on which to sit it.

For our lunch this day in Assisi, when we arrived at our table, the bread was sitting directly on the tablecloth beside our place settings. As I recall, that was the first time that I had seen the bread placed beside our place setting instead of in a bread basket on the table. This was the only thing that I couldn’t quite understand during my time in Italy. It was a minor thing but just something that puzzled me during my time traveling and dining in Italy.

Dining in Hotel Windsor Savoia, Assisi

 

I remember there was one meal where we had a bread plate, so apparently bread plates are used on occasion. Maybe when you sit down and there’s a bread basket already on the table, perhaps you’re not supposed to eat the bread until the meal has been brought out. Then you would have a place to place your bread–is that how it works? Well, no one in our group ever waited. We were always hungry and helped ourselves to the bread while waiting for our salads.

We had lasagna as our starter this day and it was very good!

Lunch in Hotel Windsor Savoia, Assisi

 

Our meal did include a meat this day. We had chicken…and it was also very good.

Lunch, Hotel Windsor, Savoia

 

I wish I could remember the name of this dessert, not sure if I ever knew. Anyone recognize it? Thanks to Dawn for identifying the dessert as “Profiteroles…..or cream puffs.”

 

Dessert-Hotel-Windsor-Savoia-Assisi

 

Have you ever traveled to Italy and if so, was the bread already on the table? Was a bread plate provided? If not, did you wait until your meal was served to have a piece of bread?

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Comments

  1. Hi Susan, as always, thanks for hosting! I am not sure of the bread custom in Italy, but when we were in Germany, the bread would be on the table piled in a basket. It was there if you needed bread to clean the gravy or juices from your plate. We were charged for each roll we ate out of the basket, and any rolls left in the basket would be used for the next customer. I am sure I missed out on some delicious breads, but I could not bring myself to eat them knowing this. It is always so interesting to hear about your adventures Susan, thank you for sharing with us! Have a wonderful day – Christine at Must Love Home

    • Yeah, I don’t think I would that too much, either. Wonder if they still do that, leave the same basket for the next customer. It definitely takes a little adjusting to get used to the customs in different places.

    • I am from Germany and I never heard of this before!! I think it is quite unusual. We have been in Italy last Summer and I don´t know about the bread plate thing either but everywhere we dined was not very formal.

  2. Something about wine in Italy makes it OK to drink any time. There is no place I’d rather go.

    • A friend of mine told me that their wine isn’t as strong as ours, but it still made me sleepy. I wonder if that’s why so many shops close up for a few hours each day, midday. Everyone needs a nap after their lunchtime wine! 🙂

  3. I have been to Italy, but I was a high school exchange student and didn’t dine at any fancy restaurants, so I don’t know anything about the bread. The only thing I do know is that I saw women, with unshaven arm pits, carrying loafs of unwrapped bread under their arms. Anytime I ate bread (which I love), I worried that it might have been carried under somebody’s arm pit! That food looks delicious. Thank you for hosting.

  4. Isn’t’ that interesting! Well I guess like you said you had two options, one to eat it early and hold it or wait for the salad. It looks like the food was delicious! I’m the same about drinking wine or anything alcoholic early in the day. To me it kind of ruins the day and I’d be falling asleep and missing out!

  5. Hmmm…think I need to know first hand and then report back…hmmm…franki

  6. Maybe if it’s on the table already, it’s included in the price of the meal. I’m sure that in many small trattorias and cafes dishwashing is done by hand, so leaving off the bread plate eliminates some work. We have always been charged by the piece of bread consumed, which was quite a shock the first time it happened! But, as mentioned above, the wine makes everything ok. 🙂

  7. Regality (aka The Quing) says:

    I haven’t been to Italy, but I don’t think the bread issue would bother me; because with pasta and dessert there already would have been enough carbs in the meal. Plus the wine. *L* As far as the handling of the bread, that also wouldn’t bother me. I imagine that there are still handmade chocolates created by people not wearing gloves. At least there surely were in the past. Never stopped me from eating them, hand sweat or no. And food dropped on the floor? For me, it’s not a 5 second rule, more like a 10-20 second rule. Adventures in eating. *L*

  8. The dessert is called Profiteroles…..or cream puffs.

  9. Susan, I believe Europe is pretty much te same fashion of piling the bread in one basket. What you’re doing wrong here is taking the bread and immediately starting to tear it apart and eat it. No, putting on the plate to rest! What the matter with you – fresh bread is not to be held but eaten!!! 🙂
    Seriously, no bread plate when I was in Europe for a month.

    • lol That’s it! It’s like an icecream cone, you need eat it all at one time. What was wrong with me?! lol Thanks for clearing up that mystery, Eileen. 🙂

  10. Linda Page says:

    Well, I guess I better stay away from countries that charge for each piece of bread or roll consumed because I would be broke after the 3rd meal!!! Bring me a basket of warm bread/rolls and some butter and I can chow down with the best of them. I love bread. I love Italian restaurants that immediately bring out the warm rolls that are dripping in garlic butter and parmesan cheese to eat while waiting for your dinner to be served. I usually am pretty full by the time my meal is served but somehow I manage to eat that too. Wouldn’t want to insult the chef by leaving food on my plate!!!

  11. In France, and I’m assuming other countries including Italy, it is custom to leave your bread on the table, except for very upscale restaurants where you will get a bread plate and butter.

  12. Dessert looks like chocolate gelato to me, never saw a chocolate profiterole before.

    • I don’t think it was gelato…I think it was a pastry under there, but it’s been several months now, so hard to remember. I have friends who can remember a meal in detail they had a year ago. I can’t remember what I ate yesterday! lol

      • That was a lot of chocolate for a profiterole–I’ve never had them in Italy, but in France and it was a drizzle of chocolate sauce on the creampuff.

  13. Bonnie G. Brown says:

    We traveled in Italy several years ago and most of our meals were included. I do remember not having a bread plate and I think we ate the bread when we first got it because we were hungry travelers. Not having a bread plate didn’t bother me but I can’t say we had any meals that were outstanding. We were served a lot of fish and I don’t eat fish so there were many times on the trip that I left a restaurant starving! Most of our European travels have not been that exciting when it came to food. Service is slow and don’t expect ice in anything! We knew that ahead of time and didn’t ask for it. I remember being in Dublin, Ireland and going to a Burger King ( which I usually don’t even do here in the USA) to get a coke because, being an American chain, they had ice for our drink!! And more than two cubes! Loved seeing these countries but it’s just little things like this that can be an annoyance. Still worth every minute, just to see new places, meet new people, etc.

    • This is so true! I don’t eat seafood either and Europe was bad, but Asia is much worse! I started packing a case of peanut butter crackers in my checked luggage for those events that seafood was the only choice. Sometimes you can get away with a vegetarian meal, but even then in Asia the veggies and noodles were cooked in a fish stock. Blech!!!! Agree, the experience makes the food sacrifices worth it.

  14. What tour company did you use for this trip? Is there a “best time” of the year to visit this area???

    • I’ve heard either the spring or the fall is the best time. You don’t want to go during the summer when schools are out…too crowded then. I went with Grand Circle Travel.

  15. Both the table and the food look great! The bread plate is a mere detail. What a sensational trip!

    • If you like pasta and lots of wine, the meals were awesome, although the pasta lovers were complaining about 2/3rds through the trip about being sick of pasta.

  16. My mom is Italian, and a wonderful bread baker so we grew up eating bread with most of our meals. We never have bread plates and generally either eat our bread or set it on the side of our plate.
    Another thing, was your salad usually served at the end of the meal instead of at the beginning? Most Italians believe that you should eat your salad to cleanse your palate at the end of the meal.

    • No, they always served it in the beginning, as soon as they could get around to our tables. They may do that for tourist since they know that’s what we are used to. Yeah, I was thinking about that today. In our homes, it wouldn’t be a problem because at home we are not usually sitting down to an empty table waiting to be served. But in a restaurant, it’s different since we were sitting down to wine and bread and the food comes later. There usually wasn’t a very long wait, but it varied from restaurant to restaurant.

  17. Italian Dining etiquette for eating bread. Bread is usually served without butter (therefore, there will usually not be a butter knife, but there may be a bread dish: if so, this usually means that olive oil will be served to dip the bread into; if not, you can place your bread on the side of your main plate or on the table throughout the meal).

    • We almost always had butter, which was great. I don’t think we ever got olive oil, during our shared meals, maybe because it was a large group and that would have been awkward for shared dipping.

  18. Margaret Robinson says:

    Hi — Love the photos of your dishes – everything looks yummy! Have no idea about the bread – when we were in Italy, we just ate it up. Kinda have to “roll” with things, especially the food.

    As to the chocolate “Profiterole” – I agree with Jay, that’s not a Profiterole. Took photo to our local baker (he’s French) and he was shocked that I even dare to ask. He thought it was a dessert with maybe a sponge base and Gelato. Whatever, it looks good.

    Also, I went to the Hotel Windor Savoia’s website and got a laugh —- the table set-ups in the restaurant all have bread plates – too funny!

  19. Susan, Italy is my favorite destination BUT, the food varies soooo much based on location. In my later years now, te heh, I make it a practice to never plan a trip anywhere I am not assured of great food!! It sounds a bit silly but my mom and grandma where wonderful cooks who could easily feed our entire township without batting an eyelash. those sights, sounds and aromas bring back terrific memories. My main problem in Italy, like you–I am NOT a big wine drinker, I love their breads but must have butter and most important to me— they Never put enough sauce on the pasta!!! The good news is that every local uses fresh ingredients indigenous to their area so it is healthier than many places. Parma ham—-yum!! Their standards and their (*star ratings) are NOT like ours at all, but when I travel I want the local flavor NOT Americanized hotels and fast food chains. I have loved your photos, especially the videos of the beach and church bells in Positano!!. sometimes you really make my day girl. I thank you so much. Keep travelling and try to avoid the tours that force you to keep their schedule and overcharge for side trips. You should be able to linger at the sites and shops that most interest you without the worry of missing the bus!! Enjoy.

    • Yeah, this was a great sample tour because we saw so many places in those 17 days. But there were some places I would LOVE to go back and stay for several days.

  20. Sure have been enjoying learning all about your Italy trip – is at the top of our Bucket List to be sure. ♥ Now at least I won’t be surprised about the bread service, haha. I had one of those kinds of things about bread when I was in France for a month – everyone – and I mean just about every person we saw – right around 4 or 5 walking (home?) to dinner was carrying a large baguette on the shoulder, sans bag. Just the bread, in their dirty hands walking down the sidewalks. The bread wasn’t in cellophane, either. I bet these folks have done this for centuries upon centuries, and there I was in my germaphob American mind going “ewwww.” Or the times we would be dining at a nice place and someone would have their dog with them. NOT a service dog, just a pet. I just kept thinking “just ewwwww.” So, yes, there is a cultural difference to say the least. Guess it’s important to go with the flow. But, well, ewwwwwww sometimes, eh? Hugs. ♥

  21. Doggone a very long comment I just typed disappeared before my eyes. OK, just going to thank you for the party then. Sorry – big hugs. ♥

  22. thanks for the party today Susan! I’ve had so much fun on my trip to Italy thru you 🙂

  23. I had to laugh when reading the armpit/bread comment…
    I had the same reaction when we were in France years ago… everyone scurrying about with bread stuck under arms, in hands, one fellow had a couple long loaves over his shoulder and against his neck like a rifle.
    None were bagged or in any type of cellophane.
    It kinda bugged me but the bread was soooooo good that I quickly learned to turn off my brain and just wolf it down like everyone else…. lolol.

    I love a nice glass of wine…thank goodness they quit stomping grapes with bare feet years ago.
    I don’t think I’d be able to switch off my brain enough to enjoy wine knowing someones toes were involved in the process. 🙂

  24. LOL At reading the title I was thinking you loved the bread plates so much, you stole them and now was admitting to it. I have never been to Italy so not sure what is going on there, but in 99% of the nice restaurants I have eaten in, they always have bread plates. If one is not given, I just ask for an extra napkin and use it.

  25. Susan~

    The meal looks wonderful, and I love those dishes with the blue logo on top!! I would love to go to Italy someday!!

    Paula

  26. Wow; I guess I’m not taking a trip like that to Italy soon. I’m hypoglycemic; a carb-heavy no-protein lunch like that would make me pass out (no kidding) and once that happens, I’m out for about 3 hours. I envy people that can handle that kind of diet.

  27. Hmmm, i have been to Asisi too but I cannot remember if they gave us bread plates. I thought they did. All I can remember was that the bread were always so hard…..Christine

  28. I went to Italy-years ago. I remember bread, but don’t remember the issue with the bread plate. I remember we had several delicious pasta dishes and some yummy veal and wine on the table at lunch and dinner. My bread issue was in France. The bread was that delicious French bread-crusty outside and wonderful inside. I had braces at the time and popped one of my wires biting into a piece of that crusty bread. Fortunately, I was able to pop the wire back in place! We were on a month-long trip and I was, for a moment, afraid that the wire would stay in the wrong spot and my teeth would be adversely affected.
    Thanks for sharing all the wonderful pictures. I long to return to Italy.

  29. Marge Sakelik says:

    After graduating from high school in 1968, I took a 6 week tour through out Europe with a school group. In Italy, France bread was served/placed directly on the table cloth, no plates. We ate from the table spilled crumbs all over the table cloth and on several occasions an older woman/grandmother type, came to our table and read our fortunes from the crumbs. Typical custom??…we had no clue but it was delightful. I also had never heard of a bidet, thought it was for washing our feet and shaving. A chambermaid came in our room and was horrified when she saw me washing my feet (she did not speak English). Few minutes later the manger came in to explain the fine art of using a bidet…..oops, another dumb American, I’m sure they had a good laugh.

  30. The thing is you are supposed to only drink water (not even wine) until the first dish comes (Galateo). So, no problem with bread, which is just suppose to accopany dishes (not pasta, please!) and not to be eaten with butter.

  31. Hubby and I have eaten a LOT of meals in Italy (made 6 trips, spent a total of 3 months weeks there) One of the better meals I ate in Italy was in a chic little restaurant on the main Assisi road leading to the St. Francis Duomo.

    With the exception of the most prestigious and expensive Italian restaurants, I was never impressed with the quality of the bread provided. Usually it was pretty tasteless (definitely not enough salt) and often very dry. Dipping the bread in olive oil helped, but at least half the time if I asked for butter, the waiter would say they didn’t have butter. That’s kind of hard to believe, because I’m sure most restaurants cook with butter.

    I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant in Florence (I can’t), but I had one of the best meals in my entire life there. They served the most fabulous grilled pork chops in the universe–and I don’t even like pork chops LOL.

    Thanks for continuing to share with us your adventures in Italy. God bless and have a great day.

    • I remember butter was already on the table in some places we ate, and they would normally bring it if we asked. I can’t remember now how often butter was provided though, just been too many months for me to remember. Our guide, who was born and grew up in Pompeii, told us that tourism was their main source of income for some of the places we visited. I think it was on either the Isle of Capri or in Positano (maybe both) the guide there told us that 95 of all the jobs/income was tourism based. I was stunned to hear that. We had some delicious bread in many places but I do remember noticing it was completly without flavor in a few of the places we ate. I guess if you only use it to sop up sauce, it wouldn’t matter if it was really bland because it would get its flavor from the sauce. The place you ate in, in Florence sounds wonderful! We were on our own for lunch that day and I had incredible sandwich there along with some awesome gelato later.

  32. Very interesting about the bread plates. I too would not like putting my bread on the table cloth or table. I probably would have taken the napkin and opened it up and placed my bread on the inside of it until my salad arrived. Anyway, your trip sounds wonderful and very interesting. I am sure you will have many memories to recall. Thanks for all the various posts you do – I really enjoy!!!

  33. It unfortunately sounds like you were ripped off, as there should have been bread plates and a bread basket. It’s very odd to have a European restaurant present food in this way. There are quite a few restaurants that cater to tourists so they can take advantage of them!

    • Actually if you look at it from a different perspective, IMHO it could be quite the opposite. Have your patrons fill up on bread and skimp on the main course …. ☺. -Brenda-

  34. I enjoyed reading about your dining adventure in Italy. I agree that butter is so tasty with good Italian bread and pasta. We have a couple of Italian restaurants in our area that do not (or will not) serve butter with the bread.

  35. Gosh, I don’t know where to begin!!! My family is from Italy and I have traveled there. There were never bread plates or butter on the table. At home growing up, we ate every night with 3 or 4 courses. The first always being a soup or pasta dish, one does not eat bread or drink wine with those courses. The second course is a meat and a veggie, now you can drink wine and have bread. The third course is always the salad. We always had a clean tablecloth and cloth napkins, the bread stayed on the table, no bread plate.

    I think bread plates came into fashion in the Victorian age where they had a separate plate and utensil for everything, making a very crowded tablescape!!! Italians never have bread or wine with pasta. We never had butter on the table for bread.

    My favorite city is Florence, had the best meals there and most were cafeteria style. We ate in family homes there and it was the same, my one Aunt had a 7 course meal with young hired girls to do the serving, again no bread plates or butter and wine served after the first 2 courses. It was wonderful!!

    Another thing, growing up we had home made pizza, and it was never a meal but was served along with meat or fish and veggies. It is the American style to have it as a meal. My mom made the most wonderful white pizza with anchovies and grated cheese to have with fish on Fridays.

    It is the custom in the Latin countries to close up shop for the afternoon because their main meal of the day is at noon, that’s why they have to rest and then open shops up afterwards. The evening meal is a light repast.

    Where are you going next??? I’ve always wanted to take one of those river cruises in Europe or travel by train up in Canada………I enjoy all your posts on your travels…..thanks for sharing…..xoxo

  36. Susan, re no bread plate I learned a long time ago that travelling with a small packet of nasal tissue (in your handbag) can be a god send … ☺. As for the restaurants not having them, I personally feel small issues per same adds to the experience of travelling. As they say, ‘when in Rome do what the Roman’s do’. (Pun intended!)
    – Brenda –

  37. Ciao!
    Indeed, most often no bread plate, but that is because the Italians do not eat bread as we do…they only eat it with the meal, where it is often used as a tool to help the food onto the fork and then lastly use it as a scarpetta – or “a little shoe” to wipe up any leftover sauce or food. With this being the case, you would not take the bread until the meal came and then you would set it on the plate of your food. It is not seen as a separate item to be eaten with olive oil or butter – or before the meal arrives, as most do in the States. It has a purpose. There is a term: “pane e companatico“, meaning essentially “bread and whatever goes with it”. This highlights the central role bread has played in the Italian culinary tradition, especially when “companatico” was scarce and more expensive than most people could afford. Bread is so important in the Italian dietary tradition that they have national laws explicitly meant to define the different types and the products which can go in its preparation.

    Also in most restaurants you will be charged “Pane e cooperto” – bread and cover. This is essentially a cover charge to pay for the regular washing of tablecloths, and napkins, as well as to cover the cost of the bread. It is generally on a euro or two per person, added to your bill. Not per piece taken from the bread basket. You likely did not see this charge as you were on a tour but perhaps you did on the days where you had to cover a meal yourself. Lazio (Rome) is the only region that has done away with this cover charge.

    Regarding the butter (and/or olive oil) – I am going to assume that the restaurants did this solely for your tour group, which was American. A traditional Italian restaurant will not have butter on the table for the bread as it is not at all customary (maybe for breakfast in the northern regions), nor is a plate of olive oil on the table like one would find at Olive Garden, unless…it is being served more as a tasting component or an antipasti.

    Regarding bread without flavor. This was most likely in the Tuscan region (and some of Umbria). Tuscan breads are made without salt. There is a long history as to why this is so and many say that it is because in the 12th century, Pisa which was an independent republic, controlled access to the sea and in an effort to extort more money from the Florentines (their worst enemies), hampered the salt trade and raised taxes on it. This made it too expensive for the poor people of the region to buy salt and thus, the people of Florence, told Pisa to keep their taxes and their salt! Meanwhile, the local bakers began making bread without salt.
    Perhaps more than you ever wanted to know about bread in Italy! 🙂 🙂

    P.S. The dessert certainly is profiteroles…this is how they serve them in Italy. Generally with a somewhat-gelato-y chocolate sauce.
    Beautiful website!
    – Catherine-
    Vitalia Tours

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