Travel in Italy: Deals on Dining

Save your Euro

When you are traveling in Italy the exchange rate is not your friend.  Food in Italy is generally fairly reasonably priced, BUT with the exchange rate generally hovering around 1:1.50 this essentially means that everything you eat will cost 50% more than it would in American dollars.

I would not advise eating your way through Italy by patronizing McDonald’s, but it does make for a good comparison.  In Florence a McDonald’s Value meal costs 6.90€ which is roughly $10.  Extrapolate that to all of your food purchases and restaurant excursions for a two-week vacation and it can make for a very nasty surprise come bank statement time.

Now, I would not encourage you to eat mediocre food while you are traveling here so none of the tips will actual involve any reduction in the quality of the food you enjoy.  On the contrary, many of the tips will actually expose you to higher quality foods (both for consumption and for gifts to take home) than many tourists encounter.

  • Water—walking in Italy is the way most people see the sights, this means consuming a lot of water to stay hydrated.  This also means that vendors take advantage and price water significantly higher than the markets that will be within a very short walk of most hotels.  Simply ask the concierge or receptionist where the nearest market is.  Water will be less than 0.50c per 1.5 l bottle in the market, it will be 2€ for a 0.5 l bottle in the city centers.  For two people over two weeks who each drink 1.5 l of water per day that works out to 154€ or $216.  ON WATER.  That is money you could spend on quite a lovely dinner.
  • Sandwiches—when you are out walking about you may notice very small sandwich places or Italian style delis.  Asking where to get a good panino will likely lead you to one where the locals eat.  These will be made fresh to order and use such wonderful ingredients as prosciutto di San Daniele, fresh bread, artichoke puree and other such treats.  Much better than the pre-made sandwiches for sale in so many tourist traps…and usually only around 3€.  Take your panini and plant yourself in the nearest piazza, just like all the people who live here.
  • Tavola—huh?  It is standard here for many casual restaurants to have two separate posted price lists.  The first is for “al banco” and is a much lower price for drinking your coffee standing at the bar.  The second is the “tavola” and is the price for enjoying the exact same item at a table instead.  The prices vary significantly, the coffee that is 0.80 at the bar is 3€ at a table…sometimes you just want to sit so it is worth it, but it is good to be aware beforehand.
  • Restaurant choices—you may have a list of specific restaurants you want to try in certain places and many of those in Zagat or Michelin are what you want to be spending your food budget on.  The thing you do not want to do is to waste your money on mediocre food at high prices.  This often happens in restaurants that cater to tourists.  It is much better to find restaurants that cater to locals.  Spend some money on a decent dictionary and find the restaurants which do not have English menus.  They will open later and the food will virtually always be not only easier on the budget, but much higher quality.
  • Markets—there are open air and indoor markets everywhere here.  They offer everything from artisanal olive oils, small production wines, locally grown produce and hand made sausages.  Fabulous foods for snacking on, taking back to your hotel for a midnight snack or bringing home with you as gifts.  The bonus:  many of these items are identical or better to what you find in the gourmet stores at a fraction of the price and with a much broader selection.

Enjoy the food in Italy without melting your Visa.

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