Driving In Italy part 4 — Autostrade Rest Areas

by Mario 03-Feb 2010

The Autogrill and Ciao chain of highway rest stops started in Italy in 1946 and has spread to 43 countries around the world from Singapore to the United States. They are now found in airports, train stations, museums and major city centers. This global enterprise is owned by Bennetton. Bennetton is also a major stakeholder in Italy’s privatized highway system.  

If you are hungry for a cooked meal follow signs bearing a knife and spoon symbol. The best time to dine at one is around 1 pm and 8 pm. You will know the best ones by the number of big rigs that stop there. Everything is served cafeteria style, making it easy to load up on just the items you like. You can pay at the register by credit card. If the cashier says: caffè and you agree, you will be charged for an espresso that you may retrieve at the bar area on your way out by simply showing your receipt.

The beauty of the Autogrill is that they stay open late 7-days a week (some are open 24 hours) and that there's always another Autogrill a few miles away on the Autostrada. There are a number of smaller chains along Italy’s Autostrade bearing different names. Quality and selection may vary but the concept is the same. A main function of these roadside oases for travelers is providing a clean rest room. Don’t be surprised to see an attendant sitting at a desk with a small gratuity plate as you enter the lavatory. Leave a few cents if you can, as it is this person’s responsibility to keep the bathrooms clean and stocked.

Look for coffee cup signs on the highway if you just need a jolt of espresso, a bathroom, fuel, beverages, snacks or sandwiches. To scout locations along your route visit this Autogrill site before you travel. Click on the map locations and then click on each yellow icon to learn more about each rest area along your projected route. Just remember that at the bar, you must pay the cashier first. Give the receipt to counterperson to retrieve your order. The little plate on the bar serves a similar purpose to the one in the lavatory, so leave a few cents here as well.

Easy Guide to Supermarket Shopping in Italy Part2

by Mario 14-Jan 2010

Fruits and Veggies — Produce sections offer a vast variety at low prices. The trick is knowing that you need to bag, weigh and tag the items yourself. Picture coded electronic scales are located in the produce area. Press the image on the scale that matches your selection and simply affix the sticker that pops out on the bag.

Deli Counter — The cold cuts, cheeses and other delicacies defy description. Start by taking a number and closely watching the monitor so as not to get skipped over if you are not familiar with every Italian number from 1 to 100. When it does come up you may want to say eccomi (here I am) to get the person's attention. Cold cuts are sliced wafer thin and individually placed on waxed paper sheets so they don’t stick to each other. Italians use the metric system so the word to learn is Etto, which means a tenth of a kilo. A kilo is 2.2 pounds. Un etto is just shy of a quarter of a pound. To get closer to half a pound ask for due etti. If it's an abundant pound you want, just say mezzo kilo (half a kilo). When asking for a wedge of cheese, say una fetta di... taleggio, fontina, gorgonzola or point at whatever you can’t pronounce and say quello. Typically, the person will demonstrate the size of the wedge they are planning to cut. By nodding yes or by spreading or closing your thumb and forefinger you can signify the amount.

Prosciutto — The word literally means ham. In the US, we use this word to denote the cured version. If you want to order this type of ham in Italy, then ask for crudo. If you want it less salty say: dolce or sweet. Otherwise, simply point and say: quello (that one). There are dozens of varieties including nostrano which is the local version of whatever is being sold. Lovers of boiled ham should ask for cotto. Indicate the one you like or say quello in offerta which means: give me the one that is on sale.

Olives & Appetizers — Point at the item and ask for un vasetto meaning small container. The counterperson will show you a plastic container. Indicate again with your fingers or hands if you want it larger or smaller.

E poi? — This question means: what else? When you are done say basta cosi, grazie (that’s enough, thanks). The person will usually wrap all of your items into one package and affix the label.

Dairy Section — Sliced cheese only exists in prepackaged versions in the dairy chest. You can also find pre-packaged cold cuts here but the deli stuff tastes better. Let’s not kid each other, all of the prepackaged items at the dairy counter taste 100 times better than anything bought outside of Italy. Fresh milk called latte fresco is at dairy chest; however, most Italians drink UHT (ultra heat treated) milk which only requires refrigeration once opened. You can find it in the aisles. Latte Scremato is skimmed milk, Latte Parzialmente Scremato is low fat milk, Latte Intero is whole milk and Panna is heavy whipping cream.

Water — Italians drink plenty of acqua minerale (mineral water) often sold in six- or 12-packs. Look for the word Naturale if you want still water or the word Frizzante if you want it sparkling.

Bread — If you want sliced bread for toasting, the supermarket is where to find it. Some supermarkets have great bakeries. The aroma and number of people lining up to buy loaves and pastries are good indicators as to whether you should pick some up here or move on to a proper bakery. Un kilo di pane is just over two pounds. Mezzo kilo is closer to a pound.

Butter — Those who speak Spanish should not be afraid to buy some burro. It means butter in Italian and there is no connection to donkeys.

Basta cosi, grazie!  


Easy Guide to Supermarket Shopping in Italy Part1

by Mario 14-Jan 2010

Wherever I travel, visiting the local supermarket is among the first order of business. Supermarkets are a measure of a population’s culinary sophistication revealing the level of cuisine diners may expect when eating out. When it comes to food, Italy is at the pinnacle worldwide and so are its markets. Foreign shoppers marvel at the variety, freshness and very low prices found in Italy’s supermarkets. In future segments, I delve into the nuances of outdoor markets, bakers, butchers and specialty food shops. Can you tell this is one of my favorite topics?

Supermercato — The major supermarket chains are: Coop, pronounced more like cop, Conad, CRAI, Esselunga, Pam, Standa, Carrefour and Auchan. A supermarket may be part of a shopping center known as a Centro Commerciale.

Hours — Italian supermarkets open most days from morning until evening or 8 pm. Many are open on Sundays even if only until noon. If you happen to find a market closed on Sunday, it’s very likely that the market in the next town over is open.

Variety — The word iper in front of the name denotes huge, such as IperCoop, and in these colossi, you may find anything ranging from electric fans to lawn mowers. Passable wine and spirits are commonly sold in markets but do not expect to find prized vintages here. Serious wine lovers need to find an enoteca (wine shop) for the best variety or trek to their winery of choice.

The Cart (carrello)  An adventure to the Italian supermercato begins in the parking lot. Shopping carts are chained together so they don’t mysteriously wander off to Germany or ding parked cars. To unlock one, place a 1 Euro coin in the slot of the mechanism located on the handlebar of the cart. Push the coin in until it releases the chain latch attached to the other carts. When you return the cart, push the prong at the end of the short chain into the next cart in line, and your coin will automatically pop out. If you are fortunate someone may approach you with a coin in hand as you are loading up your car. This is not because they sense you are a tourist and are taking pity on you. They simply wish to exchange your cart for a coin. This unspoken reciprocity saves both parties a trip to the shopping cart chain gang.

Checkout — Bring your own bags or you must purchase them at the register. Plain plastic bags may cost up to 50¢ each and you must estimate how many you will need as your cashier begins. There are no baggers. Shoppers bag their own groceries, and it’s best to start immediately and move very quickly to avoid infuriating those in line behind you. Paying by credit card is the norm, yet cash is always welcome. If the checkout person offers you some bonus stamps for the store’s frequent shopping promo, just pass them to the person behind you in an effort to partially quell their annoyance at your dreadfully slow bagging technique. 

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Welcome to our Access Italy blog, a mosaic of eclectic, but practical, information; fascinating cultural insights; and unique commentary on a wonderful way of life only the Italians could have designed.  more....


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