Pasta primavera. Caprese. Ravioli con funghi.
I stood in line and knew that I had made the right decision. After four days of rich Italian cuisine, I longed for something more. At first I didn’t know what it was, but once I saw the sign with those beautiful golden arches and the arrow pointing straight ahead, I knew exactly what I had to do.
So I swallowed my pride and walked through the door. The menu was short and simple, nothing like the elaborate 10-page menus in most Italian restaurants. There were about eight meals to choose from, and I didn’t feel like I was doing something wrong when I didn’t order an appetizer.
Communication in some restaurants can be difficult - my Italian is still lacking, so it’s too hard to ask for a steak medium-well or for the pasta sauce on the side, so usually I suck it up and eat what’s put in front of me. But not in here.
I pointed to the picture menu above the counter. “Numero otto, per favore.” And there was nothing more to it than that. In about two minutes, I had a bag filled with a can of Coca-Cola, a double hamburger and a large french fries.
The first few bites tasted divine, but I was plagued with guilt. Here it was, my fourth real day in Italy, and I was already succumbing to fast food. But the more I ate, the more I realized that this fast food craving was simply a part of the cultural adjustment.
Meals in Rome are an experience. For starters, most restaurants don’t open until after 6 p.m., and no one really goes out until at least 8 p.m. Once the customer is seated, waiters take their time passing out menus and taking orders. Customers are expected to order at least one bottle of wine, a bottle of water for the table and appetizers for everyone.
After the appetizers have been finished and the first bottle of wine has been emptied, the waiter will then take orders for the main course. It is not acceptable to simply order a salad for dinner, as many Americans do, so the selection is limited to pasta, meat or fish.
Just when the second (or third) bottle of wine, entrees and salad are cleared from the table, everyone is handed a dessert menu. At this point, the customer has eaten so many carbohydrates that the Atkins diet is actually starting to sound like a good idea, but he figures that if he’s gone this far, he might as well take it over the edge and order a piece of tiramisu.
Once the bill is finally paid and everyone stumbles out the door, it’s close to 11 at night.
It’s hard to adapt to this decadent lifestyle when I’ve had the American “eat on the run” mentality my whole life. So as I took the last bite of my double cheeseburger and wiped the grease off of my hands, I didn’t feel too bad. Sometimes you just can’t follow the old clich?, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Instead, follow your instincts and head towards those Golden Arches.