In most of the world if you want to go out for something to eat you would simply pop out to a restaurant. But Italy being Italy where nothing is quite straightforward satisfying your appetite is not quite as easy. The hungry diner is faced with a vast array of options, from ristorante, trattoria, taverna, enoteca, gastronomia or even osteria. So what are the differences between all these eating establishments? Some of the most significant differences are highlighted below.
This is the most formal of dining establishments in Italy. Expect sommeliers and starched white linen tablecloths and you won’t be far off the mark. The menu is normally extensive, and the prices reflect this. Usually the most talented of chefs work in these places so some of the food can be creative and innovative.
Usually family-owned, a trattoria is far less formal than a ristorante. In some ways it is a form of rustic dining but do not be surprised by the fine quality of the food. Often you will find the wife or grandmother in the kitchen producing family favorites with local and seasonal produce. Family cooking does not mean inferior in any shape or form, but just expect more rustic fayre.
In other countries an osteria would be called a wine bar. It is a really casual dining experience and the food is normally simple but delicious. Quite often the menu changes on a daily basis depending on what ingredients are available, this is one of the most attractive features of this type of restaurant as you are always eating the freshest of food.
Unlike its name suggests, a gastronomia is not a fine dining experience for people who are used to the finer things in life. Rather it is more of a fast-food outlet that sells ready-made meals. These local dishes are a variety of cold snacks and hot local dishes and are usually taken out or consumed on the premises while standing up at a tall table. The prices reflect this, and it is relatively an inexpensive way to eat especially at lunch time.
As it sounds, the taverna is or was a pub or a tavern. Bit by bit a taverna has changed from a pure drinking establishment and now it serves more and more food. There is little difference between a taverna and a osteria, and the latter is fading away from being used as a common phrase.
Finally, our journey of Italian eating establishments ends with the enoteca. This was once purely somewhere that sold wine and other drinks for mainly a takeaway service. Then as time progressed, they became larger and had seating for patrons to enjoy their wine sitting down. As far as food goes, the humble enoteca offers snacks and limited appetizers that go great with a glass or two of wine. All these Italian restaurants/bars make up the wonderful variety of eating places that you can find all over Italy. And each one has its own merits that make eating out in this fabulous country so exciting.