Everyone seems to give Italians all the credit in the culinary world. No one really disputes their superiority when it comes to cooking, but it took coming here to properly understand it.
In the States, we appreciate food, yes. But not quite in the same respect that the Italians do. There are a few key differences that put them in another league. We can certainly learn a thing or two from the Italians.
1. Keep it fresh
Fresher is always better. Here in Florence it is all about the fresh food. Fresh produce is always readily available and (thankfully) cheap. It is not customary to hoard food in the same way many do in America. Instead of stocking up on their favorite Wheaties, Italians are far more likely to buy just enough for the week so that they are constantly using fresh ingredients. What's more, they're far more likely to bypass the Wheaties in favor of non processed goods. Italians know it's best to keep it fresh.
2. If cooking is an option, cook
Cooking isn't just for the world class chef. Yes, scrambled eggs may the closest thing to gourmet you can cook, but it's never too late to amp up those cooking skills. The love for food and cooking is contagious here. There is something so satisfying about gathering around the stove with friends. The fantastic aroma of garlic melding with vibrant conversations awakens your senses to help you better appreciate the beauty of being alive. We shouldn't be so quick to meet up at the closest Mexican restaurant when we're desperate for some friend time. Maybe we should give cooking a chance.
3. Savor every sip
Wine, wine, wine. You can be sure of at least one thing when you're in Italy. You will have some damn good wine. The wine here is indeed divine, but the Italians also know how to appreciate it. Italians really know how to drink while Americans really know how to get drunk. Instead of getting cheap drinks and consuming large amounts, there is much more emphasis on quality over quantity. It helps too that wine is so much cheaper in Florence, but that's besides the point.
4. Check please
If you aren't familiar with Italian customs, it is very likely that your first dining experience will be a long one. Likely, your plates will be cleared (licked clean is more like it) and you'll be wondering when the waiter will finally drop the check. You can wait as long as you like, but until you actually ask for the bill, it's not coming. Because dining is a time to be appreciated, it is not to be rushed; to drop a check before it is requested would be rude. Time around the table is cherished. Take your time, enjoy each bite, each sip, each word, each laugh. And when the time comes and conversation has died down, then ask for the check. But never rush.
The essence of each lesson is the same. Savor each encounter with food & drink.