When you study abroad in Italy, you’ll have a chance to live just as the Romans do, which includes buying groceries at Italian grocery stores. However, grocery shopping in Rome is a bit different than shopping in the United States. Large, big-box supermarkets are virtually unheard of in the ancient city center of Rome, and there are cultural differences between how Americans and Italians grocery shop.
While these differences can take some getting used to, once you’ve mastered them, you’ll be shopping for groceries just like a local. Here’s what you need to know.
Understand the Difference Between an Alimentari and a Supermercato
In Italy, a general all-purpose grocery store is called either an alimentari or supermercato. An alimentari is a small, family-owned grocery store where you can get a limited amount of groceries. While the selection isn’t huge, the food tends to be very fresh and in some cases you will find products made by the owner, such as homemade pasta.
A supermercato, on the other hand, is bigger and has a much more varied selection, although it is still likely to be smaller than the large supermarkets you are used to. Though they won’t have a neverending cereal aisle like your supermarket back home, they will have most of the items you need for day-to-day living. Plus, the selection of cheeses and cured meats tends to be excellent! You’ll find some supermarkets in Trastevere, which is where our American college in Rome is located, such as Todis, Conad, and Carrefour. You can get a good idea of the alimentari and supermarkets near your residence by taking the organized neighborhood tour with your Resident Assistant during Orientation.
Buying Fruits and Vegetables Is a Unique Experience When You Study Abroad in Italy
Buying fruits and vegetables at an Italian grocery store is a unique experience. First, you’ll need to use disposable gloves, which are provided for free, when picking produce. Failing to do so is considered rude and unhygienic. If you don’t want to waste extra plastic, just use the plastic bag you’ll put the produce in as a glove. Next, you’ll need to weigh your selection. To do this, first check the number on the sign or bin where you got your produce. Put your produce on the scale then type in the number. A sticker will print out, which you then put on your bag. A recently enacted Italian law requires that supermarkets charge customers for all plastic bags, so you’ll pay a few cents for each bag you put your produce in.
Alternatively, if you want to get very fresh fruits and vegetables, you can check out one of Rome’s open-air markets. After all, when you study abroad in Italy going to a market is a great cultural experience and a chance to taste some of the food that Italy is known for. The San Cosimato market in Trastevere is just around the corner from JCU, and open Monday through Saturday!
Be Aware of Some Minor Differences with Roman Grocery Shopping
A few other things about Italian grocery stores may strike you as strange. For example, in Italy, eggs are kept on shelves rather than in the refrigerated section. Don’t worry, room temperature eggs are completely safe to eat! The difference in storage is due to the freshness of the eggs, and how they are washed and treated in Europe compared to North America.
Also, when you get to the checkout, don’t be surprised if people cut in line in front of you, especially elderly people, mothers with children, priests, nuns, and people who are purchasing fewer items than you. While this can seem rude, it’s commonplace and not worth getting upset about. You’ll have to purchase your own bags at the checkout, or you can bring a cotton tote bag if you want to be eco-friendly. You will also be expected to bag your own groceries.
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