Why Pasta Doesn't Come With Your Main Dish In Italy

With pasta, pizza, and gelato as part of their repertoire, it's hard to find anyone who doesn't love Italian food. If you visit almost any Italian restaurant in America, you'll find big bowls of rich, indulgent pastas galore on the menu –- think classic basil pesto, bucatini cacio e pepe, and spicy penne arrabiata. Some of the best pasta dishes you can order while eating out, according to chefs, are gnocchi and ravioli, which are often made by hand in restaurants. You may want to skip the lasagna, however, as some establishments make theirs ahead of time and just reheat the frozen pasta (via Insider).

Typically, these pastas are the star of the show in restaurant meals. You may also order appetizers like bruschetta, caprese, or an antipasto salad, according to Food & Wine, and pair your pasta with a side of breadsticks or garlic bread. Finally, you might top your meal off with spoonfuls of tiramisu or crispy, creamy bites of cannoli. While all these options are delicious, this is an outline of a distinctly Italian American meal, from the foods listed to the order they're consumed. Take a trip to Italy, and you may be surprised to discover that pasta isn't usually served as the main course.

Pasta is the first course in Italy

While American meals are usually composed of appetizers, the main course, and dessert, Italian meals are more spectacularly complex -– and long. According to The Roman Guy, typical Italian family dinners can go on for as long as four hours, sometimes longer, as the conversation and the experience are just as important as the food.

If you're wondering how four hours of dinnertime can possibly be filled up, Cucina Toscana explains that traditional Italian meals contain a whopping 10 courses. Aperitivo and antipasti are the starters, with primi (first course), secondi (second course), contorni (side dishes), and insalata (salad) all making up the main entree. Finally, fruit and cheese are followed by dessert, espresso, and an alcoholic digestive. When you look at the menu that way, it actually seems impossible to cram all 10 courses into your stomach in just a few hours.

But where does pasta fall in here? According to Fodor's Travel, pasta is typically served with primi, the first course, while secondi usually involves a protein like meat or seafood. All types of pasta can be served as primi, although Partaste notes that this course can also include gnocchi (technically considered a dumpling), polenta, or risotto. We'd recommend going for a pasta dish, however, as Fodor's Travel shares that noodles typically aren't served with any other courses down the line. But be sure to save some room — you've still got a lot of food coming.