The Only Substitution Request Acceptable At Restaurants In Italy

When dinner time rolls around, there's a pretty good chance you'll be craving Italian food — statistically speaking. According to the foreign language education platform Babbel, over 20% of U.S. diners name Italian restaurants as their favorite destinations when dining out. Nation's Restaurant News identified Italian food as the most popular ethnic culinary style in the U.S. But, in Italia, foodies are even more passionate about their food — and all the invisible accouterments that come with it. Food carries particular cultural import in Italy, says local travel platform Tuscany Now & More. A meal can be as much a symbol as an actual meal, serving years of heritage, culinary prowess, and often a proud showcase of local ingredients. Even within Italy, different regions offer specialty dishes unique to their area, explains Trip Savvy. What constitutes the "local dish" will likely be different in Rome versus Venice versus Tuscany, etc. (But, in Italia, "etcetera" sounds like "eht-chet-tay-rah.")

It's perhaps no surprise, then, that asking to alter your meal is about as unmannerly as it gets. In Italy, says L'Italo Americano, table manners are such a big deal that there's even a specific word for good manners: galateo. It gets its name from "Galateo overo de' Costumi," a manifesto on etiquette by 16th-century Roman Catholic Monsignor Giovanni della Casa. But galateo is no less relevant today, and there's only one substitution request that's acceptable at restaurants in Italy.

Unless you have an allergy, just say gratzi

At Burger King, you may be able to famously "Have it your way," but in Bel Paese, the only way you're having it is exactly how the chef intended for you to have it. Otherwise, you aren't having it at all. Step into a dining establishment in Italy, and "But I don't really care for cilantro" is not a phrase you will hear. Sauce "on the side" isn't a thing, either. In Italy, asking for meal alterations or substitutions is a no-no equivalent to asking the hostess how much her outfit cost. You just don't do it. There is, however, a clause: If you have an allergy or a severe intolerance. It's the one specific instance in which requesting a substitution in an Italian restaurant isn't a self-immolating social taboo.

Why the strict policy? According to Fodor's Travel, many chefs follow family-owned or traditional recipes passed down for generations. On top of that, they're the professional in the equation and they've expertly designed the meal. Requesting to change it isn't a far cry from telling DaVinci, "it's a nice portrait, but shouldn't her dress be a different color?" Per Italian galateo, you can use your bread to clean the plate and sop up all that saucy, cheesy, olive-oily goodness, says ItalianPod101. But unless you really, truly, physically cannot digest those mushrooms without erupting in full-body hives, then you're eating the mushrooms.