Grapefruit granita at Caffè Sicilia in Noto, Sicily, Italy

The ultimate guide to breakfast in Italy

This week, I decided to write about breakfast in Italy, a meal that I generally don’t talk about much in my other posts. 

As the saying goes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day – I think that the 85% of Italians who start their day with it would agree.

Are you ready to eat breakfast like an Italian? Andiamo!

The ultimate guide to breakfast in Italy

The first important thing to know about breakfast in Italy is that it’s generally short (an average of 13 minutes, to be exact) and sweet (according to 44% of respondents to this survey on breakfast in Italy). Savory items like bacon and eggs or toast with butter aren’t really a big part of a traditional Italian breakfast.

That said, cafés that serve Anglo/American-style breakfasts are popping up here and there, especially in places like Florence where there are lots of international students.

In cities, you’ll probably be able to find any kind of breakfast you want, but in smaller towns or villages, you’ll get to enjoy breakfast like a local.

In this post, I’ll mostly cover what makes up a traditional breakfast in Italy, with some info for those of you who might be looking for something savory along the way.

Bombolone alla crema for breakfast in San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy
Bombolone alla crema for breakfast in San Gimignano

Italian breakfast at a bar

According to the study cited above, 11% of Italians have their daily breakfast in a bar, which is what we’d call a café in English. Italian bars are at their busiest in the morning (many also serve small simple lunches and some even stay open until the evening for aperitivo). 

The rules at a bar

Breakfast in Italy is often enjoyed standing up at the bar, but most places will also have some tables and chairs in and possibly outdoors, or maybe a counter along the wall. 

Note that if you sit down, you may have to pay a bit more.

At some bars, you have to pay first, and then take the receipt to the counter to order. If you’re not sure, observe what others are doing, or ask. 

If it’s a “pay first, order second” situation, you’ll have to give the barista your receipt as proof of payment. Many people often leave some small change on the bar with their receipt as a little tip for the barista(s). 

Some bars have table service, so you can order and then take a seat, while others expect you to wait at the counter until your coffee and pastry are served and carry it to the table yourself. Again, observe to see what others are doing.

What to eat and drink at a bar for breakfast in Italy

While it’s always important to remember that Italian food is regional, there are a few common elements to breakfast in a bar that I’ve seen in cities from the north to the south.

Coffee

Many Italians start their day with a cappuccino or a caffè latte at a bar. People also get short coffees at breakfast, but as I’ve said in other posts, big milky coffees are generally avoided after meal times, so morning is generally the most suitable time to have one, according to local custom.

One thing to note is that latte means “milk” in Italian, so if you order a latte, you might just get a mug or glass full of warm steamed milk. Make sure to order a caffè latte or a lattè macchiato if you actually want coffee in it!

Pastries/sweets

As I said above, breakfast in Italy is generally sweet rather than savory. It’s very common to have a pastry for breakfast. 

The pastries available vary widely depending on the bar and the location – you’ll find everything from traditional regional specialties to more recently imported sweets like muffins.

Cornetti/Brioche

Cornetti, or croissants, are the most common type of breakfast pastry, and you can get them plain (cornetto semplice or cornetto vuoto), or filled with jam (marmellata), cream (crema), and sometimes with nutella, pistachio cream, or other decadent deliciousness.

Cornetti semplici/vuoti look like French croissants, but note that they will also be sweetened.

If you’d like to have French croissants in Rome, try:

Le Levain – Via Luigi Santini 22

Le Carré Francais – Via Vittorio Colonna 30

Severance – Via Eurialo 1E

So, wait what’s a brioche?

I learned to speak Italian in Rome, so I started my life in Italy calling croissants “cornetti”. Years later, I moved to Padua, where they call them “brioche”. It took me a while to get used to the change.

Even more confusing is what a brioche is in Sicily: a sweet, round bun that’s usually sliced open and served with a few scoops of gelato inside. Yes, ice cream for breakfast! It’s just one of the many reasons why I love Sicily so much.

A(nother) note on breakfast in Sicily

Another common Sicilian breakfast is granita, which is essentially flavored crushed ice. 

There’s nothing like a smooth, tart, citrusy granita in the sunshine on a hot Sicilian morning, and I’ve been lucky enough to try some of the very best at Caffè Sicilia in Noto

If you visit, you can’t miss out on this quintessential Sicilian breakfast!

Grapefruit granita at Caffè Sicilia in Noto, Sicily, Italy
Grapefruit granita at Caffè Sicilia in Noto, Sicily
Chocolate-filled pastries

You can also find pastries that are similar to pain au chocolat, which are called saccottino al cioccolato or fagottino al cioccolato.

Ciambelle

Want something that resembles an American breakfast? Ask for a ciambella, which will be a doughnut coated in granulated sugar. 

You can also get cream-filled doughnuts called bombe, bombolone or bombolone alla crema. These are my favorite when I want a real treat.

Cake

Some bars in Italy serve slices of bundt cake for breakfast. If you want it, ask for “una fetta di ciambellone” (a slice of cake). 

Crostata

A kind of shallow pie, crostata is often filled with seasonal fruit or jam (and sometimes nutella). 

Regional pastries

There are many more pastries on offer for breakfast in Italy depending on the region you’re in – the names of all of them would be nearly impossible to keep track of! 

In Rome, for example, there are maritozzi, which are sweet, oblong buns that are cut down the middle and filled with whipped cream. In Sicily, they have many pastries with ricotta cream and chocolate chips that are particular to the island. In Naples, it’s common to have sfogliatelle for breakfast (sometimes called a lobster tail in English).

Ask the barista for a local recommendation, or if you see one that looks too good to pass up, just point and say “Vorrei quello, per favore” (I’d like that one, please).

Juice

Juice is the last common component of breakfast at a bar in Italy. You can get fresh-squeezed orange (spremuta d’arancia) or a small bottle. Some common bottled juices are pear, peach, and ACE (a blend of orange, carrot and lemon).

A caffè latte for breakfast in Padua, Italy
A caffè latte for breakfast in Padua

Dying for a savory breakfast in Italy?

If you’re all cornetto-ed out, many bars also have something for those of you who don’t have a sweet tooth.

Toast

Toast in Italy is actually a ham and cheese sandwich, made with prosciutto cotto and various kinds of cheese. Many bars sell them, so you might be able to snag one in the morning. It will be served hot.

Sandwiches

Most bars sell sandwiches of other kinds too, and they might be available in the morning. Some common fillings are tomato and mozzarella, as well as various cold cuts and cheeses.

Pizzette

Pizzette are tiny round pizzas, frequently just made with a smattering of tomato and no cheese. You might be able to grab one of these for breakfast, too. 

There’s a pasticceria in Testaccio, Rome, called Linari that’s known not only for their excellent ciambelle and maritozzi, but their pizzette, too. 

Italian breakfast at home

If you’re a houseguest or you’re staying in an Airbnb, your Italian breakfast will probably look slightly different than breakfast in a bar.

Coffee in a Moka pot

Whether you’re having breakfast in a bar or in an Italian home, one thing is indispensable: the coffee! 62% of Italians have it with their morning meal.

If you’re having breakfast in a home in Italy, you’ll most likely drink your coffee from a Moka pot, but there also might be a Nespresso machine.

Milk

Milk is just behind coffee in the breakfast beverage ranking, with 38% of Italians consuming it during their morning meal. 

Cookies

57% of respondents in the survey I linked to above said that they start their day with cookies (often dunked in milk or coffee). 

I’ve recently spoken to some Italian friends about their favorite breakfast cookies, and I loved seeing how their eyes lit up at the memory of all the different types they ate when they were little. Some of them have even continued the tradition today and still have cookies for breakfast.

If you want to have breakfast like an Italian, get yourself some Mulino Bianco or Pavese brand cookies, and go nuts. My personal favorites are Pan di Stelle and Galletti.

Cake

Just like in a bar, cake might be on offer at Italian breakfast in a house. If you’re lucky, it might even be homemade!

Fette biscottate

Fette biscottate are called either “Melba toast” or “rusks” in English. They’re like super crunchy mini slices of bread for jam or nutella. I think just about every single Airbnb I’ve ever stayed in in Italy has a package of fette biscottate set out for guests. 

Other pre-packaged goodies

Other cakes, often Kinder brand, might be available too. These are similar to Little Debbie or Drake’s cakes in the US.

Cereal

30% of Italians said they have cereal for breakfast.

Yogurt

Next in line after cereal, 27% percent report having yogurt on their breakfast table.

Bread and jam/spreads

24% of respondents said they start their day with bread with spreads.

Fruit

Fruit is eaten with breakfast by 13% of Italians. Remember that there’s a strong emphasis on seasonality in Italy, so the fruit that’s available will vary according to the time of year.

Pancakes/crepes/waffles

I was surprised to see that 12% of Italians reported eating pancakes, crepes or waffles for breakfast. Can’t say that I blame them – pancakes are one of my all-time favorite breakfasts.

Eggs/cold cuts/cheese

Only between 5 and 6% of respondents reported eating these savory items that are common for breakfast in other countries.

Tea

While coffee reigns supreme, 30% of Italians reported drinking tea with their breakfast. 

Italian breakfast at a hotel

The offerings for breakfast at a hotel in Italy can vary widely. I’ve stayed in bed and breakfasts before that have just a few pastries and coffee available, and in other large hotels that serve everything mentioned above, plus bacon and eggs!

A pastry filled with ricotta cream for breakfast in Catania, Sicily
A pastry filled with ricotta cream for breakfast in Catania

Brunch in Italy

Many places in Rome (and probably other Italian cities) advertise “brunch” on the weekend. Be aware that what they might be serving is actually a big LUNCH.

Let me explain. There is a place near my house in Rome that advertises a weekend brunch. I got excited to try it, because I love going out to breakfast and brunch, which isn’t really a norm here (yet, although it’s changing), until I saw the menu.

BRUNCH! Their Insta post screamed. So I clicked through to take a look and saw…

LASAGNA

LAMB CHOPS

PIZZA

And a bunch of other stuff that did not mean “brunch” to me.

If you see “brunch” advertised and you’re picturing yourself diving into a pile of pancakes or drowning in Hollandaise, check the menu first!

Where to have a traditional Italian breakfast in Rome

Before I wrap this post up, I wanted to share a few of my favorite places for the quintessential Italian breakfast of coffee and a pastry in Rome. They’re all in the Testaccio/Ostiense/Aventino area, because that’s where I live.

Pasticceria Linari – Via Nicola Zabaglia 9

Pasticceria Barberini – Via Marmorata 41

Casa Manfredi – Viale Aventino 91/93

Where to have a savory breakfast/brunch in Rome

And here are a few spots I love to go when I’m craving something savory for breakfast or brunch in Rome:

Marigold – Via Giovanni da Empoli 37

Note that Marigold also has excellent pastries and coffee.

Coromandel – Via di Monte Giordano 60/61

Fried eggs with sage and sourdough toast for breakfast at Marigold in Rome, Italy
Fried eggs with sage and sourdough toast for breakfast at Marigold in Rome

Do you have a favorite bar for breakfast in Italy? What about a favorite pastry? Share in the comments!

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Want more Italian foodie guides?

Here’s my guide to the traditional Italian meal structure.

Here’s one for the pasta people – the ultimate guide to the best pasta in Rome!

Thirsty? Why not check out a natural wine bar in Rome?

Want to eat well in Italy? You’ve got to book ahead of time! Here’s my guide to restaurant reservation apps in Italy.

Wait, what’s the difference between an osteria and a trattoria? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!

Here are ten things you must know about eating and drinking in Italy.

And here’s my guide to 15 “Italian” foods that don’t exist in Italy (and what to eat instead).

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