The main characteristic of Italian cooking is its healthy balance, the excellent basic ingredients being simply cooked and retaining their original goodness and freshness. Simple and yet with such a variety of flavours and rich inventiveness in preparation, that even the most demanding gourmet is delighted.
Italian breakfast is quite different from American or English. "Colazione" is usually light: cappuccino (coffee and milk) and a brioche (sweet pastry), or simply espresso (black-short-strong coffee).
"Pranzo" (lunch) is the big meal except in the industrialized cities. It consists of antipasto (starter) a primo piatto (pasta, rice or soup), a secondo piatto (meat or fish) with contorno (vegetable or salad), then frutta ( fresh fruit). Finish with espresso and maybe a grappa or amaro (strong digestive liqueur). "Cena" (dinner) is similar to lunch. Nowadays there is a tendency of having a light lunch, then dinner becomes the major meal.
Where to eat? There are thousands of "ristoranti" (restaurants): the most formal type of place to eat when one is not in a hurry, sometimes a little fancy and pricy and family-run; "trattoria" and "osteria": less formal than a "ristorante", where local specialties are served; "panineria": a sandwich bar, where a quick meal can be had at any time of the day; pizzeria: is not only for pizza lovers!

"Italy is not only the largest producer of wines, but above all a producer of great wines." Its climate, soil and very old traditions of viticulture make Italy a natural wine growing nation. The wines are as personal as a name, as different as the colours of the rainbow and as much a part of Italian life as almost 3,000 years of tradition can make them. The Etruscans of North-Central Italy, who created one of the peninsula's earliest civilizations, left evidence of how to make wine. The Greeks who soon after established themselves in the South gave Italy the name Enotria (the land of wine).For centuries wine growing has been the cultivation which used most of the labour of the Italian farmers; this is still true today; a large part of the population is engaged in the vine and wine industry.
Other Italian drinks include aperitifs ("aperitivo"), blended principally over a base of the world-famous Piedmont Vermouth; dessert wines, such as Moscato, Marsala and Malvasia from Sicily and sparkling wines from Piedmont, Veneto, Tuscany and the Islands. Italy also has excellent beers and a great variety of effervescent mineral waters.