Florentine Francesca and I are in a New York restaurant where “Hi! I’m Sam, your waiter” is assisting us to have the best lunch experience possible. This includes large glasses of iced water that arrive immediately on the table with a large basket of warm bread. Francesca immediately starts scooping out the cubes into the empty wine glass. “Hi! I’m Sam” arrives to take our order and notices her he half full glass of iceless water. He leaves and returns with the water pitcher, which he turns sideways so that it dispenses the maximum amount of ice and a lesser amount of water. Duty done, he grins, “Now, what sounds good to you ladies, today?”
Confession: I have more ice cube trays in my freezer in Florence than anyone else in town. When May rolls around, I put away the hot tea and declare ice tea season officially open. I go through two trays a day. For over ten years I have felt ice-deprived in the restaurants and at the family tables of Italy.
Italian Food Rule: No ice cubes in beverages.
Ice in Italy is to keep fresh fish fresh. Full stop.
The most common reason Florentines (including Francesca) give me for the rule is that icy cold liquids are bad for your digestion. They can even cause the dreaded congestione – an abdominal cramp – that can kill you. (Florentines worry a lot about digestion.)
The next frequently cited reason is a fear of the tap water used for making ice. Despite the fact that Italy has very safe tap water – not always the best tasting, but safe to drink in any form – the consumption of bottled water (at room temperature) in Italy is one of the highest in Europe.
Mayor Renzi has joined other mayors in Tuscany in trying to cut down on the glass and plastic garbage and energy costs of bottled water by offer free acqua del sindaco, the mayor’s water, at various water stations (with both fizzy and still water) around the city. (Check behind Neptune’s tush on the side of the Palazzo Vecchio.) Of course, Mayor Renzi is not promoting the use of free tap water for making ice because I am sure he agrees with the Italian Food Rule: No ice cubes in beverages.
No hotel in Italy will have an ice machine in the hall and few will bring ice to the room. This may be for the reasons stated above or because ice machine suck a lot of very expensive electricity and are breeding grounds of all sorts of molds, fungi, and bacteria – all, unfortunately, good and verifiable reasons to follow the Italian Food Rule: No ice cubes in beverages.
Italy is a land of simple drinks – wine, beer and water (frizzante or naturale) – all which are drunk just fine without ice. There is not a big cocktail tradition, but in a bow to the rest of the world you will frequently find three tiny cubes of ice floating in your Negroni, never four, of course.
When visiting Italy in July and August, try following the Italian Food Rule: No ice cubes in beverages. You may find that you can actually taste what you are drinking. You may also find that you will be forced to take a break from those sugary sodas that taste disgusting without ice and you will embrace the entire Mediterranean diet, even the beverages.
But don’t look at me for a good example of how to “live Italian” by following all of the Italian Food Rules. I have more ice cube trays in my freezer than anyone else in Florence.
Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links: