In thousands of kitchens across America there is a person standing in front of the open fridge calling out to those gathered around the dinner table: “I’ve got white wine, red wine, mango juice, beer, milk, Pellegrino, ice tea, Coke, 7-Up, a bottle of Bacardi Breezer Lemon, and, of course, cold tap water. What does each of you want to drink?”
Let’s ignore the fact that there is a bottle of red wine in the fridge and get right to the Italian Food Rule: Wine or Water, Nothing Else.
In the homes and good restaurants of Italy the only beverages served during lunch or dinner are wine (red, white, rosé or Prosecco) and water (frizzante (carbonated) or naturale (still/no gas). And remember that ice water (or iced wine) is a violation of another Italian Food Rule.
It does not matter how young or old an Italian is: it’s wine or water, only. Children sometimes have a splash of wine in their fizzy water. Even adults, on a hot day, might opt for this refreshing combo using an inexpensive Chianti and a glass of ice-free acqua frizzante. This is not the sweet wine cooler found on picnic tables on the 4th of July. It is a sugar-free slightly flavored glass of water. (I still wince a bit when I remember watching an American woman at a wine tasting in Tuscany adding Sprite to her glass of Chianti Classico Riserva.)
For children and adults, alike, milk is not an option (see the Italian Food Rule on drinks such as caffelatte and cappuccino). Any Italian mother can tell you how milk interferes with a person’s digestion.
Italians never drink coffee with food during a meal. It is sipped from tiny espresso cups after the last bite is swallowed. Don’t try to tempt an Italian with an extra morsel after the espresso is served. (It’s sort of the same as offering an American a cookie after they’ve brushed their teeth.) Also, coffee is never drunk throughout the meal in Italy because it too interferes with digestion – in an acidic way, rather than a curdling way – any Italian grandmother will tell you. However, the same nonna will also tell you that that shot of espresso at the end of the meal aids in digestion.
Juices, sodas, cocktails, and even sugarless ice tea all interfere with the flavor of the food. To savor the true taste of each ingredient is of utmost importance to Italians as well as those who truly love Italian cooking. The only beverages that compliment Italian cuisine are wine and water.
“But what about beer?” you might ask. Until recently, Italy did not have a rich beer tradition, but Peroni and Moretti have been around since the middle of the 1800s. Italians drink beer with pizza. This does not violate the Italian Food Rule: Wine or Water, Nothing Else, because pizza is not a meal. Pizza is … well … pizza. Neither wine nor water compliment pizza as well as beer does. Kids and teenagers celebrate the lifting of the “no sodas” ban on pizza nights.
Then the next day it’s back to wine or water, nothing else.