“Italians, it so happens, spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about digestion. The predilection towards a before-dinner drink-known as an aperitivo – is due in large part because Italians believe a drink such as Campari and soda “opens the stomach.” If you launch into your bruschetta – followed by pasta, followed by grilled fish, followed by panna cotta – without first awakening the digestive tract with an aperitivo, you’re just asking for trouble.” (The Daily Traveler for Condé Nast)
To sip a cappuccino after lunch is a direct and major violation of an Italian Food Rule. Italians believe the fresh whole milk that makes up over half of the contents of this drink plays havoc with digestion. To order a cappuccino after 10am, unless you are breakfasting after said hour, is seen as suspect behavior worthy of at least a slight frown, advancing to a worried shake of the head, and can escalate to outright ridicule.
Francesca, my guide to all of the pitfalls that lead to violations of Italian Food Rules, once had a hilarious exchange with a waiter after two German tourists at a nearby table unwittingly ordered cappuccini after dinner. Scornfully, she wondered if they were going to order breakfast for dessert.
Origins of Cappuccino
Most believe that cappuccino was named after the light brown hoods worn by a hard-core, split-away order of Franciscan monks, founded in the early 16th century – the Capuchin monks, or Cappuccini. The word cappuccio means “hood” in Italian, and the “ino” ending is a diminutive. Thus, cappuccino means “little hood.”
Others credit Capuchin monk Marco D’Aviano with the invention of the drink, allegedly after he discovered a sack of coffee captured from the Ottomans during the battle of Vienna in 1683. (D’Aviano was beatified in 2003 for his missionary work and miraculous power of healing.)
In reality, the popular coffee, topped with foamed milk, dates back to the early 20th century, but the name wasn’t associated with the beverage until just before 1950.
Cappuccino – Breakfast of Italians
To the Italians, milk is almost a meal in itself. So having a cappuccino at the neighborhood bar in the morning on the way to work or school requires no other food to be considered a complete breakfast. (A small pastry may be included, but not always.)
Cappuccino is more milk than coffee, so it is full of calories. Perhaps the reasoning is that slender Italians (the ones that don’t order the pastry) are more likely to burn off the calories through the day. Drunk later, those pesky calories stay on the hips
Some say that cappuccino is best in the morning because the milk has lactose (a sugar) and the body absorbs the lactose and milk fat quickly, so the carbohydrate energy is available immediately before the caffeine stimulant kicks in.
Food Rule – No Cappuccino after Meals
The real reason behind the Food Rule, however, is that Italians are firmly convinced that drinking milk after any meal will mess up the ability to digest food properly. So having a cappuccino at any time after lunch, or after dinner, in Italy is unthinkable.
Tourists, therefore, shouldn’t be shocked when the waiter refuses to grant their cappuccino requests “for your own health.”
For further reading:
Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links: