How to order gelato in Italy like a local

Like ‘fish and chips’ is to the English, and tapas is to the Spanish, gelato is a national dish that is savoured by Italians and enjoyed regularly. For two or three euros you can enjoy a cone or tub throughout the day or whilst joining the locals on their evening stroll, the passeggiata.
You may be thinking, “how hard can ordering gelato be? Just pick your favourite flavour and pay?” Here are a few tips so you can order this tasty cultural treat just like the locals do.

Gelato counter

Pay attention to colour

As with all foods, generally if gelato isn’t the true colour of the ingredients you know that it contains colours and additives too. Don’t be lured into the gelateria by any bright colours – banana gelato, for example, should be a greyish creamy colour, not neon yellow!

Gelato cone

Pay first

In busy shops before deciding which flavour you’d like, you usually pay first for either a cone or cup (very often the same price) and tell them which size (number of scoops) you’d like. Keep hold of your receipt to show to the staff member when you get to the next counter to pick your flavour(s).

Gelato tub

Don’t expect to queue

In Italy it’s first come first served, and you’ll more than likely have to get the server’s attention in order to be served. There is no numerical order as Italians don’t tend to form orderly queues. When you know what you’d like, make eye contact with the staff member and nod or smile to indicate that you’re ready to make your choices. As a tourist it can be a little intimidating but you just have to go for it.

Which flavour?

The best gelaterie have a select number of flavours on offer, usually including vanilla (crema), chocolate (cioccolato) and lemon (limone). Gelato comes in two types: milk-based and fruit-based. Some of the fruit-based flavours have very little or no dairy and are made with pure fruit and water.It depends whether you prefer a creamy flavour or a fruit flavour. Other popular flavours include bacio (chocolate-hazelnut mix) and fior di latte (‘flower of milk’, similar to cream but lighter). Many places will offer you panna montata on top of your gelato, which is whipped cream – scooped on with a spatula – yummy! If they do, you’ll hear the words “con panna?” Below is a photo of Alessia, our resident Italian staff member, enjoying a delicious gelato, topped with freshly whipped cream.

Gelato in Italy

Placing your order

The best part! Choose from the selection of divine flavours – even if you only want a small portion, you can have two different flavours. Then let them know whether you’d like it served in a cone or in a tub/cup. The words for a cone are “un cono” and a cup is “una coppa“.

Compared to ice cream, gelato is a healthier treat – containing between 3% and 8% milk fat compared to 10% to 17% in ice cream, so you can enjoy it without worrying too much.

I hope these tips have helped, comment below if you have any other experiences of ordering gelato in Italy, I’d love to hear them!

Tina James is the Managing Director at Headwater Holidays.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Andrei says:

    Indeed italians don’t respect the queue, first one that opens its mouth gets served, which is kind of crazy, because they can see who stays in front of them and for how long, but they just don’t care. I think kind of the same happens in Croatia, at least to me.

  2. Tina James says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Andrei – I guess it wouldn’t be Italy if it wasn’t for the lack of queueing skills :)

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