Italian starters – demystified

I am sure that there are a number of you Italian cuisine lovers out there who have wondered about the same thing. Why are there two different types of starters on an Italian menu, an oddity out of most other European cuisines. I decided to do some research on this topic, and for your convenience, I will attempt to give an explanation for each and what it traditionally involves.

1) Antipasti

To help you understand this, I shall break the word down. The Italian prefix anti-, in this particular case, means prior to or before, which is equivalent to the English prefix ante- (as in antechamber). The word pasti is the plural of pasto meaning a meal. So sewing everything together, we have pre-meal dishes. This is usually the first course (or first first course, rather) served in an Italian restaurant. It includes every traditional appetizer,  from salami or meat slices to caprese (shortened form of insalata caprese – a salad consisting of tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil leaves bathed in olive oil) with the sole exception of pastas.

2) Primi Piatti

primi piatti is the plural form of primo piatto meaning literally first dishes (in Italian, like in all the other Romance languages, the adjective almost always agrees with the gender of the noun). As the name subtly suggests, this course is the first course, or the starter of a meal, even though it is usually served after the antipasto, which is in fact not considered a part of the official meal.  The primi piatti menu consists entirely of pastas, which come in a myriad of forms such as ravioli, spaghetti, and penne, cooked in various ways to prepare your tastebuds for the main course – secondi piatti.