Italy has some of the most amazing food in the world, going far beyond the pizza and spaghetti with marinara most of us know.
However, here's a little handy tip my wife and I picked up this last year while on vacation in Italy. Even if you can't understand the menu I want you to be able to understand one thing about Italian menus. Avoid the asterisk.
In Italy, or at least where I have been (Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan), an asterisk after a menu item indicates that all or part of what you are about to order has been frozen.
This might not be a big deal to some, but gosh darn it you're in Italy for goodness sake you deserve some deliciously fresh Italian food don't you. Especially after spending so much money on getting all the way to Italy.
It is important to read carefully and ask questions. Not all restaurants are the same.
Some restaurants use frozen food as a staple in their menus. In particular the really touristy ones (the ones with lots of pictures of food and big signs in English). While other use frozen ingredients sparingly.
For example, at some restaurants pizza may have an asterisk after it because they buy in frozen pizzas just to satisfy tourists never-ending need to eat pizza in Italy. While other restaurants my have an asterisk after a pizza simply because the pizza has an out of season ingredient which has been frozen to make the pizza available year round.
I remember that while I was there I ordered pasta with white sauce and mushrooms. The dish had an asterisk after it on the menu. As it turned out it was because the mushrooms had been frozen because they were out of season at that time. The dish arrived and was perfectly delicious, not as good as fresh, but still very good.
Of course if you're just looking for a quick bite to eat you might not care if your food has been frozen. There is also a lot of good cheap food. However, if you're looking for a worthwhile dinning experience it's always good to know exactly what it is your ordering.
So there you go. When you finally make it on your dream trip to Italy, you'll at least know what the asterisks are all about. Happy dinning in Italy.