My Salmon pizza with arugula on Garden Risto's patio seating

When in Rome: Speaking Italian & Eating Pizza

A quintessentially Italian activity: ordering pizza in Rome. In Italian.

This was, after all, why I decided to study Italian. So I could use it. And slightly over two years after I started seriously studying, I was using it with a fair amount of ease. It was almost surreal.

View from Roman hotel

My Roman Holiday

At that point, I’d been in Rome for 3 or 4 days. Upon landing, I successfully purchased metro passes for myself, then my parents, in Italian.

But to my brain, that was a simple transaction. Very predictable, no small talk. I’d ordered un caffe, per favore with ease and fended off street vendors well enough. But my conversations with waiters had, thus far, been a bit stilted. And some still refused to humor me:

“In English. It is easier.”

Rainy piazza in the middle of Rome

My Language Learning

I really got serious about learning Italian sometime in late 2015, after a few false starts. I joined the Add1Challenge, among other things. If you want to read more, here is a post about my Italian resources.

As with most things, the road to this vacation was paved with good intentions. I let my studies slip for a few months leading up to it, so I wasn’t as confident as I would have liked. But, after a bit of immersion, things started coming back.

I listened to my Spotify playlist in the hotel and eavesdropped on conversations on the bus and metro. I was very excited when a kind older woman noticed I looked a bit lost one day and asked where I was going… And I got to my destination with directions given in Italian. There were still requests to repeat things – “Puoi ripetere, per favore?” – but overall, it was the smoothest conversation I’d had to date with a stranger.

An osteria in a Roman side street with honeysuckle

The Successful Day

The day started with my trail ride on the Appian Way. My guide Sandro spoke simple Italian to me for the whole two hours. I asked him questions about my mare (her name – which I can’t believe don’t remember, her breed and age, etc.), and made some comments about our surroundings in Italian.

My brain settled into the rhythm of la lingua bella.

By the time my trail ride was finished, I was famished. I started walking in the direction that Google maps told me had the most restaurants and passed up the ones that had menus posted outside (and with pictures of the food! sure sign of a tourist trap), and the ones that only served pre-made panini. I almost gave up, thinking I’d have to find something closer to the city centre, even though it was lovely and peaceful out by the Appia Antica Regional Park.

So when I happened upon a restaurant that looked like The Secret Garden come to life I didn’t even think about passing it up or switching back to English.

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At the Restaurant

At this point, I’m no longer self-conscious about sitting down in a restaurant alone. I’ve traveled completely solo, or just struck out on my own as a break from my parents or friends (hello from an introvert!) enough to find it relaxing.

I think it made it easier for my “breakthrough” since there was less pressure to order for someone, or ignore someone while attempting my Italian. I successfully told the waiter there was “just me” to seat and that I preferred outside to inside. He nodded and, matter-of-factly, told me I could sit where I liked, took my drink order, and said he’d be right back.

In Italian.

He didn’t even try to speak English. In the ordering process, I did ask one or two times for him to repeat a complex sentence. “Certo,” and he did so without a fuss. I do admit I said yes to a question I wasn’t entirely sure about, but it turned out he asked if I wanted my double espresso after the meal instead of during, so that worked out.

After he cleared away my delicious pizza remains and before dropping off the check, he started a non-food-related conversation:

Complimenti. Il tuo italiano è molto buono.” It was an unsolicited compliment about my language skills I never expected from a stranger! Your Italian is Very Good! I was over the moon. I said thank you, I’d been studying for two years – more or less.

Then he asked if I lived in Rome! I said no, I was here on holiday. He seemed a bit surprised at that, asked where I was from, and was even more surprised at my “gli Stati Uniti.” He complimented my Italian another time, and then our conversations went back to the standard paying-and-leaving pleasantries.

I walked away feeling like I was walking on air! And now, salmon pizza might just be my favorite meal.

My Salmon pizza with arugula on Garden Risto's patio seating

The Restaurant – Garden Risto

Via Appia Antica, 172, 00179 Roma RM, Italywww.GardenRisto.net

Garden Risto is situated a little off the main road behind a fence. But they have an easily-noticeable red awning. The atmosphere is a little bit garden party with the Queen, and a little bit picnic in a garden. All the servers seemed very friendly to both the Americans and the Italians I saw.

I definitely recommend that salmon pizza! The crust was light, with the perfect amount of crispiness. And the smoked salmon looked like they laid it on, with the arugula, after it was finished baking.

I hadn’t had my coffee yet that day, so I ordered a double espresso for after the meal. It was creamy and bold. And I was given a few cookies to go with it!

All in all, definitely a restaurant I recommend.

Un caffe e biscotti

How to Order Pizza in Italian

Ordering is easy!

The polite way to say “I would like” is vorrei. You could also use prendo. If you wanted to order a classic Margherita pizza, you can simply say, “Vorrei la pizza Margherita.” You might want to order it with l’acqua minerale (water) or il vino rosso/bianco (wine).

When your food is brought to you, a “grazie,” works well.

And when you’re ready to pay, simply flag down your server and say, “Il conto, per favore.” Otherwise, you might be waiting at the table for quite a while.

This page on ordering from Rocket Languages is a great resource if you’re looking for more vocabulary and possible responses.

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10 comments

  1. This is such a great success story! I lived in Italy for a while and studied Italian, but I’ve lost it since I left. I can only read menus now (which is a pretty great skill to have left over). Congrats on your success!

  2. I can totally relate to learning and using a foreign language! Also the mini cheers of success when it comes to using it more and more in conversation! I had my first Christmas in Swedish… my head was spinning in the end but I survived and understood so much yet realised how much I need to improve with speaking.

  3. Congratulations on making your Italian work! I tried a lot with Spanish when I was in South America, but never had long enough on my own not speaking English to have this kind of breakthrough. Lessons did help, but still there was so much to pick up. The locals appreciated me trying though!

    • Speaking Italian in Italy after 6 months of studying vs. speaking Italian in Italy after 2 years of studying was WORLDS different. Native-speaking tutors on Skype is my secret weapon for motivation AND listening practice. 🙂

  4. Loved your little Italian story! Ten years ago I studied Italian but it was for a short period of time so now I remember only few words here and there! Such a lovely language!

  5. That’s so awesome! Congrats!! :] I really want to learn Spanish + improve my Mandarin–one of these days, I’m gonna have to just travel somewhere and immerse myself there so I have no choice but to use it! That salmon pizza looks absolutely amazing! ❤

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