6 Tips When Buying Groceries At An Italian Market

Amanda Most

Just like we’re familiar with back home, the people of Arezzo go to a market (or in American words, grocery store) to buy a variety of household items and food. Although it might look similar at a first glance, once you start exploring you’ll realize it’s very different. When shopping, it might be a little confusing trying to find certain things since all of the labels are in Italian but luckily, the locals are very helpful and friendly. Follow these six tips are you’ll be buying groceries just like an Italian!

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Customers purchasing their items at the registers.


Six important tips when going to an Italian market:

1. Bring your own bags.

If you get more than one or two things, you’re going to need a bag to put your items in to carry around. At the end of checking out, they will ask you if you need one of their grocery bags, which costs eight cents per bag. To avoid additional charges, bring a recyclable grocery bag with you. Not even just because of the extra expenses, reusable grocery bags are a lot better for the environment! The people of Italy strive to be eco-friendly and aren’t going to want to pay for bags every time they shop. Having to pay for bags is a great incentive for people to use their own recyclable grocery bag.

2. Take advantage of the cheeses, breads and meats.

You should really take time to appreciate of all the delicious smells of the cheeses, breads and meats. As soon as you walk into the market, you instantly can smell a delightful and distinct aroma that is nothing like the markets back home. Parmigano reggiano, most commonly known as Parmesan, and Mozzarella are the two most common Italian cheeses – both absolutely delicious! The breads are made fresh daily, so you can never go wrong with any kind of dough. You will notice that most meats at the deli are different than the meats we would find in a grocery store in America. The meats found in an Italian market such as wild boar, prosciutto and pancetta are more of specialty store items back home.

Fresh meats at the deli that can be purchased.

Fresh meats at the deli that can be purchased.

3. Appreciate the fresh fruits and vegetables. 

You should make sure to observe and appreciate the bright colors of the fruits and vegetables. Before purchasing, you need to make sure to find the weighing station, weigh your fruits and/or vegetables and get the printed label which will have your cost on it. If you don’t do this, they will not check you out at the register. When in Rome, they are famous for their delectable artichokes. The local artichokes, known as carciofo Romanesco have leaves that are tender and a choke without the fearsome prickle. Italy also has Italian green beans that are more flat than the green beans back home. These green beans are called Green Romano Beans and I highly recommend trying them!

4. Know the lingo.

Although it may be possible to find what you’re looking for with the labels in Italian, I would definitely suggest have some sort of translator. Whether it’s a small dictionary or an app on your phone, it will certainty be helpful to ensure that your purchasing the right products. It might also be helpful to look over commonly used words that are used in the market so you have an idea before even going inside.

  • Top 10 useful words for shopping in an Italian markets:
    • Quanto Costa? – How much is it?
    • Cassa (kahs-sah) – The cash register
    • Formaggio (fohr-mahj-joh) – Cheese
    • Verdure (vehr-doo-rah) – Vegetables
    • Pane (pah-neh) – Bread
    • Pagare (pah-gah-reh) – To pay
    • Comprare (kohm-prah-reh) – To buy
    • Carta di credito (kahr-tah dee kreh-dee-toh) – Credit Card
    • Soldi (sohl-dee) – Money
    • Posso guardare?–  May I just look?
    • Alimentari (alee-mayn-taree) – Grocery store; general store

For a list of other useful words commonly used in an Italian market, you can check them out here!

Variety of cheeses that can be purchased.

Variety of cheeses that can be purchased.

5. Don’t buy a lot at once. 

Typically, the market isn’t standing by itself; it’s connected to a strip of buildings in the center of town. Unlike in America, there usually isn’t a large parking lot for customers to leave their vehicle. I’ve noticed that the majority of customers walk to the market and because of this, I recommend only buying necessary items. If not, it might be a struggle carrying your things far! You definitely won’t be alone with buying just a few items because the people in Italy tend to have small refrigerators that don’t hold much. This is another reason why they don’t buy groceries in bulk.

6. Mostly fresh foods, but not sweets.

The markets have a very small frozen food section, for the majority of the foods are fresh. There is fresh bread, meats, cheese and even pizza. But unlike America, besides the bread, there are no fresh bakery items. Any sweet treats are found in an isle, prepackaged. If you have a sweet tooth like me, you’re going to want to know where to find fresh and delicious pastries! If you want to buy bakery items such as scrumptious pastries, cookies and cakes, you will have to go to a pasticceria, which is a separate store for sweet treats.

Observations during my Italian grocery store experience:

As soon as I entered the market, I noticed the product placement is very similar to America. When you walk in, there are flowers for sale along with the fresh fruits and vegetables. The bakery and deli are in the back; you can get fresh cut meats and cheeses. Besides food, they have a variety of items such as cleaning products, pet items, alcohol, and bathroom products.

Some of the fresh fruit at the market with a customers basket.

Some of the fresh fruit at the market with a customers basket.

The market has both carts and baskets you can chose from to carry your items around in, but the baskets are very interesting. I personally found them the most fascinating out of everything in there. The baskets have wheels and a very long handle, so you can conveniently drag them around on the ground.

Overall, it may look very similar to the grocery stores we are used to back in America but as you can see there are many differences. By following these tips, you will definitely have a successful and positive experience!

Buona fortuna! (Good luck!)

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