Reading Italian Menus: Il Secondo

Kathryn for
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel

When I first traveled to Italy as a college student, I had difficulty at first when I tried to read and order at an Italian restaurant. I thought back to how many lessons I had had in Italian through high school and college and then realized that the reason was simple: Italian courses in school did not focus on the vocabulary I needed as a traveler.

Years later, when members of the Italian-American Society of Peoria would ask me if I could help them with Italian before a trip to Italy they had planned—for vacation or to visit long-lost Italian relatives—I remembered my own difficulties, and I created the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books. These books focus on the vocabulary and phrases we all need to know to enjoy our trip to Italy!

Along these lines, last week, I asked the Conversational Italian! Facebook group, “What is your favorite Italian dish for Il Secondo, or the second course?” I posted about one of my favorite dishes my mother would make when I was growing up as a child, called braciole, and the family tomato sauce recipe she would cook this rolled-up meat in.

I’d love to hear about more Italian favorites! Continue the conversation on this blog, and join us on our Facebook group if you like!

Read the list below of cooking methods and types of meats found on menus in Italian restaurants, taken from Chapter 17 of Conversational Italian for Travelers and see if it reminds you of your favorite Italian dish!


Cooking Methods in Italian

fritto fried
bollito boiled
arrostito roasted
brasato/stufato braised/stewed
affumicato smoked
farcito(a)/ripieno(a) stuffed
al forno baked (lit. from the oven)
alla brace broiled
alla griglia/ai ferri grilled
alla cacciatora stewed in a pot (as a hunter would make)


Meat Dishes in Italian


la cotoletta cutlet (meat without bone)
la scaloppina very thin cutlet
la costoletta chop/rib (bone in meat)
l’arrosto the roast (to be sliced)
la bistecca* steak*
bistecca alla fiorentina steak florentine style
al sangue rare meat
ben cotto well-done meat
cotto a puntino cooked just right
il sugo di carne gravy
le polpette meatballs
il vitello veal
il pollo chicken
il petto di pollo chicken breast fillet
il tacchino turkey
l’anatra duck
la quaglia quail
il fagiano pheasant
il coniglio rabbit
il maiale pork
la pancetta bacon
il guanciale bacon from pig cheeks
l’agnello lamb
l’abbacchio young lamb
la capra/il capretto goat/kid
il fegato liver

*When ordering a steak in Italy (wonderful grilled steaks, called bistecca alla fiorentina, can be found in Tuscany, for example), it is not really possible to order how the steak should be cooked. Instead, it is usually left for the chef to decide, based on the cut of meat and the style of the dish.


Learn Conversational Italian for Travelers
Conversational Italian for Travelers Textbook

Available on  www.Learn Travel

5 thoughts on “Reading Italian Menus: Il Secondo

  1. When I worked as waitress in Austria, I learned that guests (English, Austrian,… ) used to eat cheese (and butter spread on bread) at the end of meal. I always tried to take away cheese from the buffet, but I couldn’t 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Funny how we all develop different traditions! And salad at the beginning of the meal here in the states, but between courses or at the end of the meal to “cleanse the palate” is popular in other places.For me, learning about these things is what makes traveling fun!


  2. These are great tips! Although I don’t speak Italian, I had the same experience trying out my French from high school and college on a trip to France. And at restaurants I was often surprised to see what I had ordered!

    Liked by 1 person

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