Italy is home to a wide variety of fresh foods — pasta, sausage, figs and sun-dried tomatoes — that tourists travel across oceans to experience. Upon arriving in Italy, travelers are either delighted to learn that they can enjoy delicious food at low prices or disappointed with mediocre food at high prices. Food prices in Italy depend on where you dine or shop, but if you eat like a local, you will spend less than you do at home.
An individual on a budget can dine in Italy for around a day, even eating out for every meal.
The typical Italian breakfast — caffe and pastry — costs $2.50 throughout the country. A take-out lunch, such as a calzone, sandwich or two pieces of pizza, runs from $3 to $6, as long as you avoid the tourist strip. In local trattorias, a hearty and substantial portion of pasta for dinner costs $10 to $15, as does a fixed-priced lunch with a first course — pasta, risotto or soup, main course, dessert and wine.
Fresh meat and vegetables, pasta, and dairy products are very reasonably priced in Italian grocery stores and outdoor markets. The best prices are found at the morning markets, particularly near closing time, when vendors often give out bags with 10 large pieces of fruit for around $1. One-pound packages of dry pasta cost less than $1 in a local grocery store but can reach up to $10 or more in tourist shops.
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In small, rural towns throughout Italy, food prices are lower than in major cities like Milan, Rome or Florence. In Italy, geography plays a large role in this price difference. Vegetables, meat and dairy products in Italy are, by and large, produced domestically and shipped from the countryside to the cities. In urban areas, you are not only paying the general urban cost of living inflation but also the storage and transportation costs of bringing the food in from rural farms.
Among Italian residents, there is a popular complaint that food prices have risen drastically since the conversion from the Lira to the Euro. Since that time, however, prices of basic foodstuffs have held steady, and vegetables can be purchased in bulk for $1 or less. In 2011, a study released by the Universal Ecological Fund predicted that, due to climate change, food prices worldwide will rise by 20 percent by 2020. That same year, the International Monetary Fund was forced to adjust its food price forecasts due to greater weather-related crop damage than expected. These issues could affect domestic produce and prices due to Italy’s extensive coastline and already extremely warm southern farm areas.
Venture down the block from your hotel’s tepid assortment of mediocre Continental breakfast items, and you’ll find a local bar serving up fresh pastries and perfect cappuccinos for no more than $2.50 total per person.
Some travelers, especially those on packaged tours, find themselves disappointed with the quality-price ratio of Italian food. Eating away from tourist zones and transportation hubs yields lower prices and higher quality food.
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