La Cena: Italy’s Daily Celebration

My family and I moved from Italy to the U.S. when I was almost 11 years old. It was the end of March, so the school year was wrapping up. I would start it in Italy, at the small elementary school right across the street from our home. And the school year would end at the Franklin School in Newton, MA. We all knew the transition would be difficult, but in my 11-year-old rationale, I saw this as far more of an adventure than scary. It would be my first time on a plane. Ironically, I recall vividly what I was wearing that day: purple pants and a purple and hot pink sweater. My clothes were far too heavy for the season. I remember being hot for most of the commute from Italy to the U.S. 

Sometimes, we have to work for our meal! A group sitting down to enjoy lunch after a Sicilian cooking class. Sicily Tour, 2022. Photo credit: Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures.


​It’s funny the things we recall, and although 35 years have passed, I still have vivid memories of my time in Italy. And the yearly trips we would take back growing up. Unsurprisingly, most of those memories revolve around food in some fashion or another. Whether it’s family dinners, picking olives in our small plot of land, or stopping by the pastry shop on Sundays on the way home from church. Or perhaps throwing on a kiddie apron and baking with Mom. Or simply coming home from school and finding a delicious lunch freshly prepared by Mom. And that’s the beauty of food, these scenes become permanent bookmarks in our minds.

Friends turn into family at the table. Tuscany Tour, 2022. Photo credit: Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures.

La Cena in Italy

While every meal is important to Italians, la cena (dinner) is perhaps the most beloved. Dinner is Italy’s daily celebration. Just like in the U.S., daytime is reserved for school, work, errands, appointments. Or whatever else may come our way during the day. And while some people, in fact, many, can return home from work and have their pranzo (lunch) at home, it is often rushed, and may not include every family member at the table. As such, la cena is a sacred time for Italians. It’s a time to regroup, reconnect with family, and enjoy eating at a more leisurely pace. Much of an Italian’s life revolves around the dinner table. This is the time to gossip, catch up, and discuss the happenings of the day, and what tomorrow’s meal will be! 

“Si mangia?” If I recall correctly, those were my father’s favorite words! “Are we eating already?” or “Butta la pasta,” he’d proclaim, meaning, “throw the pasta in the water.” If my sister and I were working on a homework assignment in our room, Mom or Dad would call us, alerting us that dinner would soon be served, and it was time to prepare for dinner. Or help was needed in some fashion in the kitchen. Seeing my dislike for homework, I didn’t need a second asking. I would have preferred being in the kitchen all along. My sister, on the other hand, who didn’t have any domestic inclinations, had to be pulled away from her schoolwork, frequently doing assignments that weren’t yet assigned to get a head start. A philosophy I never understood! 

“Ti hai lavato le mani?” That was the first question Mom would ask before I was permitted to touch anything in the kitchen. “Did you wash your hands?” I’d put my hands up to my mother’s nose, where she’d get a whiff of our Felce Azzurra hand soap on my hands as validation. I loved and still love the unique scent of that soap, using 3 – 4 pumps at a time, far more than my tiny hands required.  

Raise a glass to our health! Sicily Tour, 2022. Photo credit: Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures.

Growing Up Italian

Over the course of those years growing up in Italy, I became my mother’s shadow and frequently “helped” her with the daily chores of a housewife. I use quotation marks around “helped,” as I am sure I was perhaps more of a nuisance than assistant, though she never said so. My help likely delayed her more than anything!

I recall dropping and breaking the occasional water glass while attempting to put them away, much to my father’s dismay. Or eating most of the peas I shelled while assisting Mom with the dinner preparation. “Solo questi ci sono?” My mom would ask, always surprised. “This is all you got out of all that peas you shelled? I would say yes, but of course, I had likely eaten about a quarter of a pound during the shelling process! I do not doubt that my mother knew what I was up to, especially since, inevitably, I would be lamenting of a stomachache soon thereafter. “Troppo piselli?” She would ask. “Too much peas?” With a wink and a nod that said, “I knew what you were up to!” 

One of my preferred tasks was setting the table. Then, just like now, we would use a linen tablecloth over the table, and I would fold the napkins in half diagonally and delicately. My father used a cloth napkin, as that is what he preferred. But my mother soon realized that cloth napkins were futile with kids. They would get dirty within one use, and occasionally, we would get caught using them as nose tissues! So it was best for us kids to use the paper kind!

Gathering together to celebrate the season. Christmastime in Tuscany Tour, 2023. Photo credit: Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures.

It Doesn’t Take Much to Make it Special

Occasionally, at dinner, when something a bit more formal was served, such as a roast or perhaps fresh pork, my sister and I would be permitted to drink some gassosa. It was a treat to have this soft drink, which resembles what we know here as 7Up, minus the lemon and lime flavor. And this was when I would butter up my father for an even greater treat. I’d look at my Dad playfully. He knew what I wanted without asking. I would look at him, he at me, and then we’d both look at my glass. I’d give him a pitiful look. “La vuoi rosa?” He would ask me. “Do you want me to turn it pink?” And I did. And he would add a few drops of red wine, no more than a teaspoon or two, into my glass.

And my drink would magically turn pink, my kiddie wine. We’d bang our glasses together and proclaim, “salute!” To our health.

The family who dines together, stays together. Private Family Group, 2022. Photo credit: Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures.

La Cena Today

Today, one of my favorite aspects of my food and wine tours in Italy is when the group gathers to enjoy a meal together. Yes, we tour lovely towns, see amazing places, meet wonderful locals, but my favorite part remains when we cook and eat together, and when we share meals and stories at the table. During our meals together, we become family and make beautiful memories. Reflecting on past trips, I always recall the times we shared meals most vividly than any other activity.

For an Italian family, la cena is sacred. It’s a daily celebration of life. Memories are made, laughter is shared, and yes, delicious food is eaten during dinnertime. But even when the meal is a simple soup or just some pasta with fresh tomato sauce, it turns out it’s less about the food, and all about the people you are sharing it with.

If dinner happens to be overlooking the Mediterranean, than all the better! Amalfi Tour, 2023. Photo credit: Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures.

Let’s All Gather

I urge you today to share more meals with family, and friends who become like family. I have no doubt you will recall on these dinners with fond memories.

Toasting to our health, to life, to travel, to new friends, to memories! Amalfi Tour, 2022. Photo credit: Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures.


  • My mother was Italian (grandparents from Modena area). My father was Irish. My dad loved my mother’s cooking. When they were first married, my mother told my sister and me that she cooked a multi-course meal on Sunday. But my dad ate so much pasta that he was full when she served the main course (and it made her mad). Until it finally dawned on her to stop cooking like that. 🙂 I don’t remember eating that way, except on holidays. When we had pasta for dinner there would be a fresh salad and my dad loved it. When we had roast chicken, we’d have potatoes and carrots cooked in the pan. Simple meals but always delicious eaten around our small kitchen table.

  • Francesca
    This is beautiful I did not grow up in Italy but I’m from an Italian family and I remember gathering together sitting around the table for hours such great memories
    For years my parents would come to my home every Sunday and of course I would make a fresh pot of sauce to share so I passed this tradition onto my children
    Thank you so much for taking me back to those special times

  • Francesca, I love your stories and I love Italy. I went for the first time last april and absolutely fell in love with Italy, I plan another trip in the fall. This time I want to stay at some of the places where I can eat and roam around the grounds and drive to the little villages.
    thank you so much for sharing.


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Cosa Mettere in Valigia per l'Italia

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