The Ritual of the Merenda: Discovering the Most Popular Italian Snacks

One of the first things you’ll learn as a child growing up in Italy is that you should never, ever, skip your mid-afternoon snack, the so-called merenda.

In the daily routine of meals, merenda is the most eagerly awaited and sacred moment of the day for most Italian kids, an ritual that has them joyfully storming out of the classroom and running back home, where they are sure to find their well-deserved merenda.

The term derives, in fact, from the Latin verb merere, meaning “to deserve”; Indeed there is nothing more deserving than a small delicious snack after a hard-working day at school! But children are definitely not the only ones deserving of a mid-afternoon or mid-morning bite.

Whether sweet or savory, or lo spuntino as adults tend to refer to it, is an popular ritual for many people as it allows you to keep going until dinner time, thus avoiding excessive eating during your next meal.

Traditionally, and historically, snacks consisted of nothing more than bread with any type of topping, whether oil and salt, ricotta cheese and honey, or simply a bar of chocolate; Nowadays, however, processed snacks are becoming more and more popular, yet many are those who are still willing to fight to maintain Italy’s healthy and nourishing culinary culture.

So let’s find out which are the most popular snacks in Italy.

1. Pizzette

Pizzette

With pizza being the quintessential Italian culinary invention, no wonder pizzette is one of the most popular snacks. These small round pizzas, either made of pizza dough or of flaky puff pastry, are perfect for an on-the-go snack and are never missed out for birthday parties!

2. Pane e Pomodoro

Pane e Pomodoro

Tomatoes are the main character of another incredibly popular and ancient snack: pane e pomodoro, literally bread with tomato, a less sophisticated version of the famous bruschetta.

This delicious and healthy snack, consisting of nothing more than rubbing fresh tomato on a slice of toasted bread with oil and salt, has been a staple snack for centuries!

3. Valdostana

Valdostana
Photo Credit: Pasticceria Fabirica

And to finish off the “Tomato Trinity”, there is a valdostana, a mouth-watering savory tart made of puff-pastry, ham, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese. Usually cut into small triangles, valdostana is one of the most popular snacks found in almost every bar and cafe in Italy, as well as in most forni, the typical Italian bakeries.

Valdostana is typically saved with a glass of fizzy spuma, an Italian traditional soft drink with a delicious caramel aftertaste.

4. Tarali

Tarally

Taralli is another scrumptious snack that Italians will not give up. These hard-crusted round crackers are originally from Apulia but are incredibly popular all over Italy and beyond, so much so that the New York Times claimed that: “Taralli are Italy’s answer to chips”.

And they’re surely healthier! Made of only four ingredients (olive oil, flour, salt and a drop of white wine), taralli are the perfect on-the-go snack when moving around or even simply to pick at as an aperitivo.

5. Pane e Nutella

Pane e Nutella

But not all the Italian snacks are savory! Bread and Nutella is proof that certain things are just timeless.

While most grandparents in the early 1920s would have simply had a slab of chocolate with bread, today, with the advent of industrial chocolate spreads, it is hard to renounce the deliciousness of soft melting chocolate. But as with all things, make sure to indulge with moderation!

6. Gelato

Gelato

As soon as the first waves of heat arrive, you can’t fail to notice the long queues of people standing outside a gelateria. Indeed, there is no better snack to beat the drenching summer heat!

With a multitude of refreshing and tasty flavors in a deliciously crunchy cornetto, ice cream is by far the most unbeatable of all summer snacks!

7. Ghiacciolo

Ghiacciolo
Photo Credit: GORIA DAL 1968

But when the heat gets even stronger, you’ll find that a freezing cold ghiacciolo is simply what you need!

These colorful fruity ice lollies are loved by all kids and grown-ups and will refresh you while being nourishing and thirst-quenching. There is a great variety of fruit flavors, but the most popular ones for Italians are definitely mint and cherry.

8. Occhio di Bue

Occhio di Bue

Literally translated as ox eye, occhio di bue is a perfectly round short-crust pastry cookie filled with jam or chocolate.

Occhio di bue is an ever-present cookie in almost all cafès and bakeries in Italy; They are usually dusted with icing sugar and people typically love to enjoy it together with a warming cappuccino.

9. Zabaione

Zabaione

When you think you have nothing in the fridge, Zabaione is usually the answer. Made of simply two ingredients, eggs and sugar, this deliciously foamy dessert is the ultimate last-minute treat which Italians love to make at home.

You simply need to whisk the egg white until foamy and cloudy, mix the yolks with sugar and blend the two mixtures together, creating a wonderfully sweet and yummy foam which can be eaten with a spoon or scooped out of a glass with a biscuit!

Zabaione is an incredibly versatile snack which can be used as a base for many desserts and delicious recipes.

10. Cestino di Frutta

Cestino di Frutta
Photo Credit: positivi_tea24

The ultimate mouth-watering merenda snack is undoubtedly what would be translated as fruit basket. Indeed, these yummy desserts are made of a short-crust pastry base resembling a little basket, filled with crema pasticcera (custard) and topped with fresh fruit: strawberries, kiwis or berries. A dangerously delicious snack which you won’t be able to resist!


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Georgia Arkell

Georgia Arkell is an Italian writer and translator, born in a small town on the Tuscan coast, where she lived for almost 20 years. She has a BA in History and French Studies from the Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, England. She graduated in 2019 with a First Class Honors and later moved to Barcelona to work as a translator for multiple leading European brands in the Fashion and Jewelry industry. She is now working as a freelance translator and writer covering multiple verticals from literature and gastronomy to marketing.

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