How Much Pasta Do Italians Actually Eat?

Italy is rightly known throughout the world as the epicenter of pasta and a glorious pasta culture. Whether or not Italians invented pasta is still up for debate, but everyone agrees that Italians make the best pasta in the world.  But how much pasta do Italians actually eat — just how big is pasta in Italy? The short answer is: very, very big — but also smaller than you'd think. 

What do we mean by that? First, the numbers. Italians consume an average of 23 kilograms of pasta a year, a little over 50 pounds. In a formal meal, pasta is considered part of the first course (soup, polenta and rice are other options), with a protein and side dish to follow, so pasta is not usually considered the meal's main event, even if visitors to Italy often consider it the main attraction. 

While modern Italians don't always follow formal meal structures, most do eat pasta most days of the week, even if they're not eating several courses. 

In this sense, pasta is very big in Italy indeed. That might sound boring to Americans — pasta every day? But it's a testament to the incredible quality of Italian pasta and the creativity of chefs that it doesn't get old. Italians know how to level up their pasta game, whether that's knowing how to eat spaghetti properly, or figuring out the golden ratio of sauce to pasta

Mighty but small

But, despite the ubiquity of pasta in Italy, pasta is much smaller there than in America in one sense: portion size. While Italian regional cuisines are not all the same, there's no place you'll find the huge portions that Americans often associate with Italian food. Unlimited pasta and free refills are simply not a way of life in the nation (just one of the many ways in which Olive Garden differs from restaurants in Italy). The standard portion size for pasta in the country is a cup of pasta, while a typical American serving is often two or three times that amount. 

That's only one of the many ways in which Italian pasta culture might surprise many Americans. Italy has many rules about how pasta is eaten, as well as specific ways in which it's prepared. Italians always salt their pasta water, avoid overcooking their pasta like the plague, and always mix their sauce into the pasta rather than dolloping (or dousing) the sauce on top. Italians never combine seafood and parmesan cheese, and — what may surprise many American foodies most – the pasta is usually the dried variety, not fresh.  Because most formal meals begin (but don't end) with pasta, it's treated with a much lighter touch than in the U.S. 

Trying pasta the Italian way just might help you understand why Italians continue to eat so much of it: It's just that good.