Buying Produce in Italy

After several exploratory visits to the supermarket and many observational expeditions, I finally bought broccoli.

My first day in Rome, I ventured out to the ipermercato and was completely baffled by the experience.

“Busta?” the checkers asked.  Envelope? Why is she asking me for an envelope?  I tried to disguise my panic and sort of shrugged and shook my head.  She saw the canvas bag in my hand and said, “Oh no… somethingsomethingsomethingsomething. Va bene.”

Ah. BAG. A plastic bag. Would I like a plastic bag? No, thank you.

I was brave enough to attempt buying a few kitchen staples that day, but I shied away from fresh veggies because I could tell there was something unfamiliar going on in the produce section.

Life in Rome is very social, there are always people out and about… except on Sunday mornings.  I decided that Sunday morning would be the perfect time to slowly wander the empty fruit and veggie aisle and try to buy something fresh.

Here is how you buy produce in Italy:

1. Don’t even think about touching it.  If you’re at the supermarket, there are plastic gloves and lots of signs instructing you to use them.  At the market, you can either tell the stall owner what you would like and HE will get it for you, or show you how to properly/hygienically get the food yourself.

2. Use the plastic produce bags.  There’s no getting around this one.  In the US, I would usually just let the fruit roll around in my basket because the thin plastic bags seem like such a waste. In Italy, it’s essential to use them because:

3. You have to weigh your own produce.  This is the crucial difference between American and Italian supermarkets.  If you try to go up to the checkout without weighing your own fruit? The checker is going to mumble and throw it back.  No fruit for you.

4. Put the produce on the scale and push the button with the picture of the fruit or vegetable you’re weighing.  It will print out a sticker with the weight and price for the checker to scan.  Boom. Produce section success.

8 thoughts on “Buying Produce in Italy

  1. Debra Kolkka says:

    Non si tocca – is the sign you see in fruit shops. The up side is that when you ask the salesperson for a melon to eat tomorrow, it will be just right. Have you been to the Campo de’ Fiori yet?

  2. anna says:

    totally had this problem too.. i went for a month without buying produce and i am a vegetarian!! i bought stuff in the bags and then got up the courage!broccoli is the first thing i bought too cuz i got here in the beg of november! so loved this blog entry…

  3. Fernando says:

    Thanks for the tip. I know I’m a bit late in commenting on this, but some of our grocery stores here in Houston prefer that you weigh and bag your own produce (an optional policy that has been in force for years). I do like the idea of the produce manager picking great fruit for me.

    • L'americana says:

      Don’t be embarrassed! It’s a totally different system 🙂

      I’ve even had them refuse to sell me produce because they thought I pushed the wrong button!

      But one way to avoid the grocery store confusion is to buy fresh produce directly from fruit and vegetable vendors. Though in most cases, you don’t touch it yourself. You need to tell them how much you want of what, and they will pick it for you.

      Have fun in Milan!

  4. Jennifer says:

    My family is new to Italy and I quite enjoyed reading your post as we just lived this very thing—except with romaine lettuce. So very true! I wish I would have stumbled across your site first 🙂

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