Story and photos by Claire Murphy Explorebigsky.com Contributor

FLORENCE, Italy – In a small Florentine basement restaurant, linen tablecloths, liters of wine
and silverware are set for a long and large meal.
Hours of conversation are shared here, and multiple courses of fresh food served. Although, this
isn’t Thanksgiving, it’s a typical dinner at Bucca
dell Orafo
restaurant in Florence, Italy.

The Italian lifestyle and culinary tradition
revolves around large gatherings and the type
of meals we Americans generally associate with
Thanksgiving and other holidays. While American tables fill with family and
friends this Nov. 22, Italians will be going out or
staying in, just like any other day. In Italy, a large
meal and family time is a given every day.

It’s part of Italy’s culture, la cultura familia, says
Buca dell Orafo chef Karly Siciliano, an American
who came to florence five years ago as a culinary student from Washington, D.C. Cutting
artichokes in the hidden downstairs restaurant,
Siciliano explained how eating is different for
Italians.

“More than anything, it’s easier [making large
family meals] in Florence because Florentine people never leave the city. They live close to their
families.” Plus, she says, in Italy, the mother is
the head of the household, “so she has dinner on
the table. It’s part of her role.”

Erin Heffernan, the program assistant at florida
State university’s study abroad program in Florence, will experience her second Thanksgiving in
Italy this year. Heffernan will miss her mother’s
turkey and her aunt’s cranberry sauce.

“Here it’s just another day,” she says. Although
Italians don’t have the same holiday, “the important thing is we’re all together and having a great
time, and we sort of have our own family here,”
Heffernan said.

Despite missing family, Heffernan has fallen in
love with Italian food and tradition, particularly
at Anita’s, her favorite restaurant.

“Everything is made fresh daily,” Heffernan says. “On menus, by law, [a restaurant is] required to indicate if something was made with frozen ingredients
… which I think is sort of special.”

Typical Florentine families hold long,
loud and lavish meals – for a meal to last
two or three hours is normal, and you
won’t be rushed out by your server.

“Eating that long is not only not a bad
thing, it’s the way you’re supposed to
eat,” Heffernan said. “I love that, I love
that aspect.”

Bucca dell Orafo host, Sandro
Buonuomo, is originally from Naples, four
hours south of Florence.
“It starts when you are born,” Buonuomo said. “It starts with the food and
tutti la familia,” food and the whole
family.

This view is shared all over Italy.

“It’s about life,” said Alessandro Raddato, an instructor for InTavola cooking school.
Meals have an appetizer, a pasta course, a main
course and a side dish, then dessert.

Raddato (pictured below, with Siciliano) grew up
in Puglia, a smaller town three
hours southeast
of Naples. People
in his hometown
still live more
traditionally, so
the city shuts
down for a large
family lunch
every day.

“Then on Sunday
we have lunch or
dinner with grandma, grandpa and all the family,
obviously with the richest menu. when I was a
child, every Sunday [I spent with] my grandpa
and my cousins, eating with my family. ”
Smiling, he recalls his grandfather giving him a
small glass of wine mixed with water since he was
8 or 9 years old.

Since he moved further away, Raddato doesn’t
spend daily dinners
with his family, but,
he says, in Florence
that’s still what most
families do.
Being a much larger
city, Florence stays
open all day.”

“In Italy the best type
of cooking is the cooking your mom does,”
Raddato said, referring to something Heffernan and many other Americans can relate to.

As a chef at an authentic Tuscan restaurant, Siciliano also has perspective on Italian eating.
In the U.S., “it’s hard to find good product,” she
said. but the sense of togetherness Americans
experience on Thanksgiving isn’t that difficult to
find.

“It depends where your family comes from,” she
says. “In my family [at home in the U.S.], it’s really important. My dad makes a point to have dinner on the table every day, so we’re all together.”

Living thousands of miles from home, Siciliano
can’t easily enjoy a meal with her family, but she
does get satisfaction from cooking for Italian families enjoying food and time together every night.

Claire Murphy suggests taking a lesson from the
Italians: Be thankful for your family, enjoy the food,
and try making it a more frequent tradition. Although
Murphy will spend Thanksgiving in Italy this year,
she’ll be making turns in Big Sky this winter.