Hand rubbing small piece of bread in tomato sauce that's leftover on a white plate.
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Fare La Scarpetta – What It Means (And If We Actually Do It In Italy)

Last updated on June 22nd, 2024

Ever wondered whether or not is it acceptable to eat bread with your pasta in Italy? The answer is not really EXCEPT for when you fare la scarpetta.

So what does fare la scarpetta mean in Italian? And do Italians actually do this with their bread and pasta in Italy? 

In this article I will explain what exactly it means to fare la scarpetta, how we do it in Italy, how to pronounce it, and how you might use it yourself whether you are in Italy or back home.

Fare La Scarpetta Pronunciation

Fare la scarpetta is pronounced fahr-eh lah skahr-peht-tah in Italian.

Listen to the pronunciation of fare la scarpetta:

Fare la scarpetta might be used as such:

“Fai la scarpetta così pulisci il tuo piatto”
“Mop up the sauce with a piece of bread to clean your plate.”

“Dopo aver mangiato la pasta al pomodoro, ho fatto la scarpetta con il pane che avevi fatto tu!”
“After eating the pasta with tomato sauce, I was able to mop up the sauce with the bread you made!”

What Does it Mean to Fare La Scarpetta?

Hand holding bread with tomato sauce above plate with remains of tomato sauce.

Fare la scarpetta refers to the act of taking a small piece of bread, preferably with a crust, and holding it with the tips of your fingers (as if it’s a little shoe) to clean your plate by mopping up any leftover sauce

Fare la scarpetta is the ONE exception to eating bread with pasta in Italy and even so, you aren’t actually eating the bread with the actual pasta itself. After you have finished any first course meal or primo, you can use a small corner of bread to mop up all the tasty sauce remaining on your plate. 

Watch as I show you how to ‘fare la scarpetta’ at the end of our family dinner.

It’s usually a single gesture, one sleek move (maybe a couple if you have a lot of sauce leftover) of passing the clean bread over the plate or using the bread to move the sauce to one part of the plate and then mopping it all up. 

Fare la scarpetta is not an act reserved for just pasta but can also be used for any sauce leftover on your plate, no matter the course. You will often see people doing it with stews or other second courses. 

What Does Fare La Scarpetta Mean?

Close up of hand holding bread with tomato sauce over a plate.

Fare la scarpetta in Italian literally translates to “make the little shoe”, fare meaning “to make” and scarpetta meaning “the little shoe”.

The Origins Of Fare La Scarpetta

The origins of fare la scarpetta are a bit unknown. Some believe that it started in the North, others in Southern Italy but there is actually no documentation of this. 

Some say that the small piece of bread moving along the plate is similar to a shoe dragging along the street and picking up all dirt it comes along. 

Another theory is that scarpetta was born out of the Italian word scarsetta to mean “poverty”, referring to the act of cleaning your plate so as to not waste food, much like was done in the past when much of Italy was very poor. 

Some Italians were taught that the small piece of bread being pushed around by the tips of your fingers looks similar to a small shoe.

Lastly, scarpetta also refers to a shape of pasta that is concave and meant to hold plenty of sauce, just like this small piece of bread does. 

What we do know is that historically, Italy has been a very poor country and much of the Italian way of cooking is based off of the cucina povera or the idea of making simple, hearty, tasty meals with local ingredients. Within this concept, not a scrap of food ever went to waste, including the most finite bit of sauce left on your plate.

Is It Polite To Fare La Scarpetta?

Plate with remains of tomato sauce.

According to the Italian bible of good manners, Galateo, you can fare la scarpetta as long as you are in a casual setting and it must be done with a fork (meaning you stab a small corner of bread and clean your plate using a fork, not holding the bread with your fingers). 

This being said, I can say with some authority (I have been living in Florence for many, many years now) and most people do indeed fare la scarpetta even with their hands in informal settings.

To conclude, do it at home, at casual restaurants or at good friends but don’t fare la scarpetta at a formal dinner.

When To Fare La ScarpettaWhen NOT TO Fare La Scarpetta
At a good friend’s houseAt a dinner party
At your own homeAt a Michelin-star restaurant
At a barAt a fancy restaurant
At a self-service restaurants in ItalyAt a fancy hotel
At a very casual restaurantWith new company

When To Fare La Scarpetta

Now while most of Italy is today not so poor that they need to mop up every last bit of sauce the question remains, must you? 

So when do we fare la scarpetta here in Italy? When should you be doing it? The answer is simple: after defining that it is socially acceptable in that particular situation i.e. at home, you should consider two things before going through with this messy act of fare la scarpetta.

Firstly, is the sauce worth eating? Did you love it? Can’t get enough? If the answer is yes, move onto question two. 

Secondly, is the bread worth eating? If it’s really good bread, it’s going to marry very well with your sauce. And honestly, even if it’s not really good bread like the unsalted pane toscano that you find here in Tuscany, you will be most likely covering up its flavor if the sauce is that good.

If the sauce is amazing, go for it no matter the bread being served. 

Fare La Scarpetta FAQ

What does fare la scarpetta mean?

Fare la scarpetta means to “make the little shoe”, referring to the small piece of bread held between your fingertips to mop up the last bit of sauce left on your plate in a first or second course meal in Italy. 

What is the Italian saying for cleaning your plate with bread?

It’s referred to as fare la scarpetta.

What does scarpetta mean in food?

Scarpetta means “little show” in Italian. “Fare la scarpetta” in Italy refers to the act of cleaning  your plate from all its leftover sauces with the end of a piece of bread or small crust held with the tips of your fingers.