close up of loaf of garlic bread with herbs
Home » Italian Culture » Is There Garlic Bread in Italy?  NO, and Here’s Why

Is There Garlic Bread in Italy?  NO, and Here’s Why

Last updated on October 6th, 2023

How many times have you seen garlic bread on the menu at an Italian restaurant in your home country? Almost every time. So it must be Italian, right? WRONG!

But then what’s the connection? Let’s look at why what Americans call garlic bread is actually not at all Italian and why you will never see it on your trip to Italy. 

In this article I will cover

  • Why Italians don’t eat garlic bread 
  • How Italians eat bread
  • How garlic bread came to be
  • What you will see in Italy instead of garlic bread
  • When and how to eat these little nibbles in Italy

Italians Don’t Eat Garlic Bread

Close up of slices of garlic bread with herbs.

What Americans have defined as garlic bread – a french baguette type of bread brushed heavily with garlic-infused butter and sometimes topped with a sprinkling of oregano – is a 100% American dish that you will never find in Italy! 

Sometimes garlic bread as we know it is even smothered in cheese to make cheesy garlic bread, a variation just as uncommon. So how did garlic bread get the association?

At the turn of the 20th century, millions of Italians emigrated to the US in search of a better life. As true Italians do, they found ways to make the best use of what they had upon arrival and local olive oil was one of those things. 

In fact, any form of olive oil was hard to come but rather, butter was the staple. Quickly, a favorite of theirs, bruschetta (see below), was transformed into what we now know and love as garlic bread. 

How Italians Eat Bread

top view of round pan with peposo close up on a marble board
Bread served alongside a second course meal

So now that we have established that garlic bread will never be served in Italy, how and when then do they eat bread?

Italians eat bread most typically as an accompaniment to meals that do not involve carbs. For example, meat dishes, appetizers, salads, etc. 

As an exception, they will just use a crust of bread to mop up any sauce left over on their plate from a pasta dish but you will never see Italians eating a forkful of pasta and then a bite of bread. It just doesn’t happen.

Italians love any excuse to chow down on it as it’s almost as important as pasta. Here in a rundown of when you will see them eating bread: 

  • Prima colazione: for breakfast either fresh or in cassetta (pre-packaged sliced sandwich bread) with jam or nutella.
  • Colazione: as a morning snack for kids or blue collar workers as a sandwich or in the form of focaccia
  • Pranzo: as an appetizer, alongside lunch, or made into a sandwich 
  • Merenda: for an afternoon snack either as a small sandwich or in the form of focaccia.
  • Aperitivo: with cocktails as small crostini topped with various things such as beans, tomatoes, and pâté. 
  • Cena: as an appetizer, alongside dinner, most typically with a second course meal or just a crust to mop up pasta sauce leftover on the plate. 

Bruschetta – The Closest Thing to Garlic Bread in Italy

Four slices of toasted bread topped with tomatoes and basil - Italian bruschetta.

Bruschetta (pronounced broo-skeht-tah in Italian) is the closest thing you will possibly find in Italy to garlic bread. 

Tip: Check out 36 Commonly Mispronounced Italian Foods for our full guide on how to pronounce bruschetta correctly!

The differences are many more than the similarities. Toasted bread is about the only similarity. 

Served as an antipasto or appetizer in Italy, bruschetta starts with a slice of toasted bread (typically day-old) that is then rubbed with a raw clove of garlic (while it’s still hot from the toaster) and drizzled generously with olive oil and salt. 

Fact: In Rome, the simplest form of bruschetta is called bruschetta romana

Now this is the basic bruschetta but it can be dressed up in many ways, the most popular version with chopped tomatoes. If you order bruschette (the plural form), you might be getting a plate with several different kinds of bruschetta

Good To Know: Eat bruschetta with tomatoes during the summer when the tomatoes are at their best in Italy (not in the dead of winter!).

Try It: Learn How to Make Authentic Italian Bruschetta.

Fettunta – Another Garlic Bread Substitute

two boys eating fettunta in foreground wooden tale with white plate with fettunta

Fettunta (pronounced feht-toon-tah in Italian) is the Tuscan version of bruschetta but is generally only eaten during the fall when the new olive oil is freshly pressed. 

Fettunta stems from the Tuscan dialect fetta unta meaning oily slice. It’s a toasted slice of bread doused in freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil, olio nuovo and sprinkled with salt. 

Fettunta will either be made with or without garlic and Italians generally believe in one or the other.  Hot off the grill, the fresh garlic is rubbed all over the bread (the heat from the grill will melt the garlic as you press firmly down), followed by plenty of oil and salt. 

It should be served with red wine and be prepared to get your hands dirty; eating fettunta is messy business. 

Learn More: Read about Fettunta – how to eat it and make it at home. 

Freshly-pressed oil at the frantoio in Tuscany, Italy.
Freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil being extracted from the press (Tuscany)

Garlic Bread in Italy FAQ

Do Italians put butter on their bread?

Generally speaking, no. Italians drizzle their bread in olive oil. In northern Italy, you may see some Italians eating bread with butter, demonstrating the clear influence Germany and Austria has had on the northern territories historically. 

What’s the difference between bruschetta and crostini?

Bruschetta is made from slices of bread from a large loaf. Crostini re typically made using thinner slices of bread cut from a small, round loaf such as a baguette. 

Do Italians eat garlic bread with pasta?

No, Italians do not. They will only use a corner or small piece of bread to clean their plate and mop up any sauce left on their pasta plate.