Merenda is a brilliant concept and a fantastic word. Literally the noun merenda refers to an afternoon snack typically enjoyed by kids. It can also be a tea break, a picnic even. But none of these terms properly conveys the encompassing significance of the expression.
The word merenda comes from the late Latin verb “merere” (to deserve), and translates to ‘the things you have to deserve’. This means only those worthy of deserving merenda should have it. That’s why besides children – who deserve to have everything – hard workers, young students, gourmands and other lovers of life, all deserve to carve out a few minutes of their afternoon for merenda.
Italian kids go back to school September 14th. This means returning to merenda normality after the summer eating anarchy.
The perfect break during cumbersome homework, merenda restores energy and smiles.
This tiny afternoon meal can be a wide variety of sweet or savory plates. Here are only a few popular merenda foods Italians love.
- Bread slathered with chocolate-hazelnut spread* – usually washed down with a tall glass of fruit juice or a cup of tea.
- Before the jarred stuff, we used to eat rosette bread rolls cut open and stuffed with a piece of dark chocolate (pane e cioccolato)
- Bread, ricotta and sugar – a very simple, yet tasty and energetic snack. Can be added with cacao powder, coffee powder, cinnamon, jam, and so on.
- Gelato – seasonal, including winter.
- Buttered toast with sugar (pane, burro e zucchero)
- Cake, any kind
- Greek yogurt with honey, fruit and müesli (in lieu of granola, which nobody knew about in Italy until recently)
- A slice of homemade ciambellone or crostata
- Cioccolata calda
I was always more of a savory merenda kid. My afternoon mini-meals were along the lines of:
- Rustic slices of bread rubbed with a raw tomato (pane e pomodoro)
- Focaccia or pizza bianca stuffed with mortadella – (pizza e mortadella, or pizza e mortazza, quintessential Roman merenda)
- Bread drizzled with extra virgin olive oil (pane e olio, my son’s favorite to date)
- Salami sandwich (pane e salame) – usually made with rosette buns.
- Bread, butter and anchovies – (burro e alici, a sensational appetizer too)
- In absence of anchovies, bread, butter and salt
- Zuppa di latte – crusty sourdough or ciabatta torn to pieces and dunked in large bowls of milk
Next time you get a craving for something special in the middle of the afternoon, ditch the soda and junk food, and choose one of these amazing Italian merenda snacks. Your body (and tastebuds) will appreciate it.
*Instead of the popular industrial brand, opt for a less engineered, more organic alternative, such as Nellina by La Gentile, Deanocciola Menestrello (gluten-free), Alce Nero Ciokocrem, Majani Crema Gianduja, Rigoni Asiago, Nocciolì, Venchi Crema Spalmabile; Caffarel and Lindt also make a healthier version. More alternatives listed here (in Italian).
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, freelance food and travel writer, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her shows “ABCheese” and “Uazz’america” are broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso Channel. Her podcast “iCheese” is recorded live on the Radio Food Live network.