Italians are the world’s largest consumers of mineral water, with each woman, man and child drinking an annual average of 63 liters of the beverage. Italian diners implicitly distrust tap water as bad for their livers, despite the stalwart efforts of mayors in cities including Venice to convince their citizens that what they buy and haul home in bottles often comes from exactly the same spring that feeds kitchen water taps.
In a restaurant, as you sit down, you will be asked if you want Acqua Minerale. “Acqua gassata” is with bubbles; “Acqua naturale`” is without. Every region of Italy has myriad varieties of mineral waters, and every label sings seriously the accolades of that water’s benefits for the health in general and the digestion in particular. Sweet-tasting “Acqua Panna” is the best of the low-salt waters. For mysterious reasons, still mineral water is considered more sophisticated than the effervescent variety.
In restaurants, our suggestion is that you order tap water. It is called “acqua semplice in brocca”. It will not come with ice, however, but is usually cold. Italian tap water is usually superb to very good. Please try it. Some Italian restaurants will even seltzer their tap water. Unlike American tap water, the Italian equivalent is rarely overchlorinated (except in Florence.) By drinking tap, not only will you not be paying for bottled water, but you will deny your support to the water producing industry, one of Italy’s more heinous contributors to national environmental damage.
We have found such delicious water, with such varying flavors, all throughout Italy, and some of our favorites include that which runs freely through every tap in the Umbrian town of Norcia and of course in our own home town of Rome — where city water is legendary.
In Rome, the little fountain on the wall, just opposite the Campidoglio’s sturdy left flank, is the only one left to provide drinking water via one of the city’s original Roman aqueducts; the water to us tastes especially sweet and thirst-quenching. Put your finger to the faucet’s spout and a cooling arc of drinking water will emerge through the round hole just above.