Eating is one of the greatest joys of traveling in Italy, a vivid insight into each region’s culture and traditions. Their dishes are made with seasonal, unpretentious ingredients, yet they taste like something you’d get in a Michelin-starred restaurant.
To try to determine which of Italy’s amazing foods are the “best” is like trying to prove pizza is better than pasta – it’s strictly a matter of personal taste and I know everyone is going to have their own opinion.
As an avid foodie, however, I couldn’t resist the temptation of putting together a list of 10 of the best things to eat in Italy. Of course, this is a completely subjective selection, so feel free to disagree in the comments below.
10. Carciofi alla Romana
Artichoke lovers, you’re home.
If you’ve been to Rome before, you might already be familiar with this one. If you haven’t, it should be at the top of your list during your next visit to the Eternal City.
Head down to Rome’s Jewish Quarter. Sit down at just about any place with a free table. Ask for a carciofo alla romana, or a Roman artichoke. The fried, delicious goodness will make you forget all about pastas and pizzas. Well, at least for a little while.
Similar to Spanish tapas, cicchetti are small, reasonably priced plates of food served in Venice’s traditional wine bars, called bacari. These can be anything from artichoke hearts to bite-sized bits of baccalà mantecato (creamed cod), and are traditionally accompanied by ombra (a small glass of wine).
In a city brimming with touristy restaurants like Venice, the cicchetti bars are a breath of fresh air, offering you the opportunity to mingle with the natives and get an authentic taste of the local cuisine.
Bacari can be found in abundance in the backstreets of Venice, especially in the neighborhood around the Rialto Market, but make sure you go early, as they usually close at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.
Fish lovers, this one’s for you.
If you find yourself in Tuscany or Liguria– as tourists to Italy oftentimes do– then cacciucco ought to be on your menu at some point during your stay.
Cacciucco is a fish stew that is often made up of several different types of shellfish. Clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari, octopus, grouper– you name it, and it probably goes right on in the pot with the best of ‘em. You should especially try the cacciucco if you find yourself in Livorno, as it’s something of a specialty there.
7. Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Carbonara is neither the oldest nor the most iconic (that would be cacio e pepe) pasta dish in Rome, but it’s pure magic in your mouth.
The origins of this classic Roman specialty remain shrouded in mystery. Due to the fact that its name derives from carbonaro (charcoal burner), some say it was a popular meal among the Italian charcoal workers, while others believe it has something to do with the Carbonari (charcoalmen), a secret Italian society, but in reality none of these theories can be confirmed.
From typical trattorias to high-class restaurants, there are plenty of venues serving decent Spaghetti alla Carbonara in Rome, but some of the best are Vascello (Monteverde), Salumeria Roscioli (Campo dei Fiori), and Da Danilo (Esquilino).
The authentic recipe calls for fresh eggs, guanciale (pork jowl), Pecorino Romano cheese, and black pepper. Never ever use cream in Carbonara!
Here’s one for all the farinata fans in the world who are in search of a different take on that Italian classic. Or for all you out there who just love some good ol’ fashioned fried food.
Down in Sicily, you’ll find the pane panelle. Panelle is, at its core, farinata. But it’s a different farinata: it’s a lot thicker, and it’s completely fried (as opposed to traditional farinata, which is always baked).
Then, they take the fried bits and shove it into a sandwich with a bit of lemon. Ohh.
10/10 you’re googling how to make this right now. Just be sure to share the recipe with us, thanks.
Italians didn’t invent the ice cream, but they certainly perfected the process over the centuries. The history of Italian gelato dates back to the Renaissance period, but who exactly created the creamy frozen dessert no one knows.
Most stories on this topic relate that gelato was invented at the court of the Medici, in Florence, either by Florentine architect and designer Bernardo Buontalenti or by the court’s alchemist Cosimo Ruggieri.
Nowadays, there are around 37,000 gelaterie throughout Italy, but some of the best are said to be found in Rome (I Caruso), Florence (La Carraia), and Bologna (La Sorbetteria Castiglione).
Real gelato is made daily by artisans, and, unlike regular ice cream, it contains less fat, less air, and much more natural flavoring. If you want to learn more about the history, culture, and technology of this velvety treat, go visit the Gelato Museum Carpigiani in Anzola dell’Emilia, near Bologna.
But don’t forget about dessert! I mean, I love a good cannolo siciliano or gelato, but there’s just so much more out there to try!
Which brings me to the babà.
A dessert found in Naples– though it has similar incarnations throughout the world–a babà is a sort of sponge cake that is covered completely in rum. It’s sometimes filled with whipped cream or pastry cream.
I don’t think I need to explain the deliciousness any further than that.
3.Ossobuco alla Milanese
A hearty, flavorful Milanese specialty, ossobuco consists of veal shanks cooked slowly in white wine, meat broth, and vegetables. The traditional recipe, born probably in late 19th century in one of the city’s neighborhood osterie, doesn’t include tomatoes and is finished with gremolata, a fresh seasoning made with lemon zest, garlic, and parsley.
Although not as popular as cotoletta (veal cutlet fried in butter), Ossobuco alla Milanese is one of the city’s richest and most representative meat-based dishes.
For a truly memorable meal in Milan, try the ossobuco with the classic saffron-laced Risotto alla Milanese.
2. Pastiera Napoletana
Napoli, what can’t you do with dessert? Another tasty treat to come out of Naples is the pastiera napoletana.
Made with ricotta, eggs, flour, lemon zest, and candied fruits (among several other basic ingredients), pastiera napoletana is a fan-favorite all across Italy.
And the good news? The ingredients are so common, you can try your hand at making your own no matter where you are in the world!
Give it a whirl, and bring a bit of Italy right into your kitchen. No pastas or pizzas required here.
1. Pizza Napoletana
There are so many fantastic traditional dishes in Italy, but perhaps no other sums up the very essence of Italian cooking better than Pizza Napoletana. History, simplicity, and fresh, high-quality ingredients – all come together to create what many consider the perfect and most authentic type of pizza.
Invented in Naples somewhere between the 18th and 19th centuries, Neapolitan pizza is basically a flatbread topped with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and extra virgin olive oil. In reality, making a true Pizza Napoletana is an art and requires much more than just 3 or 4 simple ingredients.
The tomatoes must be grown in the volcanic soil of San Marzano sul Sarno, a small town near Naples, while the dough must be made with specific ingredients, formed by hand, and crowned only with D.O.C. Mozzarella di Bufala Campana. Furthermore, this type of pizza must be baked in a wood-fired oven that uses two types of wood at 900 degrees for 60-90 seconds. Nope, that’s not something you can order at 4 am at your door, during a Netflix session.
There are three official versions of Pizza Napoletana, but Margherita is the most famous. The legend says that this classic dish in the colors of the Italian flag was created by Neapolitan pizzamaker Raffaele Esposito in 1889, when Margherita of Savoy (Queen consort of the Kingdom of Italy) visited the city.
Nowadays, Neapolitan pizza is protected by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana and is reason enough to visit Italy’s third largest city.