I have been asked countless times what we eat in Italy, which are the most famous Italian dishes and where we can eat authentic Italian food. While there are dishes that even though they were born in one region are now common all over the country, such as cotechino with lentils for New Year’s Eve dinner, some foods are specific to a certain region or town. Here we give you an in-depth guide to what to eat in Italy region by region.
Italians are renowned for loving their food, and Italian cuisine is one of the most famous and copied around the world. Truth is, there is hardly such a thing as “Italian food” because each region has its own dishes, products and ingredients.
It all relates to Italian history. The Italian peninsula was divided into smaller states and this is mainly why every region has its own traditions, dialect/language, festivals and dishes. Which makes it impossible to write a fully complete list of Italian dishes and foods.
But since we are brave and fear nothing, and since our food is one of the reasons to visit Italy, to book an Italy tour, or even better, to book one of the most mouthwatering Italy food tours, here is our simple list of the most famous Italian food and traditional dishes you should try during your vacation. From a delicious pasta dish to a traditional Italian cake, get ready to gain some weight and find some yummy Italy souvenirs to bring home with you.
Make sure you read our article on the habits and etiquette of eating in Italy.
Lazio – Food to eat in Rome and Lazio region
Bucatini all’Amatriciana among the most popular Italian dishes from Rome
This dish falls into the big umbrella category of Italian dishes commonly known as pasta. Made with San Marzano tomato sauce, guanciale, chili pepper, a tiny little white wine, olive oil, salt and black pepper, and a sprinkle of pecorino cheese on top, bucatini all’amatriciana is best combined with pasta such as bucatini, spaghetti, and rigatoni.
Some of the best restaurants for this dish are Armando al Pantheon (Salita de’ Crescenzi 31) and Felice a Testaccio (Via Mastro Giorgio 29).
Spaghetti cacio e pepe, famous Italian food from Rome
If you are still wondering what to eat in Italy, in Rome don’t miss the delicious tonnarelli cacio e pepe. At first sight, it might seem the easiest recipe ever. Only after you try to make it on your own you will know you might have drawn too hasty conclusions.
The main and only ingredients of one of the most popular Italian dishes in Rome are Roman Pecorino cheese (cacio) and a generous sprinkle of black pepper. The whole thing is made creamy by wisely stirring with some of the cooking water of the pasta. The cheese should better come from the Lazio countryside and the pepper only high-quality.
Where to have this delicious dish in Rome? Felice A Testaccio (Via di Mastro Giorgio 29), Armando al Pantheon (Salita dei Crescenzi 31, tel. +39 06 6880 3034, always packed, booking a few days in advance is mandatory), and Flavio al Velavevodetto (via di Monte Testaccio 97, tel. +39 06 574 4194).
Spaghetti alla Carbonara, one of the traditional Italian dishes and pride of Roman cuisine
Just like the cacio e pepe, spaghetti alla carbonara is another pride of Roman cuisine and one of the most popular Italian dishes also abroad. So this is likely one of the traditional dishes you will eat in Italy.
Some make it with the pancetta, some with guanciale, but the result needs to be a crunchy cured meat and a barely cooked egg on which you will have plunged your hot spaghetti.
Where to eat an unforgettable carbonara in Rome? At Enzo al 29 (Via dei Vascellari 29), Da Danilo (Via Petrarca 13), Flavio al Velavevodetto (Via di Monte Testaccio 97).
Saltimbocca alla Romana, what to eat in Italy from the Roman cucina povera tradition
The word “saltimbocca” means jump into the mouth, and when it’s Roman-style, it’s a very popular second course of the capital’s meals.
This typical Italian dish consists of thin veal cutlets topped by a slice of ham and a leaf of fresh sage stuck together with a toothpick. All cooked in a pan where they previously melted some high-quality butter.
When in Rome, try your saltimbocca alla romana at Zampagna all’Ostiense (via Ostiense 179) and Da Checchino (via di Monte Testaccio 30).
Coda alla Vaccinara
Typical Italian dish from the Roman tradition, this is best eaten in winter as it’s pretty heavy. It consists of oxtail simmered for hours and served with tomato sauce and veggies.
Some of the best places to have it in Rome are Enzo al 29 (Via dei Vascellari 29) and Felice a Testaccio (only on Thursday, Via di Mastro Giorgio 29).
Campania – Authentic Italian food from Naples and Campania region
Pizza, one of the most famous Italian dishes
Among the most popular food in Italy and abroad, pizza, as we know it today, was first made in 1889 by master chef from Naples Raffaele Esposito. He created the “Margherita” topping with the tricolor of the Italian flag (mozzarella cheese for the white, tomato for the red, basil for the green) in honor of the then Italian queen Margherita di Savoia.
Today it comes in different shapes, flavors, toppings, even different flours for the dough. So, if you like the simple pizza Margherita, one of my favorite, it doesn’t mean that you will automatically like also the pizza “capricciosa“, with toppings like olives, artichokes, ham, and mushrooms on top of the basic mozzarella and tomato, or the “pizza ai 4 formaggi” (with four kinds of cheese).
There are countless types of pizza, and every day they invent new ones, with whole-grain flour, with a different type of yeast, different toppings, and the list could go on. This is really what to eat in Italy if you want to compare the original with the pizza in your hometown!
You can find excellent pizza in many cities in Italy. In Naples, you can go to “Da Michele” (via Cesare Sersale 1) for a truly original pizza, so original that for more than a century they’ve been making only Margherita and Marinara types. Whichever day of the week, you will always find a queue of connoisseurs willing to spend their dinner side by side with strangers. If your time in Naples is limited and can’t afford long lines, you can try the excellent Concettina ai Tre Santi (via Arena alla Sanità 7 bis), 50 Kalò (Piazza Sannazzaro 201/B), Gino Sorbillo (via dei Tribunali) or Di Matteo (via Tribunali 94).
Gnocchi alla Sorrentina
A hearty first course of the Campania tradition, these are potato gnocchi cooked and seasoned with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, parmesan and basil. They are then baked au gratin and served warm.
It’s a pretty simple dish to make but truly irresistible and always a success. If you are in Sorrento, try gnocchi alla sorrentina at Ristorante Zi Ntonio (Via Luigi de Maio 11) or at La Cantinaccia del Popolo (Vico Terzo Rota 3).
Frittata di Maccheroni
Known also as frittata di pasta or frittata di spaghetti, this is a sort of thick pasta omelet. Typical of Naples, it was born as a way to recycle the leftover from the day before.
The process is pretty simple. The pasta is mixed with eggs and cheese and fried. Today this is also a typical street food in Naples and you can find it stuffed with meat or cheese.
Pasta e Fasul
One of the typical Italian dishes from Naples, this simply stands for pasta and beans. I make it often at home and although it might be a little longer to make and you need to follow the process closely, it’s pretty simple and delicious.
Beans have always been pretty easy to source and combined with pasta, which is essentially the product of grain, it becomes a nutritious meal rich in carbs and proteins. This made it popular also in other regions that served it in their own version.
In Naples, it’s a favorite first course and the recipe involves cooking the pasta directly together with the beans (after they have been soaked for 8-12 hours and boiled in water for an hour) in a very slow fire to ensure the typical creamy taste.
In Naples, you will often find this dish served with mussels and other seafood, and some of the best restaurants to eat it are Da Nennella (Vico Lungo Teatro Nuovo 103/104/105), O’Munaciello (Piazza del Gesù Nuovo 26), Cantina del Gallo (Via Alessandro Telesino 21).
This is a favorite cake from Naples usually prepared for Easter. The main ingredients are wheat, eggs, ricotta cheese, sugar, candied fruits on a base of shortcrust pastry.
If well-prepared, it has a delicate flavor and it’s not too heavy. In Naples you can find a good pastiera in many bakeries but usually only on the occasion of Easter, even though some make it also for Christmas.
Babà al Rum
Rhum Babà is one of the most popular cakes in Naples. It’s not easy to make and the dough requires a very long leavening, but in Naples, you can find it in pretty much every pastry shop.
Often served with rum or limoncello, you can also find this spongy, mushroom-shaped cake soaked in a non-alcoholic liquid for non-drinkers.
Sardinia – Typical dishes of Sardinia Italian island
Sardinian fregola, best with seafood
Small-size type of pasta made with durum wheat flour and water, handmade and toasted in the oven, fregola (or fregula) is a traditional Sardinian dish. Its round shape similar to the Middle Eastern couscous engendered the moniker of Sardinian couscous, the origins of which are shrouded in mystery.
Is it a legacy of Phoenician and Carthaginian presence in Sardinia or is it native from the island? We can’t say for sure, but what we know is that the etymology comes from the Latin ferculum and it means ‘crumb’. The first written sources that mention the fregola date back to the 10th Century. The Millers Statute of Tempio Pausania, a town in northern Sardinia, ruled that the making of this pasta should strictly take place from Monday to Friday because Saturday and Sunday the water was to be used only to water the fields and pastures.
Now you find the fregola sold also in supermarkets in Sardinia, but the best one is handmade at home. Tradition wants the process to make the fregola almost like a home ritual. Back in the day, in Sardinia, women prepared it by laying the durum wheat semolina on a large plate kneading and working it with a circular hand movement and adding slowly lukewarm salty water.
The circular movement of the hands, almost rubbing it, gives the semolina the distinctive shape of a small sphere. When ready, the fregola is left to dry and then toasted in the oven for about 15 minutes which will give it its unique color and flavor.
There are many ways to cook and season the fregola. Locals make soups or dress it with vegetable or meat-based sauces. But the absolute best way to enjoy it is with seafood and shellfish such as clams, mussels, and egg fish bottarga.
You will have some of the best fish and seafood in Cabras, a town close to Oristano, where you can enjoy a delicious homemade fregola with seafood at the Agriturismo da Pinuccia (better to call for bookings +39 0783 391 015).
This is a very typical Italian dish from Sardinia, and it’s simply the piglet cooked on the spit. As the pig is very young, the meat is very tender and the spit-roasting makes the skin very crunchy.
From restaurants to outdoor festivals, you will always find people cooking and serving it to guests and friends.
These are possibly the tastiest dumplings you have ever tasted. Typical of the Barbagia and Ogliastra regions in Nuoro province, the culurgiones are made with thin dough and stuffed with potato cream and mint. They are so tasty on their own that they are usually served with a very simple tomato and basil sauce or with butter and sage. If you ask me, tomato and basil is the way to go.
Now you can find them not only in restaurants in Barbagia regions but often also in small packages in food stores in Sardinia. However, artisan-made are all another deal and if they come from a traditional house, the dumplings are sewed by hand.
Sea urchins spaghetti
Being surrounded by the sea, many Sardinian dishes reflect that and include fish and seafood. The spaghetti dressed with a sea urchin sauce is an exquisite example of authentic Italian cuisine.
As sea urchins are seasonal, the best time to find this dish is between November and April. Try them in the north of the island in cities such as Santa Teresa di Gallura or Castelsardo.
Rather than a dish, this is an ingredient. And it’s just the dried mullet roe. In Sardinia, this is a real delicacy used to make different dishes and give a twist to several preparations.
You can enjoy it in thin slices on top of the bread with butter or grated in the pasta with a drizzle of olive oil. I have even seen bottarga-flavored cheese.
The best area to have it is Oristano province, specifically the town of Cabras, where it’s made.
This is a very typical sweet from Sardinia. Now it’s served as a dessert in many restaurants, so to be ordered after a full meal, but since it’s really fulfilling, you might want to buy it and have it on its own to properly taste it.
It’s made with a thin dough filled with fresh cheese, deep-fried and topped with a generous layer of honey, better if the bitter arbutus honey.
I admit it’s a pretty heavy pastry and I can barely have half of it after a meal, but it’s really tasty.
Sicily – Typical Italian food from Palermo, Catania and the rest of Sicily region
Spaghetti ai frutti di mare, seafood pasta
Among the classic Italian dishes, the best and most delicious varieties of this dish still are in regions like Sardinia, Sicily and Puglia regions.
Among the foods to eat in Italy, “spaghetti ai frutti di mare” is mainly a tradition from the central and southern provinces. You can find it with different types of seafood, mussels, clams, razor clams and baby clams, some adding also prawns.
The flavor is enhanced by the addition of fresh cherry tomatoes, fresh parsley and extra-virgin olive oil. If you are wondering what are the best foods to eat in Italy, a meal of spaghetti di mare will satisfy your curiosity (and appetite).
If you are in Sardinia, try Cabras town in Oristano province for some of the best seafood. In Sicily, order it along the coast, I had a delicious one in San Leone near Agrigento. Same in the Puglia region, you will find excellent seafood and fish in Taranto.
Pasta alla Norma
One of the most famous and delicious first courses in Sicily, it’s made with short pasta seasoned with fried eggplants, tomatoes, salty ricotta and basil.
This can be eaten as a complete meal or as a salad. It’s mostly a summer dish as it’s made with fried eggplants to which they add ingredients like capers, tomatoes, olives, celery and onion. One of the things to eat in Italy if you are in Sicily.
If you are wondering what to eat in Italy if you feel like a quick, on-the-go, but hearty snack, try the perfect example of Sicilian street food, the arancino (or arancina, depending on the area). You can find it just about everywhere on the island. The cone-shaped rice balls are breaded and deep-fried.
You can find it in the most different versions, with ragout sauce, with butter, and with veggies. Definitely, great food to eat in Italy.
This is a typical Sicilian pastry and even though you can find it in many other Italian regions and cities, nowhere I’ve tried it made it as good as in their hometown.
The crunchy round pastry dough is fried and filled with a light, sweet ricotta cheese. Sometimes you will find it with chocolate drops, sometimes the two edges will be wrapped with chopped pistachio (also from Sicily, Bronte).
If you are in Sicily, try your cannoli in Catania at Pasticceria Savia (Via Etnea 302/304).
Emilia Romagna – Authentic Italian food from Bologna and Emilia Romagna region
Tagliatelle al ragù traditional Italian food
In Bologna, the real deal is the tagliatelle al ragù (please don’t call it alla bolognese). Aren’t tagliatelle spaghetti? Nope. Spaghetti are round and made with semolina, while tagliatelle is a fresh flour and egg ribbon-shaped type of pasta that takes just a few minutes to cook in boiling water.
Ragù has now become a very popular sauce in Italy and we do pair it also with spaghetti, ravioli dumplings, and pennette.
How to make ragù is a very sensitive issue in Italian kitchens, so I will try my best to give you a general recipe in the hope I won’t hurt anyone’s feelings, especially in Bologna.
First of all, you brown the pancetta (the Italian version of bacon) in extra-virgin olive oil, and when it’s ready you add finely chopped onion, celery, and carrot (no garlic, please). Next, you add the minced beef, moisten it with a bit of white wine (half a glass) and start stirring slowly and gently. Add the tomato sauce and simmer for two hours. A few minutes before your turn off the fire, add salt and pepper to taste.
Not sure about the outcome? Take a piece of freshly baked bread, dip it into the sauce and enjoy. If the sauce is very good, after you finish your tagliatelle you are allowed to proceed with the “scarpetta” (little shoe), a popular custom that involved yet another piece of fresh bread rubbed all over the plate until it becomes white again. In Italy, we keep cool and don’t do this at the restaurant, but it’s usually the best part.
Lasagna, one of the most popular Italian dishes
Another dish that in Bologna is paired with the ragù sauce is the famous lasagna, one of those heavenly specialties that you absolutely must eat in Italy. The concept of lasagna is pretty simple: layers of flat and wide pasta, a sauce of your choice and besciamella (white sauce), preferably homemade.
The origins of this dish can be traced back to ancient Rome and Greece, nonetheless. In Rome it was called “lasana”, “lagana” or “lasanum”, Latin words that descended from the Greek “lasanon” or “laganon”, the two civilizations were always close and very much intertwined. Mentioned by poets and writers from ancient times, from Apicius in the 1st century to Jacopone da Todi from Umbria region in the Middle Ages to Tuscan poet Cecco Angiolieri in the 13th century, to the 14th-century “Libro di cucina del secolo XIV” that introduced the alternate layers of pasta and cheese.
The origin of the modern lasagna is probably to be traced back to the 15th century in the fusion of the ancient Roman dish and this medieval treat with the essential addition of tomato sauce in Naples a century later. There is also the school of thought that wants lasagna to be originated in Naples rather than in the Emilia Romagna region (Bologna’s), and many sources that would confirm this, such as the early 14th-century “Liber de coquina” and the book “La lucerna de corteggiani” published in Naples in 1634. Both of them mention the dish.
While in Bologna they use their favorite meaty sauce, lasagna can be paired with every type of flavor. It’s absolutely delicious dressed with broccoli sauce, or veg tomato sauce, mushrooms, truffle-based sauce, pumpkin, eggplants and whatever you can think of. Thankfully in Italy, you can find a good lasagna in many places, so make sure you are pretty hungry and enjoy it.
Arguably the most famous Italian food in Italy and abroad, Parmigiano Reggiano is a hard cheese produced in provinces like Parma, Bologna, Mantova, and Reggio Emilia. It’s made of semi-skimmed cow milk without any chemical addition. Copied all over the world, the best Parmigiano is only from this Italian region.
You can eat it grated on a pasta dish, add it in flakes to a salad, sick some thin slices to a sandwich or simply in pieces with bread, it combines with just about everything.
Prosciutto di Parma
What to eat in Italy if you want a typical local product but a quick, casual meal? Prosciutto di Parma! Popular Italian food from Emilia Romagna, this ham originates from the city of Parma, where it takes its name from. Tender and not too salty, it’s a favorite filling for sandwiches.
Tuscany – Famous Italian dishes from Florence and Tuscany region
Bistecca alla Fiorentina, more than just a steak
Meat lovers don’t need to look further, they will have their best time in Florence with the local Fiorentina T-bone steak, the undisputed star in the local restaurants. Historical sources mention Florentines’ love for steaks from old times. In the Middle Ages, the Medicis used to buy large amounts of beef meat and give it away to the population on the occasion of San Lorenzo celebrations on August 10th.
Like all the traditional dishes, also bistecca alla Fiorentina requires care and attention to detail, and more often than not there’s the risk to find some not-so-authentic Florentine T-bone steak.
So how do they cook it exactly in Florence?
First of all, it’s worth mentioning that there is no bone-less Fiorentina steak and that the original is from Chianina breed. The ideal weight is around 1 kg, sometimes 1.3, this is why it’s always better to be two when you order it. When ready for cooking, the meat needs to have aged for a couple of days and at room temperature. Never place it on the hot grill when it’s cold, take it out of the fridge some 3-4 hours before cooking.
When you are ready, place your steak on the hot grill when the charcoal starts turning into ashes, strictly without dressing, and barbecue it for 3 to 5 minutes on each side. When done, place your rare-cooked steak on a wooden board before cutting it so the internal juice distributes. Some restaurants in Florence serve it as rare as the original recipe is supposed to be and then if guests want they place it on the grill again for a couple of more minutes.
Some of the best restaurants in Florence to eat the Florentine steak are Trattoria Sergio Gozzi (Piazza San Lorenzo 8/r), affordable prices, open only for lunch where you can try many of Florence typical dishes, Trattoria Mario (via Rosina 2/r), a traditional Florentine restaurant, and l’Brindellone (via Piattellina 10/11), affordable fares and generous portions in San Frediano quarter. A great way to know where to find this and other local dishes is to join a private Florence food tour with a local guide.
Tuscan pici, more than rustic spaghetti
The Florentine T-bone steak might even be the star of the show, but this is definitely not the only specialty you can have in Florence.
Tuscany, too, boasts its own type of pasta. Pici is similar to spaghetti but thicker and originates from Siena and Grosseto provinces, d’Orcia valley and Chiana valley. Made with a simple combination of ingredients, flour, water and salt, Tuscan pici are worked by hand until they become long and thick. Like all the best recipes, this, too, comes from the creativity of the lower class.
The original sauce for the pici is the “aglione”, a simple and delicious tomato and garlic dressing, ragù, duck or rabbit liver sauce, or with breadcrumbs, a sauce recipe made with soft breadcrumbs, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, salt and chili pepper. Today you can also find them dressed with hare or wild boar sauce.
Some of the best places to taste pici in Tuscany are Trattoria Sergio Gozzi (piazza San Lorenzo 8/r), affordable and very traditional and Baldini (via il Prato 96/2), simple Tuscan cuisine, in Florence, Gli Attortellati (Strada Provinciale 40 Trappola 39) near Grosseto, or Da Forcillo in Sinalunga, viale Antonio Gramsci 7, Siena province.
Pappardelle al sugo di lepre
Another typical Italian dish from Tuscany is the pappardelle pasta on a hare sauce. Unlike the rabbit, the hare has a darker color and a more intense flavor. Since it’s game meat, they let it marinate before cooking it to lower the strong smell.
You can find this dish pretty much everywhere in Tuscany. My husband had his in Siena and liked it very much, but you can also find it in cities like Pisa, Lucca and smaller famous towns like San Gimignano, all popular day trips from Florence.
Lombardia – Authentic Italian dishes from Milan and Lombardia region
Risotto alla Milanese
This is probably one of the simplest and most straightforward classic Italian dishes to make but absolutely delicious. Its golden-yellow color is given by a generous amount of saffron, and the recipe seems to originate from a joke.
In the 16th century, the daughter of a glass maker working at the Duomo used the saffron pistil to color the rice. At the time, saffron was only used to color glass, but the dish was appreciated to the point that it became immediately famous in the region and all over the country so you will probably find it also elsewhere during your Italy trip.
The ingredients are pretty simple: rice, saffron and butter. Butter is largely used in northern Italy, while in the south olive oil is preferred. For this rice dish, they use quite a large amount of it as it’s needed for a rich creaming result. Some stir-fry the butter with beef marrow and serve the rice as a main course with marrowbone. I’ve had it made with olive oil and onion, which might not be the original recipe but it’s definitely lighter and more appropriate for the summer.
Cotoletta alla Milanese, popular Italian food from Milan
The Milanese cutlet is also a pretty easy-to-make classic of the Lombardy tradition. Some say this is a direct legacy from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, some that it’s a proper Milan creation. Whatever the origins are, this simple dish is loved by children and adults alike.
Here, too, the ingredients are few: thin veal slice, butter and breadcrumbs for breading. The meat is strictly veal, so no pork, no chicken. In the Lombardy region, you will often see it served thin and crunchy, even though many prefer the slice with the bone and softer.
Everybody is crazy about Pizzoccheri, myself included. These are short tagliatelle made with buckwheat flour and served with potatoes, savoy cabbage and local cheese in flakes. This dish is more common outside Milan, in the gorgeous Valtellina area, where it was born in the 14th century.
Whenever I buy “pizzoccheri” I make them with veggies and they are delicious. They really adapt to many ingredients. Probably the best place to try a “pizzoccheri” dish is Teglio, the small town in Sondrio province in the Valtellina region, where, in July, they even devote a food fair to it.
Made with the poorest cuts of the pork such as tail, feet, and ears left to simmer for hours with savoy cabbage, “cassoeula” is the perfect winter dish. Very rich and hearty, sometimes you can find it with the addition of sausage and ribs.
You can enjoy “cassoeula” in traditional restaurants pretty much all over the Lombardia region such as Trattoria Masuelli (Viale Umbria 80, Milan) or Trattoria Urbana Mangiafuoco (Via Calzavellia 3/a, Brescia).
While polenta is very common all over the northern regions, polenta Taragna is a typical Italian dish from this region. Like the “pizzoccheri”, also the base for this meal is buckwheat, making it mainly a winter dish as this is a warm grain.
It’s made by stirring for a long time, at least 40 minutes, the yellow polenta (corn) and the black one (buckwheat). The addition of cheese at the end makes it a full dish, but many eat it with pork meat or sausages for a complete main course. I accompany all types of polenta with seasonal veggies and it’s always a success.
You can order a dish of polenta Taragna pretty much in the whole region but it’s best made and served in the Valtellina area.
Gorgonzola, famous Italian cheese
Who doesn’t know Gorgonzola? It’s the most famous Italian blue cheese and it originates in the small Gorgonzola town. You can find sweeter or stronger. Whatever is your favorite version, this cheese can adapt to the most diverse dishes.
You can just spread it on bread, add it to a salad with pears and walnuts or melt it into a pasta sauce.
Typical Italian Christmas cake, you will find the panettone in just about every food store, bakery, and pastry shop all over the country. But it’s typical of Milan.
There is panettone and panettone. The artisan one is obviously to be preferred to mass industrial production for both flavor and quality of the ingredients. So even if you are not in Milan for Christmas, stop at a bakery and order it there rather than at a store.
The typical recipe from Milan consists of a slow leavening and the addition of raisins and candied fruit for extra sweetness.
Trentino Alto Adige – Traditional Italian meals from Trento and Trentino Alto Adige northern region
What to eat in Italy if you are in Trentino Alto Adige? Probably the first traditional dish a local will mention when asked, “canederli” is made of stale bread, milk, eggs, and cheese to which they add other ingredients for an extra taste, such as speck cured meat, sausage, or veggies.
They are usually served in broth or melted butter and it’s a dish that you can really find everywhere, from the high-end restaurants to the local pubs, from Trento to Bolzano, everywhere in the region, and locals absolutely love them.
Literally “monk stranglers”, these are hearty dumplings made with stale bread mixed with either spinach or chards. In Trentino Alto Adige, this was also a dish of the poor used to recycle old bread.
They are usually served with melted butter and cheese, sometimes with the addition of crunchy pieces of speck cured meat and “finferli” mushrooms.
These are little gnocchi prepared with milk, flour and eggs. You can find them simple like this, so in their white version, green with the addition of spinach, or red with the addition of beetroots.
They are delicious and a favorite first course from German origins and now very popular in the whole Trentino region. You can order them served with different sauces, often with pancetta cured meat, fresh cream and grated cheese.
Minestra da orz
Simply meaning barley soup, made it the Trentino-way is much more than that. Creamy, hearty and warming, this soup is healthy and fulfilling. This is what to eat in Italy if you are on a winter holiday and it’s a cold night where you need to warm up after a day of skiing. The secret of making this soup so creamy is to soak the barley beforehand and then cook it very slowly.
Barley is one of the most used grains in the north due to the cold temperatures, and this is a very popular soup. Usually made with plenty of veggies, sometimes they also add a pork shank bone for a different twist.
Among the local cakes, impossible not to mention the strudel. Direct legacy from the Austro-Hungarian occupation, this is a roll of thin dough stuffed with pine nuts, apples, raisins and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
It’s never missing from the menu of every restaurant, pub, osteria and all traditional eateries, from Trento to Bolzano to Merano.
Liguria – Famous Italian dishes from the Cinque Terre, Genoa and the rest of Liguria region
Trofie al pesto
In Liguria, you will find basil-based pesto just about in every restaurant. And trust me, you want to try it. The main ingredients for this sauce are basil, garlic, olive oil and Parmesan.
It’s usually served with fresh pasta, which can be also tagliatelle, but you can find it with several other types too.
You can find pesto pretty much everywhere in the region, including the Cinque Terre.
Pansoti in walnut sauce
Another popular Italian dishe from Liguria is the “pansoti in salsa di noce”. Similar to ravioli dumplings, “pansoti” are generously seasoned with a creamy and delicious walnut sauce.
The dumplings are filled with veggies, cheese, and herbs, while the sauce contains walnuts, milk, garlic, and pine nuts.
Also known as fainè or cecina, the farinata is a thin savory pie made with chickpea flour, water, salt and olive oil. It’s very rich in protein and while it seems easy to make, I’ve never managed to make it properly.
It’s usually a typical street food that you can find in Genoa, La Spezia and all the other cities in Liguria. Even though it seems thin, it’s very fulfilling and a piece of it can easily make for your dinner.
In Genoa, buy it from the caruggi of the city center, they usually have it nice and traditional.
Piedmont – Famous Italian dishes from Turin and Piedmont region
Garlic-rich sauce, bagna cauda contains also anchovies and is usually served with a large platter of fresh seasonal veggies. This is what to eat in Italy if it’s your first time in Turin, a hearty treat that makes for a perfect appetizer.
This is a classic of Piedmont cuisine. Served as a starter, it’s made with a thin slice of Fassone veal marinated in white wine and seasoned with carrots, celery, onion and bay leaves and then stewed in its own juice. Once it’s ready, it’s served covered with a sauce made with tuna, olive oil, eggs, capers, anchovies, white wine and lemon juice.
Agnolotti del Plin
Small dumplings stuffed with meat or veggies, this is a typical Piedmont dish you need to try at least once if you are in the region. The dough, so thin you can almost see the filling, was originally made with water and flour while now eggs are added. Today it’s served with a ragout sauce or butter and sage.
Tajarin with white truffle from Alba
This is a delicious dish you don’t want to miss in Turin or Piedmont region. Tajarin is a type of egg spaghetti and in this dish, they are seasoned with butter and the excellent white truffle from Alba.
It’s the first course that you will need to try at least once for your own Italian culinary education. Then, rest assured, you will repeat the experience.
Don’t leave Turin without trying their bicerin at least once. Coffee, chocolate and milk cream are the ingredients that make this treat a favorite in the city.
Just like across the country, also in Turin, you will be able to order a simple coffee, but if you can, do enjoy a bicerin at least once.
Truth is, you can find good chocolate everywhere in Italy, but Piedmont, and especially Turin, are really well-known for their high-quality sweet treats.
If you are a sweet tooth, in Turin visit Guido Gobino chocolate shop and factory. Their chocolate is pretty expensive, packaged and sold with the care you would treat a diamond, but once you tried it, you’ll understand why.
Veneto – Typical dishes from Venice and Veneto region
Polenta, your ideal winter Italian dish
Polenta is a pretty difficult dish to place in only one region. It’s a traditional staple popular in northern and central Italy and you will find it, especially in regions like Veneto, Lombardia, Valle D’Aosta, Trentino Alto Adige and also Piedmont. It’s definitely what to eat in Italy in the cold season and if you want a hearty meal that you can combine with pretty much anything you like.
It is a typical “poor” dish made of fine and coarse cornmeal that comes in white and yellow: the white one, typical of Veneto and Friuli regions, is a more delicate version, while the yellow is the most common. Obviously, the finer, the softer.
Even though we are talking about simple cornmeal, polenta is not easy to cook. First of all, you need to pay attention to the ratio of flour/water (the water must be 4 times the amount of the flour, so cook 400 grams of medium-grain polenta 1.6 liters of water), then pour slowly the flour into the boiling water stirring to avoid the formation of lumps and keep stirring for 40 to 50 minutes.
Rich in carbs, it’s often paired with proteins such as meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. When paired with veggies, it makes for a delicious vegetarian dish: if you have the chance, try Tuscan black cabbage polenta, gorgonzola cheese polenta, or with rapini (for your convenience, cime di rapa in Italian). When it comes to food, Italian creativity is hard to beat, and today polenta is served in the most different shapes, from truffle-flavored polenta baskets to polenta-stuffed dumplings to polenta bruschettas. Gluten-free, it’s good also for those who suffer from celiac disease.
For a good polenta you ought to go north, you will find great dishes in Aosta (Valle d’Aosta region), Milan, Udine (Friuli Venezia Giulia), Bergamo or Trento to mention a few.
Baccalà alla Vicentina
Codfish cooked Veneto-style is extremely tender and far from the salty and hard idea we have in mind. Cooked with olive oil and milk, it becomes soft, delicate but still very tasty.
It’s usually served with polenta, but in the last years, the imagination of the locals presented it also with rice, gnocchi, or bigoli pasta.
You will find this delicious baccalà dish in many cities in Veneto, from Venice to Vicenza to Verona.
Risi e Bisi
A first course from the Veneto tradition, this is a mid-way between risotto (rice) and soup. The main ingredient for this delicious dish is the fresh peas that give it its quintessential aroma and creamy texture.
Because of the peas, this is a Spring dish, but you can find it in winter too when they use frozen peas. Obviously, the result will be different. The recipe starts with a stir-frying of onion and pancetta cured meat and after the rice is ready, they add creaminess with Parmesan cheese, more butter, fresh parsley and black pepper.
Originating from Vicenza, this dish is common also in Venice.
Umbria – Popular Italian food from Perugia and Umbria region
Truffles are present in central Italy and are the base for many recipes of the Umbria culinary tradition. Used to make sauces for pasta or dumpling dishes, pastes and creams, this is definitely something to eat in Italy if you are in Perugia, Terni, Assisi and other famous cities in the region.
You will find truffle-based recipes in many restaurants in the region and you can sample them on toasted bread (bruschette), appetizers, first courses as well as main dishes. A popular Italian food, it’s much appreciated in all the regions of Italy.
Torta al Testo
This is a sort of thin focaccia cooked on a cast-iron plan and stuffed with all the local products and delicacies. This is what to eat in Italy if you are looking for an easy, on-the-go lunch. In fact, you can find it in bistros and street food places.
Although some of the most common fillings are veggies and sausages, fresh cheese and rocket salad, and cheese and ham, you can really ask to fill it the way you like it. Possibilities are endless for this ancient, much-loved bakery treat.
This is also a collection of products rather than a dish. It’s the art of working pork meat with the local ancient techniques. It originates from the Umbrian town of Norcia but it’s spread and appreciated all throughout the country.
Among the products you can either order at the local restaurants or buy at the food stores are sausages, a variety of salami and hams, and other types of cured meat known under the names of capocollo, mortadella umbra as well as wild boar sausages. In the local food shops, you can also order sandwiches filled with your products of choice.
Pasta alla Norcina
This is a typical first course of the region and consists of a pasta dish seasoned with sausage from Norcia, black truffle and fresh cream.
This is a very popular dish in the region and definitely something to eat in Italy if you are in Perugia, Assisi or other cities in Umbria. In Perugia try it at Il Settimo Sigillo (Via Ulisse Rocchi 1) and in Assisi at Taverna dei Consoli (Vicolo della Fortezza 1).
Umbricelli ai funghi porcini
This is another delicacy from Umbria. Umbricelli is a typical local pasta and comes in thick spaghetti, handmade and shorter than your average spaghetti. As porcini mushrooms are widely present in central Italy, you will often find them as a pasta sauce, but if you are in Umbria, I suggest you try them with their umbricelli pasta.
Abruzzo – Authentic Italian cuisine from L’Aquila and Abruzzo region
Spaghetti alla chitarra
Literally, “guitar spaghetti” for the tool used to make them similar to guitar chords, this is a typical Abruzzo pasta. Strictly handmade, this is a variety of Italian egg pasta some 2-3 mm thick.
At the local restaurants, you can find it with different types of sauces. Usually, with a ragout of mixed pork, beef, and lamb meat, it’s not uncommon to see it on the menu also with sauces made with wild boar, hare, and game in general.
Meat lovers here will relish. This is a dish symbol of Abruzzo region and consists of small pieces of sheep or lamb meat roasted on a brazier. It’s a typical shepherd dish, so from the local “cucina povera” tradition. The pieces of meat, of about 1 cm, are cooked in small wooden skewers and alternated with some pieces of fat which melting in the heat gives a richer taste.
Where can you eat this typical dish of central Italy? Properly made and best quality, only in Abruzzo. Better if it’s in smaller towns but also in bigger cities. Some of the best restaurants are Ristorante delle Querce (Contrada S. Maria 8, Villa Celiera, PE), La Pecorella (Via Gabriele D’Annunzio 57, Montesilvano, PE), and other small towns like Cepagatti, Castilenti, Farindola.
Again not really a dish for vegetarians, mazzarelle are rolls of lamb innards, mainly heart and lungs, wrapped in endive leaves and tied together with the intestines of the same lamb. The origins are the kitchens of the poor people because traditionally these were the parts discarded by the wealthy.
Nowadays you can find them in most restaurants in the region.
Puglia – Famous Italian dishes from Bari, Brindisi, Lecce and the rest of the Puglia region
Orecchiette alle cime di rapa
This is the Italian for turnip greens orecchiette pasta and it’s a must to eat in Italy if you are visiting the southern Puglia region. Orecchiette is a type of local fresh pasta with a round shape that reminds of little ears, hence the name. If you are in Bari, get to the old town and on Arco Basso street, you will the local women sitting in front of their door making orecchiette.
In Puglia, you will find this pasta with a delicious turnip tops green sauce where the initial sauteed includes chili pepper and anchovies. It’s a typical recipe from the Bari area but you can find it in restaurants all over the region.
This is a typical dish from the Foggia province in the Puglia region and consists of meat of sheep, goat or veal seasoned with salt, chili pepper, garlic and fennel seeds and let dry under the sun for a couple of weeks. You can eat it either grilled or raw and depending on the age of the animal, it’s going to carry a more delicate or rougher taste.
If you are not lactose intolerant and like dairy products, you will truly enjoy the burrata. A thin layer of mozzarella wraps a tender heart of stracciatella (fresh cheese with a slightly acid flavor) and fresh cream.
You will find it everywhere in the region, both in restaurants as well as local food stores.
Ciceri e tria
This delicacy is a pretty complete first course as it includes both the carbs part with the pasta and the protein with the chickpeas. The pasta is fresh and partly is normally boiled, partly fried. It’s then combined with the chickpeas in a pan with olive oil and garlic and an optional sprinkle of black pepper once on the plate.
This is a very ancient recipe, some of the sources mentioning it dating back to 35 BC.
Seppie ripiene (stuffed cuttlefish)
Puglia has a rich fish and seafood culinary tradition. Everywhere in the region, you will find plenty of fish dishes, both first and main courses, as well as raw fish, especially in Taranto. A very popular one is the stuffed cuttlefish, which comes with many possible fillings, including Pecorino cheese and a paste made with stale bread and herbs.
Marche – Traditional Italian meals from Ancona and Marche region
Found as a starter or appetizers, or even street food, these are large and tender olives stuffed with meat and deep-fried. It seems an easy thing to make but in all truth, the best ones are really those in their hometown, meaning Ascoli and the Piceno region.
They look like lasagne, but if you are in the Marche region, don’t confuse them. They are not the same dish and locals insist on the difference. Of course, at first sight, you will have the impression you are eating lasagne, but the recipe is actually not the same.
In the Marche, bordering with Emilia Romagna, from where lasagne are from, the meat used for the ragout sauce is roughly chopped and not minced, and there is a larger use of spices like nutmeg and cloves.
Stockfish recipe typical from Ancona city, this a pretty ancient dish that has been preserved like in the old days. It’s made and served with potatoes, fresh tomatoes and chopped garlic, carrot and parsley.
Some of the places in Ancona where to try a good Stoccafisso all’Anconetana are Trattoria la Moretta (piazza del Plebiscito 52), Osteria la Bottega di Pinocchio (via Pinocchio 48), or Gino (piazza Rosselli 26).
Molise – Italian main dishes from Campobasso and Molise region
Located on the Adriatic Sea, most recipes from the coast are fish and seafood-based. Pretty often you will find the salted codfish prepared and served in different ways. Among the most common are the deep-fried codfish and the one baked in the oven.
Both are great combined with raw or cooked seasonal veggies. This is what to eat in Italy if you are a fish lover.
This is an ancient pear-shaped cheese produced in the Isernia province. Made with cow milk, it can be more or less aged. Its aging happens in natural caves and its initial delicate taste becomes more salty and strong with the age.
Locals eat it grilled with bread. You can buy it in the local food stores to take home or have it in a sandwich.
The Molise region has a wide choice of cold cuts and cured meat. Each area has its own, but you can find the most popular to buy or in the local restaurants pretty much everywhere.
Some of the most common are soppressata, liver sausage especially from Rionero Sannitico, guanciale (spicy pork cheek), and capofreddo, cured meat of cooked pork, usually pieces like head and feet, and sometimes also the skin and the tongue.
Insalata di maiale (pork salad)
A typical Italian dish from Molise, it’s made of pieces of pork slowly boiled and then seasoned with garlic, celery, lemon, olive oil, and black pepper.
This, together with the pork tripe, is more of a starter rather than a complete dish, and often you will find it listed on restaurants menus as an appetizer to kick off your traditional meal.
Basilicata – Famous Italian dishes from Matera, Potenza and the rest of Basilicata region
Cutturiddu di pecora
The sheep is largely used in the Basilicata cuisine. For this dish big chunks of sheep are cooked with veggies and simmered for a long time to make it very tender.
This is an old hearty dish from the shepherd/farming tradition now served as a main or second course.
Lagane is a type of pasta that reminds of the tagliatelle but is shorter and larger. In Basilicata it’s very popular and can be seasoned with different sauces. One of the ways preferred by locals is with legumes, especially chickpeas, in a very simple and tasty recipe with the addition of fresh tomato, garlic and basil.
This is usually a first course, but the addition of proteins can easily make it a nutritious main dish.
Pane cotto (cooked bread)
At first, this might not even seem like a dish. It’s very simple and inevitably comes from times of poverty when recycling was a must. Like most dishes of the Mediterranean tradition. The main ingredient is stale bread cooked and made tender in a veggie broth.
The tradition wants it combined with the seasonal veggies, just what they could find at the moment back in the day. And today they kept it just like this. So you can find it made with cabbage, turnip tops, leek, some add potatoes and some at the end add an egg on top.
You will find this dish as a main course in the local restaurants in Basilicata and different versions also in other regions in southern Italy.
Another shepherd’s dish is the crapiata, typical of the city of Matera. This recipe was born on the occasion of an ancient pagan festival celebrated every August 1st to mark the end of the harvest. Today, on August 1st, Matera celebrates the food fair “Festa della Crapiata” where this dish is prepared in huge amounts and served to those who attend the festival.
It consists of several different grains such as wheat, farro, and legumes such as beans, chickpeas, dried peas, lentils and cicerchie, an ancient legume from central and southern Italy. They are cooked all together and later ingredients like potatoes, celery, garlic, carrot and small fresh tomatoes are incorporated to add the flavors of the Mediterranean tradition.
Calabria – Typical Italian dishes from Calabria region
Popular Italian food and a famous cold cut from Calabria, ‘nduja is a very chili sausage. Once you cut it, you will find it has tender and fire red meat. The original ‘nduja is produced in Vibo Valentia, where on August 8th they also hold the food fair “Sagra della ‘Nduja”.
The sausage contains several cuts of pork from the cheek, shoulder, belly, legs and head. Finely chopped, they are mixed with plenty of chili pepper that has the purpose of giving it its signature flavor and color as well as allowing long preservation.
You will find this sausage pretty much everywhere in Calabria, as an appetizer/starter in restaurants or also to buy in local food stores.
This is a soup made with many different veggies like chars, asparagus, carrots, endive and the very typical red onion from Tropea. The veggies are overcooked until they become a cream where you dip crunchy toasted bread.
Pasta and potatoes “ara tijeddra”
In many southern regions, you will find different versions of pasta and potatoes, and Calabria couldn’t miss it. Here it’s called pasta e patate ara tijeddra.
Typical from Cosenza but common also in other cities, it’s composed of layers of tomato sauce, pasta, potatoes, and cheese, which can be Pecorino, Parmesan or Caciocavallo.
Maccarruni aru fierru
A tasty first course, this fresh pasta is made with durum wheat flour and seasoned with a tomato strong sauce, usually ragout of beef, goat or pork meat, or using chili ‘nduja sausage.
While this is the first course on many restaurants’ menus, so the dish you order after the starters and before the main (or second) course, it’s pretty fulfilling and can make it for a full meal.
Typical from the inland and mountain provinces, these meatballs are an important Calabria tradition.
They are made mixing several ingredients. To raw pork meat, they add eggs, goat cheese, parsley, chili pepper, olive oil and salt and then they deep-fry them. Not exactly a light meal but very tasty and much cherished now all over the region.
Stocco di Mammola
In a region surrounded by the sea, it was inevitable that a big part of the local culinary tradition included fish dishes. The stockfish is used in many recipes and one of the few fish that is paired with red wine.
In this recipe, it’s re-hydrated and cooked with tomato sauce, potatoes, olives and bell pepper in a terracotta pot.
Valle d’Aosta – Traditional Italian dishes of Valle d’Aosta region
One of the queens of the local recipes couldn’t be other than a polenta dish.
Polenta concia is made with cornflour (yellow polenta) and baked in the oven with the local fontina cheese and melted butter. A perfect warm dish for a cold winter night in the mountains of Valle d’Aosta.
A dish popular also in France and Switzerland, it’s actually Valle d’Aosta that can claim its origins as the main ingredient is the local cheese Fontina DOP. Made with whole milk, butter, eggs and fontina, the result needs to be a cream to be poured in each diner’s bowl and eaten with croutons.
This is a meat dish where pieces of beef deprived of the fat parts are finely sliced and cooked in red or white wine seasoned with onion, butter, nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper. Ideally, it’s served with polenta to make a full meal.
Seupa à la Vapelenentse
Popular Valle d’Aosta soup, it’s made with savoy cabbage boiled in meat stock, the unmissable fontina cheese, butter and stale bread. Originating as a poor dish, today it’s often served in traditional local festivals.
Friuli Venezia Giulia – Traditional Italian dishes from Trieste and Friuli Venezia Giulia region
Prosciutto di San Daniele
One of the most renowned ham types in Italy, Prosciutto di San Daniele has a slightly sweeter taste than its peer Prosciutto di Parma from the Emilia Romagna region.
It’s probably the favorite starter on the local restaurants’ menus and very common all over Italy. It’s often served together with melon or figs.
This is a very typical first course of Friuli Venezia Giulia, specifically in the Carnia area. They are dumplings made with thin dough and can be stuffed with fresh ricotta, pear jam, raisins, walnuts, rum, cinnamon, dark cacao, spinach, chives, and herbs, depending on the version.
What makes them different from all the other dumplings, “ravioli” or “agnolotti” of the Italian tradition is the contrast between sweet and savory in the same dish.
Frico and polenta
One of the most popular dishes of Friuli Venezia Giulia, it was born as a poor dish to recycle the surplus of cheeses during the making process. Today it’s a savory pie of mixed cheeses that sometimes comes with the addition of potatoes or onions.
It’s usually soft and stringy inside with a crunchy surface. Sometimes it can be made fully crunchy perfect for a snack or an aperitif.
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