Italy - The Comprehensive Food Guide
Italy - just a mere mention of the boot-shaped country evokes visions of delectable pizza, freshly cooked pasta and creamy gelato. A country where extra belt holes are a necessity and carbo-loading is a sport, Italy is a food lover's paradise. Eating is a huge part of the Italian culture and mealtimes are not just for refuelling your body but a way of life. There's no better way to really experience the Italian culture than to slow down, taste your food and feel the love because at the end of the day in Italy - food equals love.
Beyond the usual pizza, pasta and gelato there is a plethora of foods to sample that suit nearly every taste bud. Each region has their own specialty and you'll be surprised to learn that some of your favourites are named after the region they were first created from, like Bolognese in Bologna! This guide covers some of the most iconic Italian foods, with a couple of little surprises in between.
Let's start with "il meglio del meglio" (the best of the best) The origin of pizza is a little fuzzy depending on what you Google but the fable of the first Margherita pizza began in 1889 when Raffaele Espostio presented Queen Consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy a pizza garnished with basil, tomato and mozzarella to represent the national colours of Italy. Fast forward to today and it's still one of the most popular toppings there is.
The best pizza in Italy is without a doubt found in Naples where some restaurants such as Pizzeria Di Michele serves only two types of pizza - marinara and margherita and have used the same recipe since 1870. Or the infamous Sorbillos, that allegedly Pope Francis blessed! But if you don't make it to Naples, don't stress! Great pizza can be found anyway, even the pizza chain Rosso Pommodoro serves up delicious slices every time.
If there's one bit of advice I could relay, it's this - don't overdo the toppings. Italian pizza is best when it's simple. There's a reason why Margherita pizzas have lasted this long, they are mouth-watering every time!
Fun fact - there is over 300 different types of pasta varieties in the world and you can bet you'll find nearly all of them in Italy. However they may have different names than what you are used to, for example, the traditional pasta from Bologna isn't actually spaghetti Bolognese but tagliatelle al ragu and it tastes 1000x better when you eat it in its birthplace, Bologna!
Most regions will have their own specialty kinds of pasta that they're famous for. For example, in Sicily, pasta con le sarde - pasta cooked with fresh sardines - is a staple meal and a must try when you're there.
We had the most amazing pasta at BStyle in Bellagio, a picturesque town on Lake Como. Exquisitely cooked with local produce, it was one meal that lingered on our minds for days after our visit. There's something about eating food that has not only been cooked with love but served proudly. Our waitress was so informative about where the ingredients were sourced and little stories about the chef that it made our meal so much more special.
Ahh is there anything more Italian than strolling down a cobblestone street gelato in hand? This creamy, cold sweet treat is the epitome of the Italian summer and the ultimate holiday pleasure.
This icy delight was first created back in the 16th century by Bernardo Buontalent, a native of Florence however it was Sicily who first sold gelato to the public and from there, the rest is history.
From chocolate to strawberry, salted caramel to pistachio, this chilly indulgence has something for everyone. If you like a wide selection to choose from - Della Parma in Rome is your go-to spot with over 150 flavours at your fingertips. Also, when in Italy, multiple gelatos a day is not frowned upon. Holiday calories don't count remember!
A collection of cured meats, pickled vegetables, cheeses and breads that are often teamed up with Aperol spritz for afternoon apertivo, antipasto is supposed to be more Iike an entrée but often the spread is so good, it ends up being the main course!
Deep-fried balls of rice and cheese that you can eat with your hands& are there anything better? What started off in Sicily as a way to use leftover risotto, these delicious snacks can now be enjoyed all around the world.
While you'll be able to find arancini all around Italy, the best kind is in found in Sicily!
If gelato isn't enough to satisfy your sweet tooth than this coffee infused parfait might just be what you're after. Perfect as an after-dinner treat, tiramisu is creamy, cakey and all around wonderful.
While many cities try to lay claim to this velvety dessert, it's Venice who comes out the top. It might be the romantic, whimsical feel that Venice offers where you can imagine sharing a cup or tiramisu with a loved one while being paddled down a canal by a gondolier& or it could just be that Venice makes the best? Who knows, you'll have to go to Venice to try it and see!
While not entirely a part of the food category, we couldn't put together this list without adding a staple of the Italian diet. Espresso, cappuccino, affogato, café latte - you can nearly bet your coffee order originated in Italy.
The Italians take their coffee seriously and it's not just a morning pick-me-up but a time to catch up with friends or family. You'll often see cafes full of locals squashed in at the bar, right in next to the barista talking and laughing loudly. It's a cherished part of daily life and one we highly recommend getting on board with.
Have we made you hungry yet? The best news is that this is only a small taste of what Italy has to offer! While you clean up your drool, here are a few do's and don'ts when eating in Italy.
- Eat pizza with your hands. By all means, cut the pizza with cutlery but when it comes to eating, make it hands on
- Drink coffee at the bar. Establishments will often charge to sit down.
- Order un caffe (espresso) after a meal not during. And don't drink cappuccinos after 10am
- Don't rush. Meals can last for hours in Italy - savour them
- Be expected to pay for pane e coperto (bread and cover charge)
If you're travelling on a budget, fill up on the complimentary snacks offered at apertivo time in the early evening.
So, ready to explore Italy on your own and try all the delicacies? It's amazingly easy - grab a Eurail pass or a point to point ticket for one of Trenitalia trains that criss-cross the country quickly and frequently.