A big part of the whole Italian experience is food. Eating in Italy is a serious business. Different regions have their own specialties and no matter where you go you will get flavorful food! It has been 4 months since we have come back from our trip and I am still trying to burn all those calories and get rid of the holiday weight!
Before we begin, sharing some basics on how to read an Italian menu. It is usually divided as follows –
- Antipasti – Appetizers such as bruschetta, grilled vegetables, meat and cheese platters etc.
- Primi – the first course is usually Pasta or Risotto!
- Secondi – the second course is usually fish or meat. For vegetarians, this is mainly an omelette or a platter of vegetables.
- Dolci – Desserts likes Tiramisu, Cannoli, Tarts, Gelato etc.
- Caffe – It is very common to finish your meal with an expresso. It usually comes after dessert and not with it!
Here is our list of Top 11 things to eat & drink when in Italy – Buon appetito!
1. Pizza – Found all over the country, it is a must eat when in Italy. It is the best in Naples – ultra thin crispy base, made with traditional ingredients. While there are multiple varieties – when in Naples try the classic Margherita.
We also loved this place in Rome – called La Boccaccia in Trastevere – a small hole in the wall spot where you get pizza by weight and we tried so many flavors.
WhiteCollarTraveller Tip – Lesser ingredients are better when having a pizza in Italy. Italians prefer to get the flavor of each ingredient when having food – so best have a pizza with 3-4 ingredients. Too many toppings are not good – it also means poor quality in Italy.
2. Pasta – Every region in Italy has its own sauce, each shape of Pasta has a different story to tell. It is good to learn the regional specialties for your destination otherwise, you might not recognize the pasta on the menu as it will be called something like Trofie (in Liguria).
We had the best Pesto Pasta in Liguria region (Cinque Terre) at a small family-owned restaurant.
3. Arancini – Crisp and golden brown stuffed rice balls is a must when in Sicily. Filled with mozzarella, tomato, spinach and /or meat these Sicilian delights were our favorite during the trip! For the real thing you have to go to Sicily – the roman version is called Suppli which is ok-ok!
Pane con Panelle – Chickpea fritters in a roll is a popular street food in Palermo which is great for vegetarians.
4. Cannoli – this sweet baked pastry finds its origins in Sicily and is basically little tubes filled with creamy ricotta.
5. Gelato – There is no such thing as too much gelato when in Italy. With generous servings and so many flavours it is perfect for the summer months when the temperatures soar. Super smooth and flavourful – but make sure you have the good stuff! Our favourite flavours were mixed berries, strawberry, limon, dark chocolate, and hazelnut!
WhiteCollarTraveller Tip – How to choose the right Gelataria (Gelato shop) ?
Look for artisanal gelaterias with natural ingredients. Check the color – is it natural or bright? Also a good Gelateria – makes Gelato fresh and usually in small batches to be consumed within a day or two. Those towering puffy mounds or heaps on the tray are a strict “NO”.
6. Focaccia – The Liguria region makes the best focaccia – bread topped with olive oil – tomatoes, onions, olives and sold by weight! Best eaten as a snack while exploring towns and hidden alleys. We had the best focaccia in Cinque Terre just walking around one of the villages.
7. Bruschetta – One of our favourite starters is a simple garlic-rubbed toast topped with fresh tomato, basil and olive oil. It also comes with other toppings.
WhiteCollarTraveller Tip – If in Florence – must have the bruschetta at Enoteca Bevovino (around Piazza Michelangelo).
8 .Tiramisu – If you love coffee and mascarpone – this light and creamy dessert is a must-try when in Italy. Tiramisu’ is quite literally translated to ‘cheer me up’. I have personally never been a fan of this but loved it in Italy!
WhiteCollarTraveller Tip Eat as many desserts you can in Italy – Be experimentative! We loved the Panna Cotta too in Sorrento! It is so light and fresh – probably the best I have ever had!
9. Cornetto – Part of a typical Roman breakfast– Coffee and Cornetto (the Italian version of Croissant) is a must when in Italy. Also called brioche in some part of Italy – try it out at any of the caffe bars – it is a great way to start your day!
10. Aperol Spritz – Made with Aperol (or Campari), prosecco, and soda water – it is a pre-dinner drink. While I wasn’t a big fan of it – everyone seems to be drinking this and you would want to give it a try.
11. Limoncello – Usually served after meals, sipping this liqueur is almost like a cultural thing in an Italian household. The northern region calls it Limoncino whereas the more popular southern name is Limoncello!
When Eating in Italy here are a list of must do’s –
- Eat Gelato everyday…. Duh! Obvious, but you need to follow it to try and have as many flavours .
- Avoid restaurants near major tourist attractions.
- Try eating at smaller home run cafes and restaurants. They have authentic and delicious food!
- If you have time – do a food tour or visit a vineyard. We did the Best of Tuscany tour with @walkaboutflorence and had this amazing lunch at Fattoria Poggio Allora, a 400-acre organic family-run wine estate, which overlooks the stunning hilltop town of San Gimignano. We spent the afternoon eating fresh organic farm food of homemade pasta, cured meats, local cheeses and sipping on a variety of wines!
- Try regional specialties. Each region in Italy has its own sauce – pesto, bologna, pepper pasta etc.
- The local house wines are great and super affordable (at times cheaper, than water).