Your Guide to Traditional Italian Food
Hungry? We’re dishing out a taste of Italy. Read our Italy food and drink guide to discover delicious food and drinks that’ll add flavour to your travels.
Get a Spoonful of Italy
Are you thinking of visiting Italy? Who isn’t? The picturesque landscapes and rich history are certainly draws, but let’s be real - it’s all about the authentic italian food. The pasta-bilities are endless.
So hold onto your spaghetti because, for those who treat their taste buds like royalty, Italy is a foodie paradise with a banquet of flavours.
From creamy risottos of the North to the zesty seafood of the coast, Italy serves up a feast fit for culinary kings and queens.
Carb lovers - this country is for you. Buon appetito!
Different Bites at Different Sights
Did you know that traditional italian food varies greatly by region? For instance, in Rome, you'll find classic Roman pasta, while Tuscany offers dishes like pappa al pomodoro and bistecca alla Fiorentina.
Lunch Late, Dine Later
When it comes to meal times in Italy, timing is everything. Lunch typically falls between 1 and 2:30 PM, while dinner is an evening affair from 8:30 to 10:30 PM.
Eating earlier? You might just be dining with fellow tourists.
And a hot tip: always book a table at popular spots, as Italians savour their meals slowly. Don't expect the check to arrive in a hurry either – in Italy, meals are a time to relax and socialise, not just eat and run.
But really, who'd want to rush off anyway in the land of La Dolce Vita?
Traditional Italian Food You Must Try
You'll want to tuck into these classic italian dishes...
Risotto: Italy’s Creamy Comfort Food
This creamy rice sensation hails from the North of Italy. It’s made by toasting rice with butter and onion, with flavourful stock until soft.
One dish you absolutely must savour is the traditional Risotto alla Milanese, a true Italian staple. This creamy rice dish is renowned for its enchanting golden hue and tender saffron-infused texture, earning it the alternative name, "risotto allo zafferano."
In Milan, locals affectionately refer to it as "risotto giallo." The star of the show is the local carnaroli or arborio rice, cooked alongside veal broth, butter, Grana Padano cheese, and occasionally, bone marrow. This dish's captivating story revolves around a Dutch artist.
While decorating Milan's famous Duomo cathedral's windows, he served a saffron-infused rice dish at an elegant dinner. To his surprise, it instantly became a sensation, adding a flavourful chapter to Italy’s culinary history.
Pizza Perfection: That’s Amore
In Italy, the creation of pizza, a cornerstone of authentic and traditional Italian food, pizza-making is elevated to an art form. Pizzaioli, the master pizza makers, treat their dough with the utmost care – it's almost like a living entity.
They guard their secret recipes like treasures and crafting the perfect pizza dough is a meticulous and time-consuming process.
Once a chef selects a type of flour, there's no turning back. However, all pizza recipes, despite their variations, share a common theme: simplicity.
So remarkable is the pizza in Italy that it enjoys the protection of UNESCO. In 2017, the Art of Neapolitan 'Pizzaiuolo' was recognized as part of Italy's cultural heritage and placed under the safeguard of UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage program.
Italian Pasta: Pasta-tively Amazing
Italy's pasta scene is a culinary universe of its own! Wherever you find yourself, do yourself a favour and indulge in the locals' beloved pasta dishes. Trust us, they're popular for a reason!
We recommend this handcrafted pasta, filled with a delicious blend of pork loin, ham, Mortadella salami, Parmigiano cheese, eggs, and a hint of nutmeg, all in a capon broth.
Pasta alla Carbonara
Carbonara, a pasta dish loved worldwide, is a global favourite but the real deal can only be found in Rome.
This dish celebrates simplicity with just a few ingredients: spaghetti, guanciale (that's fancy for pork jowl), eggs, pepper, and cheese. Surprisingly, these ingredients aren't part of Rome's traditional recipes.
Authentic Roman Carbonara sticks to the basics: guanciale, eggs, pecorino romano cheese, and lots of black pepper. No cream here! Instead, it gets its creamy goodness from eggs and cheese working their magic.
The origins of Carbonara, a classic dish in traditional italian food, is as puzzling as its taste. Some say its name, "Carbonara," comes from the Italian word for charcoal. Legend has it that coal miners enjoyed this hearty meal to fuel their work deep underground.
Trofie al pesto: Take a pest-o my heart
"Pesto" means "crush" in Genoese, and that's exactly what they do. They crush basil, Parmigiano Reggiano, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and olive oil in a marble mortar to make a creamy sauce that smells like a Mediterranean garden. This sauce is a match made in heaven with handmade trofie pasta twists.
Best enjoyed in Genoa, nestled in northwestern Liguria, a land of sailors and explorers. Back in the Middle Ages, when this spice trade hotspot started getting creative with herbs and flowers, pesto began its journey. It's a 19th-century twist on an older garlic-based recipe called “agliata,” showing us how good things evolve with time.
This traditional italian food is a nod to the Liguria region's finest ingredients: fresh basil leaves and fragrant Ligurian olive oil. It’s mixed in garlic, parmesan, pecorino, salt, and pine nuts.
The Genovese twist to enjoying pesto is to toss it with pasta, along with some potatoes and green beans.
Lake Fish Specialties in Lake Garda
Lake Garda is a foodie's dream destination. You'll find plenty of restaurants, charming trattorias, wine cellars, and olive mills that offer fun workshops and cooking classes. Here, you can learn the art of making fresh pasta, traditional desserts, and delicious lake fish dishes.
Lake Garda has some famous specialities, like trinca risotto, pasta with lake sardines, grilled treats like perch and lavaret, and pike served with creamy polenta. And let's not forget the beloved fish soup—a local and visitor favourite that's a must-try.
This giant fish soup isn't for solo diners unless you're really hungry or love fish. It's a big pot filled with ray, mullet, sole, redfish, and prawns, cooked with tomatoes, parsley, and garlic.
Grilled bread slices are thrown in to soak up the tasty fish soup. First, you eat the fish, then the flavour-soaked bread. At the end, thin spaghetti is mixed in to mop up the remaining broth. It's a unique, hearty meal from the Adriatic coast, and usually takes two people to finish it!
Tasty Mountain Menus
In the Dolomites, the menu is as stunning as the mountains themselves. Fancy a taste of tradition? You can't miss out on the local favourites: hearty polenta, fluffy canederli, crescent-shaped mezzelune, and savoury spätzle mixed with spinach, mushrooms, beans, and game. And for a sweet finish, the famous strudel is a must-try.
These fried rice balls come in two types: Roman and Sicilian, and they both share a tasty centre filled with ragu or zesty tomato sauce, gooey mozzarella cheese, and Arborio rice (the same rice used for making creamy risotto).
A generous coating of breadcrumbs and a plunge into the deep fryer makes these irresistible. It's this crispy shell that earned them the adorable name "Arancini," which translates to "little oranges."
But here's where they part ways - the Sicilian arancini add some beefy flair and a dash of peas to the mix. Of course, Italian flair knows no bounds, so you might stumble upon arancini stuffed with various veggies.
These treats, a key part of traditional Italian food, are often served with a side of marinara sauce and can be found in all corners of Italy - from lively market stalls and cosy pubs to upscale dining establishments. They're a local favourite that'll leave your taste buds singing "That's Amore!"
Focaccia: Italy’s Irresistible Bread
Focaccia, an oven-baked creation that falls somewhere between flatbread and pizza, is a beloved favourite.
Depending on the region in Italy, it might sport different appearances, go by various names like "schiacciata" in Tuscany, "strazzata" in Basilicata, or "crescia" in Umbria, and boast a range of unique ingredients and toppings.
But regardless of its regional flair, focaccia always delights with fragrant herbs and sumptuous olive oil. It’s a must-try.
Coffee: Italians take their coffee seriously, usually in the form of a quick, strong espresso.
Italian cheese has a lot of history, stretching from ancient Rome recipes to today's delicious delights. It's strong, soft, creamy, grained, sweet, salty - a cheese lover's dream.
Parmigano-Reggiano, the cheese royalty, is perfect for grating over pasta, plopping on asparagus, or mixing with arugula and lemon.
Ricotta? Great for a drizzle of olive oil and some bread, lasagna, or cheesecake. Pecorino Toscano loves a good salad, Asiago shines in gratins, and mozzarella? Born for pizza.
In a World of Cheddar, Be an Italian Mascarpone
Mascarpone (that’s mahs-car-poh-nay for you), is Italy’s creamy cheese sensation, and star in the world of traditional italian food.
This isn’t just any cheese - it’s extra creamy thanks to a whole lot of saturated fat, which makes it perfect for adding a luxurious touch to both sweet and savoury dishes.
Like Italy's diverse regions, each cheese brings its unique taste to the table.
Lasagne: Italy’s Layered Legend
Layers of pasta, meat, cheese, and tomato sauce – that's a recipe for deliciousness. For the veggie lovers, just swap meat for veggies. Everyone gets a taste of this Italian wonder.
Pappa al Pomodoro
Pappa al Pomodoro is a heartwarming tomato soup from Tuscany. This isn't just any tomato soup; it's thickened with crusty bread for extra oomph.
It’s made by summering bread with a tomato-based sauce until the bread is wonderfully soft. A spoonful of this, and you’re practically in an Italian grandma’s kitchen.
Bistecca alla fiorentina
Made from the prized Chianina cattle, known for their tender and flavourful beef. This Italian showstopper is all about keeping it simple.
Just a drizzle of olive oil, a touch of rosemary, and a pinch of salt – that's all it takes to bring out the best in this grilled sensation. Because sometimes, less is more, especially when it comes to a great steak.
Sure, truffles pop up in a few places worldwide, but none match Italy's quality and quantity.
You've got the potent white truffles and the subtler black ones, commanding top dollar in the foodie world. Sprinkle them on pasta, a salad, or even your breakfast eggs, and you've got a dish instantly transformed by their unique, luxurious aroma.
This is Milan's slow-cooking marvel. This dish is a lesson in patience, taking up to three hours, but it's worth every tick of the clock.
We're talking veal shanks bathed in either red or white wine sauce, mixed with veggies, garlic, lemon zest, juice, and spices.
And bone marrow is so good, it's like a reward for your wait. The name itself "Ossobuco" means "Hollow Bone.” This is a must-try dish if you want to savour traditional Italian food.
Coda alla vaccinara
Coda alla Vaccinara, a highlight of traditional Italian food, is when you cook oxtail for a long time with celery, carrots, onions, and red wine, sometimes for two whole days. This slow cooking makes the meat super tender, falling right off the bone.
At the end of the meal, you can dip grilled bruschetta in the pan to soak up the leftover sauce with carrots and celery. It's a special Roman dish that's soft and melts in your mouth, often enjoyed during big celebrations.
Gelato: What Italian Holidays Are Made Of
Gelato is a total game-changer in the world of frozen treats. Make "gelato o'clock" a thing on your holiday - trust us, it's worth it.
Fan of ice cream? Well, Gelato is a whole different scoop. With less fat and no added water or air, gelato is all about intense, pure flavours and fresh ingredients.
And since it's served a bit warmer than ice cream, it's silkier, smoother, and the perfect refreshment as you stroll down Italy’s cobbled streets.
This sweet treat is a pastry lover’s dream. A dessert with a twist - literally. There are two types of sfogliatella: Riccia and Frolla.
Riccia is a layered crispy puff pastry, with a filling of sweet ricotta, candied orange bits, vanilla, and cinnamon, dusted with sugar.
Then there's "Frolla," packed with the same tasty filling but wrapped in a shortcrust pastry.
Tiramisù:Your Sweet Escape
Italy's perfect marriage of dessert and coffee. This delectable treat layers Savoiardi ladyfingers, each soaked in a rich blend of mascarpone cheese and various coffee powders. Some add chocolate powder, but traditionalists prefer just coffee.
Served in large trays and cut into lasagne-like rectangles, Tiramisù is not just a feast for the taste buds. Its name means "lift me" or "pull me up," reflecting its reputation for being a delightful pick-me-up, thanks to that coffee kick. It's a classic Italian dessert.
Dolce: Sweet Sensations
Dolce is what we call puddings and every Italian region has its signature treat.
Forget the diet and dive into indulgences like tiramisu, creamy pannacotta, affogato (that's ice cream swimming in coffee and liqueur), and torta di riso, a sticky, lemony, amaretto rice cake.
Feeling guilty after a dolce dive? The Italian solution: balance it with holiday activities! Walking Italy’s beautiful trails is the backdrop for working off those sweet indulgences.
So, enjoy first, exercise later - that's the Dolce Vita way.
Italian Coffee: Espresso Yourself
Coffee in Italy - it's not just a drink, it's a way of life. Italians adore their coffee strong. You'll spot milky cappuccinos at breakfast, but as the day rolls on, it's all about quick, sharp shots of espresso.
Mornings often include a fragrant cappuccino or a robust espresso, paired with a cornetto (Italy's answer to a croissant) or other sweet treats.
Remember, cappuccinos are a morning-only affair in Italy – they believe milk messes with digestion post-meal. If straight espresso is too much for you, opt for a macchiato (a tiny touch of milk) or a caffè lungo (a more watered-down espresso).
In the scorching summer heat, Italians go for chilled options like caffè freddo (sweetened cold espresso), caffè shakerato (imagine an alcohol-free espresso Martini), or crema di caffè (a creamy, frosty coffee treat).
Spritz: Aperol of Fun
This refreshing drink mixes sparkling Prosecco with a hint of liqueur – think bitter Campari or orangey Aperol – and is served chilled with ice and an orange slice. Its story starts in the 1800s, with Austrian soldiers in Italy's Veneto region.
The local wines were a bit too strong for them, so they'd add a 'spritz' (or splash) of water to mellow it out.
Fast forward to today, and the spritz has become a pre-dinner favourite across Italy, a perfect start to any meal.
Chianti: A Tuscan Treasure
This is the superstar of Tuscan wines, known and loved worldwide. Born in the beautiful region of Tuscany, Chianti isn't just any wine. It's crafted under strict rules, from where it's made to the blend of grapes used.
Want to sip the real deal? Look for the black rooster symbol on the label – your ticket to authentic Chianti bliss.
Limoncello: Zest up Your Life
When life's lemons are Italian-sized, you get this zesty liqueur. Wander around the charming old town of Limone and you'll find the lemons that make limoncello the after-dinner superstar.
Limone is a little town in Italy, right by Lake Garda, not far from Verona and Milan. It's a pretty place with mountains and old, narrow streets that are always buzzing. It's said that Limone gets its name from the famous lemon trees that dot the landscape.
Making Limoncello is pretty simple – zest those giant lemons into alcohol, wait for the flavour magic, and then mix in some sweet syrup.
Italian Wine: Grape Expectations
Imagine a land of rolling hills with breathtaking views – that's Tuscany, the heartland of some of Italy's most famous wines. This is where the Sangiovese grape shines in three-star varieties: the robust Chianti, the elegant Brunello di Montalcino, and the refined Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
The Super Tuscans, like Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Tignanello, and Le Pergole Torte, use the Toscana IGT label. This lets them include grapes not traditionally from Tuscany, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, in their wines.