Most travelers visiting Italy have dreams of days filled with pizza, pasta, and gelato. While you should definitely indulge in these well-known treats during your stay in Italy (since they’re the best in the world here), you might also like to broaden your horizons and sample some Italian delicacies that aren’t so common.
From street food to trattoria favorites, there are endless dishes to try (and become obsessed with) in Italy. Every region has its own culinary signature waiting for you to literally sink your teeth into.
Keep reading to find out what delicious things you can eat in Italy that aren’t pizza.
10 Fried Olives (Olive Ascolana)
Italy is the land of delicious olives, but the best kind isn’t the fruity Sicilian green olives, nor is it the brine-cured variety from Apulia. If you’re going to eat olives in Italy, go for fried olives, or olive ascolana. This is one of the culinary signatures of the Marche region and a gift to the world.
The olives are stuffed with ground meat, breaded, and then fried. The green olives used in the process are from a town in the southern part of Marche called Ascoli-Piceno and are grown only in this area of the country.
9 Tuscan Bread Soup (Ribollita)
If you ever find yourself roaming through Tuscany in autumn, you have to check in to a local trattoria and throw back a bowl of Tuscan bread soup, also known as ribollita. This yummy stew is often taken as a first course instead of pasta throughout the Tuscan city of Florence and is rooted in the peasant culinary tradition of the region.
The vegetable soup makes use of harvest vegetables that people could grow themselves and is thickened with bread instead of meat (which was too expensive for many families to acquire).
8 Fried Chickpea Polenta (Panelle)
Forget the regular polenta made from cornmeal. Fried chickpea polenta, otherwise known as panelle, is one of the most satisfying street foods you can get in Italy. It also happens to be one of the simplest and humblest, which is why it’s also considered cucina povera, or poor man’s food.
To create the little bites of heaven, the chickpea polenta is cut into thick slices and then fried in olive oil. Some street vendors top them with flakes of strong Italian cheese or even a squeeze of lemon for added flavor.
7 Sicilian Caviar (Bottarga)
Sicilian caviar, or bottarga, might not sound overly appetizing, but don’t knock it until you try it. The delicacy from the southern Italian isle is made with the roe of gray mullets, which are then salted, pressed and air dried for half a year.
Commonly eaten grated over pasta, the eggs bring flavors of smoke and brine and are considered one of the most luxurious foods in Italy. If you don’t like it over pasta, you can also eat it thinly sliced and drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice.
6 Fried Rice Balls (Arancini)
Arancini have to be one of the most popular Italian street foods, and with good reason. When you’ve got rice balls that are filled with a range of stuffing and then breaded, fried, and served in a rich sauce, what’s not to love?
You can find endless varieties of arancini in the streets of Italy, as well as at Italian restaurants around the world. Among the most popular are meat ragu, peas, mushrooms, pumpkin, and always creamy melted cheese. The pride of Sicily, these rice balls are not to be missed.
5 Small Calzone (Panzerotti)
Feel like a calzone but don’t have quite enough room for one? Panzerotti are your answer! These small calzones which are native to the eastern region of Apulia take the half-moon shape of their larger counterparts but are made with softer dough.
Usually, panzerotti are stuffed with a variety of cheeses and tomato before being fried to crispy perfection. Though they started as street food, these pockets of gooey scrumptiousness now appear is restaurants not just in Apulia but all over Italy and the rest of the world.
4 Roast Pork (Porchetta Romana)
It’s the copious amounts of garlic and rosemary stuffing, as well as the way it’s been so heavily salted, that makes Italian roast pork, or porchetta romana, stand out from other roast meats. Traditionally, this was served from a van similar to a street food truck, in the form of a panino.
Porchetta romana originated in a province of Rome called Ariccia. This explains the name which literally translates to “Roman pork.” The delicious protein can also be bought on its own in Italy, for those who don’t want it in a panino.
3 Fried Custard (Crema Fritta)
Can you really go wrong with fried custard? Locals and travelers alike flock to the street markets and fairs of the northern region of Veneto in the cooler months of the year, just to get a taste of the miracle that is crema fritta.
The thick custard cream is breaded and then deep-fried before being tossed into a paper cone. Sounds too good to be true! This is the ideal treat to enjoy while wandering through the magical streets of Venice, and its warmness is bound to help you fight off the chilly weather during winter.
2 Pick Me Up Cake (Tiramisu)
Gelato is the go-to for most visitors to Italy who are looking to try an authentic dessert. But the most loved sweet treat for locals throughout the entire country is probably Tiramisù. With a name that means pick me up or cheer me up, this cake seemingly has the power to lift anyone’s mood.
Featuring ladyfingers that have been soaked in coffee and layers of sweetened mascarpone cheese, this is one of the simplest and yet most delicious desserts to make. Sometimes egg whites are added to the mascarpone to give it an even fluffier texture.
1 Fried Dough Balls (Zeppole)
Italy’s answer to donuts is zeppole, which are fried balls of dough that are believed by many to have originated in Naples. The original version is served hot from the deep fryer and tossed with just a little sugar, but you can find all kinds of varieties, including those with chocolate, custard, and jelly. Definitely enough to make your mouth water!
Often served during times of celebration, zeppole can also come in savory varieties. These are often made with anchovies inside or are simply fried and served without any sugar topping.