Besides the breathtaking scenery and ancient artifacts, Italy is home to some of the best food in the world. Unlike other countries, tourists who visit Italy are usually pleasantly surprised at the taste of authentic cuisine that hasn't been spoiled by westernized versions of favorite Italian meals. While you won't find deep dish pizza at local Italian restaurants, you will find thin crust, lightly sauced pizza that is crisp, light and delicious. The authentic versions of 'classic' Italian dishes are even better than what we have become accustomed to back home, which makes it difficult to choose from the array of options at every corner.
Depending on where you are visiting, you will have the options of tasting regional cuisines that are a specific to locales. Naples, is the birthplace of pizza, so understandably, you can find some of the best pizza in the world in the bustling city. Head to Tuscany for the finest wines and olives, and explore Rome searching for the best Carbonara pasta. From savory to sweet, an entire holiday in Italy could be spent on food tours around the country. The good thing is most cities are pedestrian friendly and are best viewed by foot- so you can walk off the carbs and calories, while enjoying the stunning views. Take a look at 20 foods you must try while on tour of Italy.
20 Margherita Pizza in Naples
They say less is more, and with this Neapolitan style pizza, it is definitely true. When the simple ingredients combine, the result is anything from basic. The classic pizza is made with fresh San Marzano tomatoes which are grown just south of the famed Mount Vesuvius, and fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese, topped with fresh basil. The classic pizza can be found on every corner restaurant across the country, but for the most authentic experience, head to Naples, the birthplace of pizza. Try the Margherita Pizza at Pizzaria La Notizia, known for the classic style pizza as well as other more 'modern' variations, each bursting with flavor in their simple preparations.
19 Gelato in Florence
Ice cream is great and all, but nothing beats fresh, all natural and homemade gelato. Gelato shops abound in Italy and a number of them cater to the tourists craving authentic Italian ice cream, but who may not realize that they are buying watered down versions of the treat to please the crowds. For an authentic gelato experience head to Florence, the birthplace of gelato, and visit La Carraia, a small but decadent gelato shop offering a range of intense flavors to choose from. Like most shops in Italy, you get heaping scoops of gelato for a around $1 and can often choose two flavors- our suggestion is to try the dark chocolate combined with a fruit flavor such as raspberry for a sweet treat.
18 Spaghetti Carbonara in Rome
When in Rome do as the Romans do and eat Spaghetti Carbonara. The classic Roman dish is made with al dente noodles in a sauce made of pork cheek, Parmesan cheese, black pepper and freshly beaten eggs. Other variations add peas or bacon, but the simplicity of the combination of cheese and egg is the traditional Roman style carbonara dish. The dish was made famous in Rome and many restaurants fight for the title of best carbonara in the city. While it is difficult to narrow down, Pizzareia Emma is a local favorite, even though it is essentially a pizza restaurant. The ingredients are locally sourced and fresh and almost every menu item has a homemade feel to it, particularly the carbonara. Indulge in the rich classic pasta, or go slightly unconventional and order the vegetarian version for a lighter choice.
17 Cannoli in Sicily
The Sicilian treat can be found in bakeries across the country, and particularly in Sicilian bakeries, many of which can be found in Rome. The classic dessert is made with cylinder shaped shells that are fried until crispy and stuffed with creamy and sweet ricotta. There are several pastry shops and bakeries offering the best of Italian treats, and many of them display their cannoli cones empty and proudly, while filling them fresh for you as you wait. The shells can be eaten with the ricotta on its own, or the ends can be dipped in chocolate, nuts or fruits for an extra treat.
16 Risotto in Venice
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Surprisingly to many, rice is a staple in Venetian cuisine. Once reserved for the wealthy and seen as a status symbol for wealth and fertility, rice is now frequently used in risotto and soup dishes in the region. There are plenty of restaurant options to choose from in Venice that offer creamy, delicious variations of risotto, made to perfection with local ingredients. For a truly Venetian dish, try the world famous Risotto di Go at the historical Al Gatto Nero restaurant. The risotto dish is made with Venetian little fish combined with a creamy sauce that makes for a perfectly satisfying meal.
15 Ossobucco in Milan
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The fashion capital of Italy is also home to this traditional meal that is most popular in the winter. Ossobucco which literally means bone with a hole, is a Milanese specialty made with veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth until very tender. The heavy meal is usually served with risotto as a side, or some variation of a potato dish. At La Madonnina in Milan, you can enjoy authentic Milanese ossobucco while sitting outside and overlooking a courtyard. With a small menu that changes everyday, the owners prepare everything from scratch and do it right.
14 Tiramisu in Cortina
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As far as desserts go, Tiramisu is a relatively new one that took the world by storm as recently as 1980. Origins of the dessert are still debated but by most accounts, the dessert originated in the kitchens of grandmas in Northern Italy in the 1960s. The traditional dessert is made with ladyfingers soaked in coffee or espresso placed between layers of sweet cream and mascarpone. This light dessert can be found across bakeries in Norther Italy, but for a real treat, head to the mountain village of Cortina and take the gondola ride to the top of the mountain. The small bakery at the top of the mountain offers an arrangement of Italian delicacies, with the Tiramisu being the some of the best you can find in the country.
13 Italian Cheese
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Stroll through any local market in Italy and you will be overwhelmed with the options available for cheese lovers. Whether it is a mild Asiago cheese or traditional buffalo mozzarella, the one thing you wont find here is the processed American cheese many have grown accustomed to. Italy labels most of their wines and locally grown products to make choices a bit easier, so be sure to look for the 'DOP' label, which confirms that the cheese you are buying is locally grown and packaged by Italian farmers and processed with traditional methods. Different regions boast different cheese specialties (Valle D'Aosta is the home to Fontina cheese, Buffalo Mozzerla from Salerno, and Asiago in Northern Italy), so go on a cheese tour and and enjoy some of the freshest cheese you will ever taste.
12 Arancini in Sicily
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Arancini is a Sicilian specialty that is replicated throughout the country. Balls of rice are mixed with cheese and sauce and then breaded and deep fried, making the perfect mobile snack. The authentic snack from Sicily is triangle shaped as opposed to the round shape more commonly found in the US. There are many essential elements that must come together in order to form the perfect arancini. The rice must be cooked perfectly al dente, the stuffing must be mixed without too much liquid and the balls must be fried at the right temperature so that they are not overdone. Stroll into any bar in Sicily and you will be greeted with the classic snack, famously from the region and bursting with flavors. Variations can be found in Milan and Rome, but like most of the food on the list, head to its birthplace for the reall deal.
11 Tagliatelle Bolognese in Bologna
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If you are sitting in a restaurant in Italy and are served Bolognese with Spaghetti, you can be sure you are in a restaurant that is geared towards tourists. While spaghetti with tomato and meat sauce is revered as an Italian classic in restaurants across America, you won't be able to find the meal on any authentic restaurant in Italy. Traditional Bolognese sauce, a tomato meat based sauce originating from Bologna, is served only with tagliatelle, tortellini or gnocchi, the sturdier pastas that can hold the chunky tomato sauce. If you are lucky enough to fit in a trip to Bologna, be sure to visit Trattoria Anna Maria, where the handmade pasta has been drawing in crowds of tourists, locals and even celebrities for years.
10 Ribollita in Tuscany
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Like most great food combinations, Ribollita came about almost by accident. When servants would scrape the leftovers of their master's meals, they would boil the bread and vegetables in a broth for hours, thickening up the bread and creating a hearty meal. The meal has now made its way from the servant quarters to mainstream restaurants, and is enjoyed as a traditionally Tuscan dish by all. The combination of beans, potatoes and bread make a hearty meal to be enjoyed during the colder winter months and is a nice change from carb overload of the other dishes on the list.
9 Cottoletta in Milan
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Another signature dish from Milan will leave your stomach craving more, but you waistline asking for a break. Cotoletta is essential a breaded and fried veal cutlet. Milan styled Cotoletta is fried only in clarified butter and only milk-fed veal is used as the piece of meat. This dish is served simply- on its own without any additions. Variations have become commonplace around the world and particularly in South America. where the dish is served covered in a cheese and tomato sauce. While many restaurants will offer variations to cater to tourists, the authentic cafes in Milan serve the meal on its own, with nothing but fried and breaded morsels to enjoy.
8 Cacciucco, Livorno
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Seafood lovers have no shortage of options while travelling in Italy. Some of the freshest and best seafood dishes in the country are served in the beautiful Amalfi Coast, but you can head to Livorno for the spicy and hearty dish of Cacciucco. The comforting stew was previously made from fisherman's leftovers at the end of the day, and cooked in a tomato and chile broth mixed with herbs and spices. The soup is prepared with varying types of seafood, including shellfish, squid or octopus, and accompanied with a thick piece of bread to soak up the leftover soup- so you don't have to worry about being seen licking the bowl!
7 Bistecca alla Fiorentina in Florence
Put aside the pasta and pizza, Italy is also known for its massive version of the T-bone steak. In Florence, their specialty steak is cut from the loin and just below the rib cage, and is served as a massive piece of meat, with little to no sides. The meat is measured in fingers in Florence, and the thicker the steak, the better. The meat is usually around 3 fingers high, and can range up to 1kg in weight. Keep in mind though that due to the size of the steak, you likely won't be able to order it on the rare side- the outside is generally cooked very well for a crispy edge. While you are more than welcome to have the whole steak to yourself, you can always save some cash and calories by sharing this massive meal with two or even three other people.
6 Focaccia di Recco in Liguria
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Sometimes when you are on vacation you may crave the comforts of home. While sampling the favors of other cultures is a culinary treat, at times good ol comfort food such as a grilled cheese sandwich will hit the spot. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Liguria, you can happily settle for the cheese focaccia bread that is an Italian street food staple. The flatbread is toasted and layered with cows-milk cheese, between very fine and thin layers of bread. The result is a thin, light and crispy Italian version of a grilled cheese, that might completely replace your love for grilled cheese. You can find the street food at almost all small cafes as it is a commonly enjoyed street food.
5 Pesto Anything in Genoa
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Pesto recently had a surge in popularity in North America with pesto pizza, pesto pasta and pesto sandwiches taking over cafes and Italian restaurants everywhere. Once you taste the savory spread in Genoa, the birthplace of Pesto, it is easy to see why. The simple ingredients of fresh basil, crushed in a mortar and pestle with a mix of pine nuts, salt, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Sardo cheeses, garlic and olive oil make a delectable spread that that, in the region of Liguria, is most frequently enjoyed on flatbread, in soups, and of course, as a base to pasta. Wherever you travel in Italy, be sure the pesto is made with basil from the Liguria region as it is some of the best smelling and freshest basil in the country.
4 Caponata in Sicily
Taking a break from the heavy loaded carb and fried food, this simple Sicilian dish is packed with flavor without much of the guilt. The vegetables are lightly fried, and include eggplant, peppers and celery, combined with capers and olives that are mixed with a sweet and sour dressing of sugar and vinegar. The dish is as diverse as the history of Sicily. The eggplant that takes the center stage in this dish was brought to Italy by Arab settlers. It is a slightly lighter fare than the others on the list, and can be enjoyed as a side dish or a main if you are feeling guilty about the pasta!
3 Eggplant Parmesan - Southern Italy
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Italy is a great vacation spot for vegetarians. The endless pasta and pizza options provide tons of options for veggie lovers at almost every restaurant. And if you are looking for something other than pasta for a main, the eggplant Parmesan dish will satisfy the vegetarian and meat lovers alike. While it is more commonly referred to as Melanzane alla Parmigiana on Italian menus, the dish is everything you would expect and more. Layers of lightly fried or breaded slices of eggplant, covered with tomato sauce, basic and different cheeses provide the ultimate comfort food.
2 Tortellini en Brodo in Northern Italy
You may be accustomed to enjoying this stuffed pasta with a heavy cream sauce and smothered in cheese, but there is a much simpler way to enjoy tortellini without packing on the cream and calories. This traditional dish is customarily served as the first course of a Christmas feast in Northern Italy, but can be enjoyed year round in restaurants in the region. The tortellini is cooked in a simple but fragrant chicken broth and is then topped with grated Parmesan cheese. The tortellini is usually stuffed with veal and cheese and spinach is sometimes added to the soup. The flavors are simple and will keep you asking for more- the dish is traditionally served with only a few tortellini floating in large quantities of broth.
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Visit any pastry shop or cafe in Italy and you will see rows of this Italian nougat candy displayed in different variations. The traditional recipe is made with honey, egg whites, toasted nuts, and citrus zest (and some say was the predecessor to the Toblerone chocolate bar), and is generally gifted as a treat during the holiday season. Different regions have their own twist on the classic and some will even dip the treat in chocolate for an extra layer of sweetness. In Campania for example, the treat is made with sugar, honey, crushed hazelnuts, almonds and is finished with a coat of chocolate, and in Molise, you can enjoy the treat seasoned with figs. Regardless of where you are visiting in Italy, enjoy the treat the traditional way, after a meal and with a cup of strong Italian coffee.
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