Asking an Italian what their favourite food is is probably the hardest question you can ask them — and no, the struggle is not between just pizza and pasta. Often though, asking an Italian person what food they dream about most will give you a bunch of different fantastic Italian foods because they will name a food from their region. Italian cuisine is among the greatest in the world and has won the hearts of many people, but the cuisine is unique and delicious. More than just pizza, meatballs, pasta and espresso, Italy's cuisine is regional, which means that there are foods that are unique to certain regions of the boot-shaped country. Combining all the regional foods together is like paradise for many, including Italians — we all know how much Italians love to brag about their food.
There are now restaurants in North America, like Eataly in New York and Chicago, that bring all the iconic Italian foods together in one huge restaurant/market for those who want to enjoy the luxury of Italian food but cannot take the trip. The problem we have here, however, is that there are so many regional specialties and delicacies to try, but our stomachs sadly don’t have enough space for it all. However, do not fret it, we are here to provide you with a list of the must-try Italian dishes and where you can indulge when in Italy.
Italians make all their dishes with heart and soul, so it is no surprise that their food is as delicious as it is. Italian food is like an art, and in Sicily, that is to the south of Italy, one can find a delicacy called bottarga.
Mention ossobuco to an Italian, and their mouths will water as much as this veal shank does while it is being cooked. If you're looking for a traditional ossobuco that is cooked with passion with meat stock, white wine, and veggies, you can head over to Lombardy. Though the fashionable people of Milan like to claim the ossocubo alla Milanese as their own, it is hard to find the dish if visiting because it takes a slow 3 hours to cook to perfection.
This dish will have every Italian foodie drooling, and it often accompanies the entry above and it hails from the same northern region that is Lombardy. This luxurious plate is like a holy dish to many, as it is made of creamy rice with butter, onion, and stock and cooked until it can melt in one's mouth. One of Italy's most iconic dishes, the rice that looks like a semi-soup has numerous delicious variations, but the traditional one to try right away is the risotto alla Milanese that has cheese as an extra ingredient and looks deliciously yellow.
Everything you will eat in Italy is delicious, and the stereotypical Italian pasta dish would evidently make the list, but here we are talking about the savoury carbonara pasta. The recipe to this dish, which is a favourite pasta dish to many food gurus, is actually quite simple to make, but only in Italy will you find a mastered one that may change your life. A Roman specialty, many try to imitate the pasta carbonara, but the excellent and exact recipe uses spaghetti, eggs, pecorino cheese, cured guanciale, and black pepper as its main magnificent ingredients.
Italians have many dessert specialties that will have you unbuttoning your pants by the end of the night. In the north of Italy, in Friuli, the cuisine, due to its geographical location. is the most international of all of Italy. However, that is not to say that Friuli does not have signature dishes.
When Christmas and Easter come around, people from all over the tiny country head to Friuli in the hope of snatching a gubana, which is a tasty dessert made of sweet rolled dough filled with nuts, raisins and pine nuts.
There are certain dishes from this region that have clearly been influenced by other cultures.
25 Pesto Alla Genovese
In Italy, not all pasta is topped with a fresh and savoury tomato sauce, depending on the region. Many regions in Italy have an endless supply of fresh herbs, so some pasta sauce, like in the Northern region of Liguria, are made simply with aromatic herbs. The most tasteful and famous pasta sauce in Liguria is the pesto alla Genovese, which is usually made with spaghetti or linguine. A simple recipe, many favour the sauce made with a mixture of basil, garlic, olive, onions, and parmesan cheese instead of tomato sauce.
Italian cuisine is extraordinarily regional, and dishes like this particular one found in Trentino is the most famous one from the region that borders Switzerland and Austria. The South Tyrol delicacy is called canederli and it looks as good as it tastes. With many famous Italian ingredients that are used in their most popular dishes, this is made with bread, milk, egg, and parsley with the addition sometimes of spinach, cheese, Speck ham or mushrooms formed into a ball.
23 Baccalà Alla Polenta
Veneto does not only have romance and gondolas to offer, but also many exquisite recipes because of its location. In Veneto, if Romeo and Juliet were still around, they would probably name the baccalà alla polenta dish as their most pleasurable dish. T
ypical dishes in Veneto are made with fish and seafood uniquely, and pasta evidently.
22 Cozze Allo Zafferano
Some regions in Central Italy, like Abruzzo, are in proximity to the Adriatic Sea, so they mix seafood in many of their most delectable dishes. Cozze allo zafferano is often served as a second plate in Abruzzo and is a simple yet flavourful recipe that many locals often crave. Not everyone loves mussels, but Italy and food go together, so trying their mussel recipe will probably change your mind. The main ingredient in this dish is saffron, which makes the Abruzzo dish a specialty.
21 Carciofi Alla Giudia
A dish can taste either sublime or terrible, depending on the skill and knowledge of the chef, but in historical Rome, here, you can find carciofi alla giudia, which is one of Rome’s typical dishes. This famous deep-fried artichoke dish that Italians all over constantly rave about is well-appreciated all over Italy and is one of the tastiest dishes of Italian culinary tradition. The Roman recipe is made of olive oil, white wine, garlic, and the herb mentuccia that is mostly found in Rome.
We told you Italy was not only about pizza and pasta; areas close to the Adriatic Sea have a huge range of seafood which means many famous Italian seafood dishes come from there. Because of the availability of seafood that the Italians have in the Marche area, it is easy to combine many of the different fishes together to create a mouthwatering and grand meal. The best example of a meal many look for when in Marche, is brodetto, a soup that is a mix of the many fishes, onion, garlic, tomato, and saffron.
Italians do not always wine and dine in fancy and noisy restaurants — street food is also a big thing in Italy. Many Italian delicacies and most famous dishes are actually street food, like porchetta. Porchetta is a fatty Roman roast that is even known in North America, but for the most authentic boned and roasted pork flavoured with garlic and fennel and a dash of wine, one must visit a nonna (grandmother), a local restaurant, or a street vendor in the Eternal City.
18 Margherita Pizza
Though pizza can now be found around the world, the birthplace of modern pizza belongs to Naples — we bet you if you go there and have a pizza, you will spend your whole life searching for one that tastes just the same. However, the specialty in Naples is the margherita, which is a simple, but legendary, combination of mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil. This Neapolitan-style pizza is an iconic dish that people try to constantly imitate, but can rarely duplicate.
This may have been Garfield's favourite dish, but it is also a genius dish that Italians have mastered. You can easily find a plate of this delicious masterpiece that is made of flat pasta noodles that are layered with ragù, béchamel sauce, and mozzarella cheese and then baked in ovens across Italy. We dare you to find a nonna in Emilia-Romagna, and if you do, you'll know exactly why lasagna hails from that region. The classic lasagne alla Bolognese is layers of perfection and a comfort food we'd always have — Garfield was right.
16 Florentine T-bone Steak
There is no way a person can visit Florence without having the very bloody staple of the enriched region, the bistecca Fiorentina. Even if you do not like your meat red, you cannot leave Florence without having this delicacy that is specific to the region, as it is a particular cut of meat that comes from a specific cow and is prepared in a certain way. This thick steak is barely cooked, about only 5 to 7 minutes, until only the outside is cooked. Whatever you do, it must be exclusively eaten in Florence.
We are here to crush the pasta stereotype associated with Italy and inform you of an iconic dish served around the world that comes from Northern Italy.
Polenta, which was originally made from whatever starches were available, is now a tasteful comfort food made of boiled cornmeal.
Whoever thought that fungus would be considered a luxurious and costly delicacy in Italy? Let us introduce you to truffles, that can be found in abundance throughout Italy, but particularly in Umbria, Tuscany and Piedmont. Find a dog and go into the wild with the pet so he/she can sniff out the truffles that comes in two forms; white or black. If not, make your way to a restaurant in Tuscany if you have never tried truffles and start small by ordering a pasta dish that is sprinkled with truffle shavings.
13 Pasta All’arrabiata
Want to have the best of both worlds in one dish, with a bit of spiciness? Head over to the heel of the boot, the Southern region of Calabria. This region is known for its peperoncino (red chili pepper), capicollo, and eggplant. Now, though spicy foods are not prevalent throughout Italy, if you want to indulge in many tasteful spicy Italian meals, head over to Calabria and stay there. The most common way to use peperoncino with pasta is the pasta all’arrabiata or the pasta plate that uses Calabrian cured meats like capicollo, eggplant, and ricotta.
Let us take a break from all the heavy, carb-induced meals and introduce you to the most famous Italian dessert, the cannoli. With a crisp outer shell and a fresh filling of ricotta, these tube-looking desserts are a Sicilian delicacy that can now be found worldwide. However, you will never find a cannoli as tasteful as the ones in Sicily where they use the freshest crisp pastry dough, with fresh sweetened ricotta and topped with either chocolate chips and/or candied fruits. Imagine this, they were once available only once a year!
11 Arancini and Supplì
There is a constant battle between arancini and supplì because they are practically the same iconic Italian food, however, one comes from Sicily and the other from Rome. To start you off, they both consist of a fresh, fried-rice ball, and you can find them just about anywhere in Rome or Sicily; on the street, in markets, or restaurants. To differentiate the two, the delicious arancini are much larger balls filled with ragù, cheese, and optional veggies like peas, mushrooms, or eggplant. The supplì instead, are served as antipasti, are oblong in shape and simply rice, tomato sauce and mozzarella in the middle.
10 Lemons galore
You've probably seen it in the movies that take place in the Amalfi Coast and the surrounding areas, there are humongous lemons everywhere. And so, what did the Italians do? They created a digestivo out of it. These lemons that grace the coast are the main ingredient in one of Italy's most popular digestivos, the limoncello. After a big dinner, Italians all over will have a chilled glass of the bright yellow drink to digest. Worth the sip in Amalfi and Capri, limoncello is lemon zest in alcohol. Once the oil is released, it's then mixed with sugar syrup.
What is Italian cuisine without all the carbs? Nothing, right? Focaccia bread, that originates from the Liguria region of Italy, is Italy's staple bread that is famously delectable. Although you can find this delicacy around the world, the best focaccia you can take a bite out of would be the classic focaccia alla Genovese. Typically made of hard and soft wheat flour, yeast, water, salt, and high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, you'll want to find this popular bread that is often served as an antipasto.
If you're a lover of mozzarella, this dish will be the answer to all your dreams. Hailing from Puglia, people in love with mozzarella will confirm that burrata is the greatest dish ever — thank you Italy. Burrata is artisanal cheese — it seriously looks like art — that is made from mozzarella and fresh cream. This is the cheese that people love to film and Instagram because when you slice it, you see all the fresh cheese ooze out. Pair this with a slice of hard and crusty bread, and magic is made.
7 Bruschetta Con La 'Nduja
Many of you have certainly heard of bruschetta, which is often on the menu as an appetizer in North American Italian restaurants, but the bruschetta con la 'nduja is a glorious food for those who love spice. This different and exquisite take on the bruschetta, comes from Calabria, where the red chili pepper is the king of all recipes and dishes. ‘Nduja is a spread to top on crispy bread, which is spicy and made of either spreadable salami or spicy sausage and, well, loads of red chili.
Grocery stores always have the Italian cured meat prosciutto available, but have you ever had a slice of heaven in Italy? There are many regions that are famed for the production of the mouthwatering Italian pork meat, but in the area of San Daniele, in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, there awaits you the most perfect prosciutto you can ever find. You may have heard of San Daniele before because it is a brand of prosciutto in North America, but do not be fooled, the most delicious prosciutto is found in Friuli.
4 Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese
You will certainly know this dish as North American restaurants have taken the iconic pasta dish and tried to make it their own. You night have had spaghetti Bolognese, but the real dish that comes from Bologna is known as tagliatelle alla Bolognese or ragù alla Bolognese. Do not be fooled by the other Bolognese pasta sauces people are serving you, as the classic one found in Bologna is prepared with a carrots, onion, celery, beef, and pork in a tomato sauce and usually made with a wider long pasta.
3 Bagna Caôda
A relatively simple dish to prepare, this Piedmont dish is unique and delightful for all, and mostly found in Turin. Bagna caôda, which translates to warm dip, is simply that, a dip. The iconic dish is prepared with sliced garlic cloves that are slowly cooked with oil and butter.
2 Gnudi Ravioli
You would be lying if you said you did not enjoy a lovely plate of raviolis. In Tuscany, the region mostly known for its Chianti wine and olive gardens, the rural region also boasts a famous and popular Italian dish of the ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach. In Italy, these naked raviolis are called gnudi, which is ravioli without the closure sheet. Preparing the dish in Tuscany requires ricotta, egg, flour, and spinach, and is topped with olive oil, pecorino cheese, and sage.
Yes, Italians do know what soup is, so much so, that Campbells copied — well, tried to — one of their most famous soup recipes. The ribollita is a soup that is made with heart and soul in Tuscany only and because much of Tuscany is rooted in peasant cooking, this vegetable soup is very unique to its region. How so? It was cheaper for them to thicken their soup with bread instead of meat. Now, the dish is considered a delicacy and iconic dish that is mostly served in autumn. And guess what? This flavourful dish replaces pasta when served.
References: walksofitaly.com, eatingitalyfoodtours.com, cnn.com