From artisan gelato to fresh homemade pasta, Italian cuisine is renowned the world over. But beyond the pizza, pasta, and ice cream, there’s a never-ending gastronomic journey to discover including superb cheeses, succulent roasts and legendary desserts. If you’re wondering what to eat in Italy, it’s probably because there are so many great options that you simply don’t know what to choose!
I’ve been visiting Italy for many years now and whenever I go and in whichever part of the country I am in, I know I am going to eat well. And I love joining food tours, run by locals wherever I am in Italy. They’re a great way to learn about a new city and its culinary scene.
In no particular order, here are my top 10 of things to eat in Italy (including, of course, pizza, pasta, and gelato).
What to eat in Italy — My Top 10 Favourites Dishes
1. Focaccia, Puglia
Back in 2012, I spent a wonderful few days sampling the delights of Puglian cuisine at the stylish Borgobianco Resort & Spa, near the pretty coastal town of Polignano a Mare. During my stay I ate some amazing food, but what sticks in my memory most is this simple dish of traditional focaccia bread, with a crisp crust and a moist, light, airy centre, served with Caciocavallo cheese. If you’re trying to figure out what to eat in Italy, then this is a good start!
2. Suckling Pig, Sardinia
Slow roasted suckling pig is probably the island’s best-known dish, and I’ve tried it a number of times. It is always excellent, but at the boutique hotel, Su Gologone it was superb, melt-in-the-mouth heavenly, with deliciously, crispy crackling. It’s spit-roasted with myrtle and rosemary by a one-hundred-year-old fireplace in the candle-lit dining room with the smell of the local herbs permeating the air. For more edible delights, check out my post, An edible journey around Sardinia.
This rustic inn, tucked away in the mountainous interior of the island of Sardinia, is one of the most characterful hotels I’ve ever seen. Copper pots and pans are displayed on cobalt blue and white-washed walls, traditional tiles and textiles adorn many a nook and pottery hens, many a cranny. The impressive guest list includes Madonna and Richard Gere. I was only here for one night, but while working my way through a gargantuan traditional Sardinian feast, a couple at the neighbouring table mentioned that their friends in Rome regularly come to Sardinia just to eat here (although I expect they enjoy the stunning scenery and beautiful beaches too).
3. Wild Mushroom Fettuccine, Modena
In 2013, I visited Modena to learn more about traditional balsamic vinegar. While there I had one of the most delicious pasta dishes I have ever eaten, at the Gran Caffe’ in Piazza XX Settembre. And the secret ingredient that made it so good? Truffle. My own version of this dish can be found in my online magazine, Travel With Kat.
4. Salami, Rome
In Piazza Campo de Fiori in Rome, you’ll find a fabulous food market every morning except Sundays. I’ve sampled various tasty treats in the area including the coppiette from the butcher’s, Antica Norcineria Viola, which is reputedly an aphrodisiac. However, when it comes to taste, their pig’s liver salami made with orange zest and wine, wins hands down — it’s superb.
5. Zuppa Gallurese, Sardinia
During another superb Sardinian feast, this time in the delightful Agriturismo Tenuta Pilastru, one of the many courses was Zuppa Gallurese, which is not, as its name suggests, a soup at all. This seriously delicious dish reminded me of a kind of cheesy savoury version of the traditional English dessert, bread and butter pudding. While similarly made from layers of bread, there’s certainly no butter in this dish. I know this thanks to Anna, who gave me this recipe.
Day old bread is cut into slices and layered into an ovenproof dish with each layer topped with slices of very young caciocavallo or provolone cheese, plus some grated Sardinian pecorino and a mixture of herbs (thyme, mint, basil, and parsley). About 1 liter of homemade broth is added (preferably made out of 3 different types of meat e.g. lamb, veal and chicken) and it is put into the oven until the top is crisp and brown.
6. Fritto Misto, Rimini
A selection of deep-fried seafood and vegetables served with fries and a slice of lemon washed down with a cool beer was the perfect (if a little pricey) lunch at a beach-side cafe in Rimini a couple of years ago. Definitely a dish I’d look out for again.
7. Tiramisu, Tuscany (and my kitchen)
In April 2014, I spent a long weekend learning to cook with the expert Tuscan chef Alessio, from Flavours Holidays. Everything we made was superb and the Traditional Tiramisu was so easy to make that I had a go when I got home. It was just as delicious as it had been in Tuscany, and even more so the day after it was made. You can find the recipe in my post Authentic Tiramisu.
8. Pesto Spaghetti, Liguria
Pesto, from the Liguria region of Italy, is another favourite of mine. It’s made from basil, pine nuts, parmesan or pecorino cheese and garlic. You can find the recipe in my post about the beautiful town of Portovenere and the Cinque Terre.
9. Pizza Bianca, Rome
How can something so simple be so moreish? Lightly toasted on top, soft and chewy on the inside and crispy on the bottom, this simple flatbread is delicious. My favourite place to buy it is at Antico Forno Roscioli in Rome.
10. Gelato, Bologna
You can find superb artisan gelato all over Italy. But, if you walk into a shop and find bright green pistachio (it should be a pale grayish brown) or bright yellow banana (bananas are cream, only the skins are yellow) or indeed anything out of season, such as strawberries in winter, turn around and try elsewhere.
If, like me, you’re a real lover of gelato, you should pay a visit to the Carpigiani Gelato University on the outskirts of Bologna. I spent a fabulous morning there one summer learning all about the history of gelato in their museum. I even learned how to make it and, of course, I had to sample numerous flavours, in the name of research you understand.
Do you have a favourite dish from Italy? What do you think I should add to my list of what to eat in Italy? I’m sure there are plenty more that I’ve yet to discover. Have you been on a wonderful Italian food tour? I’d love to hear about it.
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