Let’s be honest: there is no such a thing as “Italian food”. Despite the success of the Italian dishes around the world, the national diet of Italy has traditionally differed greatly among the regions, and even among different cities inside the same region.
Certainly there are some dishes and ingredients in common, from North to South, but the way of cooking them changes dramatically. For example, did you know that there are more than 400 types of cheese made in Italy?
Each city or village in Italy has its own main dish, and in this article by ItalyXP we have chosen 5 (+1) among the most popular Italian cities to present their very own most popular food. Your trip to Italy cannot be considered “complete” if you don’t try all of them!
1. Rome: Cacio e Pepe (pasta)
The Eternal City of Rome boasts ancient culinary traditions and tasteful dishes, some of which have become so famous that have became icons of the Italian cuisine, such as the carbonara or amatriciana. But one of the most popular is also the so-called "cacio e pepe pasta", which is absolutely mandatory to try if you want to discover the true essence of Roman gastronomy.
The simple, yet fantastic, dish boasts just 3 ingredients: the cheese, black pepper and pasta. The first and more important ingredient is actually Pecorino, also known as cacio in Roman dialect, is a sheep's cheese that was already consumed 3,000 years before Christ. And the secret of the recipe is the creamy sauce, obtained combining the cheese and a few spoons of the boiling water used to cook the pasta. So, forget butter or industrial cream!
The cacio e pepe is served in all the most typical restaurants in Rome. You can try it during an inspiring food tour around the historic center, or you can even learn how to make it, with a fun-filled cooking lesson with a professional Chef.
2. Florence: the Ribollita
Just like that of the whole region of Tuscany, also the wonderful city of Florence boasts a rich gastronomy made of ancient recipes based on simple ingredients, which mostly come from local productions: the main produces are the bread (main ingredients of the most famous recipes), the extra-virgin olive oil, the meat (mostly beef, but also wild-boar, deer and rabbit!) and, finally, the wine (considered among the best in the world).
Among the traditional Florentine recipes not to be missed, there isundoubtedly the ribollita, an authentic icon of the city. It is a sort of winter soup made of stale bread and vegetables, prepared in a special way. Its name, "ribollita" (which can be translated as “re-stewed”) derives from the fact that in ancient times the peasants were used to cook a lot of vegetables soup on Fridays, and when they couldn’t finish it in one day, they “re-stewed” the same soup in the pot in the following days, following the sacred rule of “not wasting any food”. Even today, the real ribollita is cooked twice, and like all other vegetable soups it becomes more tasty each time it is “re-stewed”.
Make sure to try it during your food tour of Florence, during which you will also have the oppotunity to taste other world-famous products, such as olive oil and doc wine directly where it is produced. Or, if you want to get your hands dirty, you can learn how to cook it, through a cooking lesson with a professional Chef.
3. Naples: Pizza
The renowned Neapolitan cuisine boasts ancient origins with an endless variety of dishes, based on fresh local ingredients, such as fish, mozzarella, Vesuvius tomatoes, meat, vegetables and legumes. Some of its dishes are among the most popular, not only in Italy, but also in the entire world: just simply think of the classic pasta with tomato and basil, or the buffalo mozzarella, or the pizza (of course), which is considered the universal symbol of the Italian culinary traditions.
Surely there are many kind of pizzas that a visitor will be able to try travelling in Italy. The shape and consistency of the pizza can differ a lot from North to South, and each region seems to have its own unique type of pizza. But let's be honest: only the one in Naples is the original one! The Neapolitan pizza is a must for anyone visiting the city: it would be foolish and unforgivable not taste it in one of the historic pizzerias of the historic center. The precious recipe of the pizza masters in Naples is one of the most beloved and copied foods around the world, but the authentic one is only in Naples.
You won't be able to resist its taste and texture: soft in the middle and crisp on the borders, covered with fine tomato sauce, delicious buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil leaves. The pizza in Naples is so important that it’s officially recognized as a traditional specialty guaranteed by the European Union. A delicious treat that will feast your palate, a unique pleasure you cannot miss!
4. Venice: the Polenta and Schie
Experiencing Venice at its fullest implies not only to explore its wonderful monuments and squares, or to snake through the picturesque canals with a gondola ride, but also to taste its world-famous culinary specialties. The Venetian culinary tradition is made of simple ancient recipes, yet very rich in flavors and ingredients, mostly come from local productions:fish, shrimps and shellfish from the rivers and sea; the rice and corn (used to make the famous polenta); the meat (mostly beef, but also wild birds!); and, finally, the spices, which were imported over the centuries from the merchants when they return in Venice from their travels around the world.
Among the recipes not-to-be-missed we have choosen the "schie" are a typ of shrimps that are typical of the Venice Lagoon. Indeed, this ancient recipe (polenta e schie) not more than 20 years ago was considered a "food for poor people", as inexpensive and readily available. But it is in the home cooking that hides the true essence of Italian culinary tradition: and so, the simple shrimps, simply seasoned with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, garlic salt and parsley, are now considered a delicacy, Venetian culinary heritage. The polenta (called "MOEA" in Venetian dialect) is an indispensable side dish to create an irresistible contrast of flavors. To enjoy this dish at best, like the ancient Venetians, it is imperative to eat "non Curae" (or "shell") and with his hands. Sometimes the quality of a dish and the traditional cuisine are found in ancient gestures.
During your tour of the Venetian bacari, which are the traditional taverns of the city, you will certainly have the opportunity to taste this dish!
5. Milan: Panettone
The typical Milanese cuisine might not be as famous as the Roman or the Neapolitan one, but it’s definitely worth trying: in fact, it includes some of the most delicious food in Italy! Just like that of the whole region of Lombardy, also the culinary traditions of Milan is made of ancient recipes based on simple ingredients, mostly chosen to keep you warm in the winter.
However, although not all the milanese dishes are well-known aborad, there is one dessert that is renowned throughout Italy and the world: the delicious Panettone. This historic Milanese dessert is eaten each year throughout the country, from North to South, especially in the most beautiful time of the year: Christmas. The Milanese Panettone unites the whole table: it is the most iconic sweet of Christmas and it’s beloved by all ages, both for its taste and for what it is able to convey emotionally during the Christmas atmosphere.
The origins of panettone are ancient and sometimes fade into legend: it is said that it had been cooked for the first time only with scraps, with what was advanced in the kitchen. Its recipe is simple, it takes a few natural ingredients and genuine; flour, baking powder, orange, eggs and the inevitable raisins that makes the cake, thanks to its cylindrical shape, a sweet famous worldwide.
(+1). Bologna: Lasagna
The Bolognese cuisine is an expression of the renowned culinary traditions of the Emilia-Romagna region, that can be found in the surroundings cities and villages. The city of Bologna, has gained the nickname of "Bologna the fat", due to its hearty recipes, rich in flavors and tasty ingredients. With its typical restaurants and its ancient recipes, this area is known around the world as an Italian excellence: the rafù (meat sauce), the mortadella, the famous Bolognese cutlet and the legendary tortellini are just some illustrious examples that you cannot miss if you visit Bologna!
But the most famous about them is probably the universally-loved lasagna. Everyone family in Italy has its own favorite recipe for lasagna, but what is certain is that no one at Christmas can resist a hearty lasagna, with Bolognese sauce and Béchamel.
The history of this world-famous recipe can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greeks: when the Romans conquered Greece around 146 BC, they adopted the local culture, as well as the food traditions as their own. The Greek word laganon, used to describe flat dough sliced into strips, is believed to be the origin of the word "lasagna". So, even if the Greeks clearly didn't invent the dish we love today, they probably inspired it. Nowadays' lasagna, the richly layered dish filled with sumptuous tomato sauce, made its debut in Naples, during the Middle Ages. Laboriously crafted and fit for a crowd, lasagna was savored on special occasions. The traditional Italian lasagna features meat sauce (ragù), béchamel and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, all enclosed between several layers of pasta. A must try!
If you visit the beautiful city of Bologna you cannot miss a guided tour to discover the food and wine traditions.