Italian food is revered around the world. If you’re wondering where to find the best meals, look no further than this guide.
Classic Italian dishes in Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna region
The Emilia-Romagna region is known as the “breadbasket” of Italy. It’s no wonder that its capital city, Bologna, is one of the culinary and cultural hearts of Italy, and the birthplace of some of Italy’s most beloved pasta dishes, including lasagna, ravioli, gnocchi, and tortellini. When in Bologna, try tortellini al brodo (tortellini in broth), lasagne verde (made with spinach pasta), and ravioli (made with egg yolk, cheese, and vegetables).
Pizza in Naples
Naples became the birthplace of pizza when one clever chef added tomato to traditional Roman focaccia (a flat bread studded with toppings) in the 18th century. Traditional Neapolitan pizza has a thin, chewy crust; a bright, flavorful sauce; and a light covering of cheese. When in Naples, do as the Neapolitans do and head to Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba — the oldest pizzeria in the world, which opened in 1830. The best part about it all? You’ll probably pay less than two USD for a slice.
Focaccia in the Tuscany region
This delicious flatbread first made its way onto tables nearly 2,000 years ago. The word “focaccia” is Latin for hearth or fireside, apt as the bread is baked on hot coals or on a hearth. Made from flour, water, sugar, salt, yeast, and oil, the resulting dough is baked and punctured to release bubbles. Over time, the popularity of this particular bread spread throughout Italy and bakers began adding their own unique toppings (i.e. cheese, meat, vegetables, herbs, and even honey).
Risotto in northern Italy or Milan
Risotto alla Milanese has a storied history in Italy’s food culture. Rice was first introduced to the region of Sicily by the Moors and the Saracens in the 1200s, and rice production took hold in Milan and in the Po Valley of the north soon after. Eventually, in the 1800s, Risotto alla Milanese became a household favorite in Milan — in this dish, the rice is sauteed in butter and broth, and then cooked with onion before being dressed with beef marrow, saffron, nutmeg, and grated cheese.
Prosciutto in Bologna
Take it from a city whose Italian nickname (La Grassa) means “the fat one” — Bologna knows how to eat. One of its favorite offerings is prosciutto. Prosciutto is made from cured and salted pork, sliced very thinly. In Bologna, you’ll find a variety of delicious plates that pair this cured-meat delicacy with a variety of cheese and olives. Sound tasty? Head to Dal Nonno for some of the most delicious prosciutto in Bologna.
Fiorentina Steak in Florence
If you like meat, you can’t visit Florence without trying the Florentine Steak (also called Bistecca alla Fiorentina, or la Bistecca for short). Bistecca became a Florentine favorite some time ago because of its Porterhouse cut (a type of cut between the sirloin and tenderloin). Visitors will quickly realize that most restaurants in the city serve the Florentine Steak, but for undoubtedly superior meat, grab a seat at Trattoria Mario, I’ Brindellone, or Perseus.
Coffee in Naples
The gritty cafés of Naples are characterized by some of the most delicious cups of coffee — espresso, to be exact. You’ll find a serious lack of electronic espresso machines, as most Neapolitan baristas prefer to brew their espresso by hand. At Naples’ best cafés, patrons gulp down their coffee (with several scoops of sugar) and leave — there is little to no lingering involved. We recommend visiting Gran Caffe Gambrinus or Caffe Mexico for a hot cup.
Gelato in Florence
Gelato has a long history in Florence — the Medici family brought sorbet to France, but a Florentine court artist, Bernardo Bountalenti, was the first to create churned gelato. By the 1600s, gelato had taken off in Florence, and vendors in every square were selling it. Flavorful, refreshing, and delicious, gelato is still a facet of Florentine life. Head to Vivoli, Gelateria dei Neri, and Gelateria La Sorbetteria to sample some of the best.
Limoncello in Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast, or Capri
This sweet, bright-yellow liqueur is actually an after-dinner drink called a digestif (presumably taken to aid digestion). Have a sip of limoncello at the end of your meal, but don’t be surprised by its intense taste — after all, it is almost 40 percent alcohol. Most find it refreshing! Though several cities (Campania, Sorrento, Capri, and those in Cinque Terre) lay claim to the drink, no one is quite sure where it originated. One thing’s for sure: the markets and stores of Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast, and Capri are full of tiny limoncello bottles you can pack in your carry-on for the flight home!
Italy has become synonymous with its most famous dish: pasta. The first appearance of pasta was in Sicily in 1154, and the rolled mixture of durum wheat flour, water, and eggs has only grown in popularity since. Italy is home to over 300 types of pasta, known by over 1300 names, which vary by region. When in Italy, sample the most famous dishes: pasta alla bolognese, spaghetti all carbonara, trenette al pesto, fettuccine al burro, and spaghetti aglio e olio. Just don’t forget to take a picture before you dig in!
Header image by Stefania Gambella.