Pasta. Pizza. Cannoli. Tiramisu. Yes, all great in their own way. Each oozing with the unmistakable flavors and smells of Italy. They’re all great, and everyone knows it.
But, as many Italians would tell you, there’s more to Italian food than just the world-famous culinary champs.
Looking for a taste of the real Italia? Then let’s get down to business.
1. Carciofi alla Romana
Artichoke lovers, you’re home.
If you’ve been to Rome before, you might already be familiar with this one. If you haven’t, it should be at the top of your list during your next visit to the Eternal City.
Head down to Rome’s Jewish Quarter. Sit down at just about any place with a free table. Ask for a carciofo alla romana, or a Roman artichoke. The fried, delicious goodness will make you forget all about pastas and pizzas. Well, at least for a little while.
2. Bagna Càuda
If you’ve been to northern Italy’s Piemonte region, then you know all about this little delicacy. And, as a newly-minted resident of Piemonte myself, I’d be remiss not to include it in our list of Italian awesomeness.
Bagna càuda, or hot bath, is a traditional Piemontese dish consisting of garlic, butter, olive oil, anchovies, and occasionally cream. It’s typically eaten as a fondue with vegetables– in my house, for example, we eat it with peppers.
Even if you don’t like anchovies, this is an absolute must-eat during those cold winter months in the north. So good.
3. Polenta con merluzzo
Speaking of cold-month foods native to northern Italy, polenta is another personal winter favorite of mine. There’s something about a nice, hot plate of polenta after a trek through the snow in Valle d’Aosta or Veneto.
And while you can eat polenta with pretty much any kind of meat– beef, sausages, anything you set your mind to, really– it’s most traditionally enjoyed with merluzzo, or cod. Yum.
Fish lovers, this one’s for you.
If you find yourself in Tuscany or Liguria– as tourists to Italy oftentimes do– then cacciucco ought to be on your menu at some point during your stay.
Cacciucco is a fish stew that is often made up of several different types of shellfish. Clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari, octopus, grouper– you name it, and it probably goes right on in the pot with the best of ‘em. You should especially try the cacciucco if you find yourself in Livorno, as it’s something of a specialty there.
5. Carne cruda
Carne cruda. Raw meat. Yeah, you read that right. Don’t adjust your glasses. Just hear me out on this one.
So, as I learned along my many fascinating Italian travels (i.e., trips to nonno’s house in Tuscany), raw meat is pretty typically on the menu in a lot of places across Italy. And it is delicious.
But it’s not all meat that can be eaten raw: only certain meats, such as the carne cruda all’Albese, salsiccia cruda di toscana, or salsiccia cruda di Bra can really be eaten safely without cooking. Trust me, as long as you ask the butcher about it or try it with a trusted Italian friend, you won’t get food poisoned– this was my #1 fear, and look at me, still living and breathing and all!
Heading over now to the Abruzzo region, we can’t forget about another hearty favorite: arrosticini.
Arrosticini are essentially mutton skewers. Made from sheep (not lamb, as I was reprimanded about, as apparently there is a distinct difference in taste), these delicious little barbecued morsels are usually eaten with a heaping serving of bread dipped completely in olive oil or hot pepper (peperoncino) oil.
So, in other words, be sure to visit Abruzzo. They’re doing food right.
Here’s one for all the farinata fans in the world who are in search of a different take on that Italian classic. Or for all you out there who just love some good ol’ fashioned fried food.
Down in Sicily, you’ll find the pane panelle. Panelle is, at its core, farinata. But it’s a different farinata: it’s a lot thicker, and it’s completely fried (as opposed to traditional farinata, which is always baked).
Then, they take the fried bits and shove it into a sandwich with a bit of lemon. Ohh.
10/10 you’re googling how to make this right now. Just be sure to share the recipe with us, thanks.
8. Pane ca’ meusa
Looking for round 2 in Sicily? We’ve got you covered. These guys are the street food MASTERS, and pane ca meusa is another masterpiece.
So, we’ll be upfront with you here: this is not for vegetarians. And it might not be for a lot of people. But trust me on this one, give it a chance.
Essentially, pane ca meusa is a sandwich made up of animal spleen. But don’t let all those words and stuff put you off! This sandwich is sooo good. It’s my go-to when the Sicilian food truck parks itself in town during a festival. Yum. God bless you, Sicily.
But don’t forget about dessert! I mean, I love a good cannolo siciliano or gelato, but there’s just so much more out there to try!
Which brings me to the babà.
A dessert found in Naples– though it has similar incarnations throughout the world–a babà is a sort of sponge cake that is covered completely in rum. It’s sometimes filled with whipped cream or pastry cream.
I don’t think I need to explain the deliciousness any further than that.
10. Pastiera Napoletana
Napoli, what can’t you do with dessert? Another tasty treat to come out of Naples is the pastiera napoletana.
Made with ricotta, eggs, flour, lemon zest, and candied fruits (among several other basic ingredients), pastiera napoletana is a fan-favorite all across Italy.
And the good news? The ingredients are so common, you can try your hand at making your own no matter where you are in the world!
Give it a whirl, and bring a bit of Italy right into your kitchen. No pastas or pizzas required here.