Eating in Italy: The Best Food and Where to Find It
One of the joys of visiting Italy is eating in Italy. So, what do Italians eat? They eat homemade pastas, cured meats, pizzas, seafood, breads, cheeses, salads, soups, and desserts. Here is a guide to some of the best food in Italy, so you can plan ahead and enjoy each region's specialties. Don’t stress out when your pants become a bit tighter along the way, because eating in Italy is worth it.
Yes, pizza is a popular food in Italy, and there are two main styles: Neapolitan and Roman. Roman style pizza has a very thin crust and can almost seem burnt, while Neapolitan crust is thicker.
The most famous pizza from Naples is the mouthwatering pizza margherita. According to local legend, this simple pizza with basil, tomatoes, and buffalo mozzarella became popular in the 19th Century after a local entrepreneur presented it to Queen Consort Margherita. You can find this pizza anywhere in Naples, but Antico Pizzeria Port’Alba is thought to be one of the oldest restaurants in Italy and the oldest pizzeria in the world.
In Rome, try classic pizza toppings like zucchini flowers, anchovies, artichokes, or boiled eggs. Pizzeria Ostiense is a wallet-friendly option that also serves traditional pizza antipasti including fried rice croquettes and meat-stuffed olives. You can also try pizza bianca, a focaccia-style white pizza, at Antico Forno della Fontana di Trevi.
Italians are masters of cured meat from pancetta to salami to speck to mortadella, and salumi is a must when eating in Italy. In Florence, try salame toscano or prosciutto with a glass of chianti at Antica Macelleria Salumificio Anzuini, in business since the 1920s. Alternatively, go to the Emilia Romagna region for famous Parma ham or Mortadella di Bologna.
Another treat if you are in Rome, this creamy pasta dish of cured meat, egg, and Italian hard cheeses should not be missed. Its origins are up for debate — some say spaghetti carbonara is named after Italian coal miners, called carbonara. Others say it rose to popularity during World War II during food shortages when the allied troops distributed powdered eggs and bacon that the locals cooked with pasta. What people do agree on is that Da Enzo al 29 is the place to eat spaghetti carbonara in Rome.
Suppli and Arancini
Fried rice fritters called suppli are often served as an appetizer to pizza in Rome, while arancini are a staple of Sicilian street food. The restaurant I Suppli is popular for these rice snacks in Rome, but you can find them at most restaurants serving pizza. In Sicily you can find arancini in food stalls on the street corners.
This substantial bone-in veal shank dish is traditionally served with gremolata, a saffron risotto topped with garlic, lemon zest, anchovies, and parsley. Cooked low and slow, many restaurants don’t have osso buco on the menu because of the prep time. Antica Hostaria Della Lanterna in Milan is known for its osso buco, handmade gnocchi and macaroni, and tiramisu.
Risotto is a rice dish popular in Milan and Venice. In Milan, you’ll find the traditional saffron infused risotto, while in Venice, there are many popular seafood risottos. Try the seafood risotto Anthony Bourdain recommends at Trattoria da Romano in Burana, a day trip from Venice. In Verona, enjoy traditional risotto all’amarone, made with regional Amarone wine.
Panzanella, a summer salad of cold unsalted Tuscan bread, basil, tomatoes, olive oil, and vinegar, is a popular lunch in Italy. Do not mix this up with croutons — the real thing is much better. Try it at Osteria del Porcellino in Florence.
Gnocchi, a delicious potato dumpling pasta, is popular across many regions of Italy, but is most often associated with Northern Italy. In Piedmont and Lombardy, gnocchi is often served with creamy cheese sauces. You can also find delicious stuffed gnocchi in Piedmont.
In Verona, gnocchi has its own day dedicated to it on the last Friday of Carnavale. Veronese gnocchi is traditionally served with a ragu of horse meat called pastissada or tomato sauce.
In the South, indulge in gnocchi alla sorrentina, an oven-baked gnocchi with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil found on the coast of Sorrento.
Don’t pass up dessert while eating in Italy. From gelato to tiramisu, Italians have perfected their sweets. In Sicily, enjoy cannoli, tubular shaped crusts filled with cream and dipped in fruit, pistachios, or chocolate chips. In Naples, stop at Pasticceria Attanasio and order the sfogliatelle, a pastry filled with ricotta.
Gelato, Italy’s delicious take on ice cream, is actually healthier with less butter fat than traditional ice cream. In Rome, go to Gelateria I Caruso and order the fondente, a creamy dark chocolate gelato, topped with zabaglione, a marsala-flavored whipped cream. In Florence, Gelateria dei Neri offers unique flavors like gorgonzola and rice or chocolate and chili, as well as traditional gelato flavors like stracciatella.
You cannot leave Italy without taking a cooking class. In Chianti, take a course in the 1,000-year-old abbey at Badia a Coltibuono. In Venice, immerse yourself in a full-day course at Acquolina that starts at the local market with a lesson in selecting the best vegetables and fish. In Sicily, attend the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, where nearly all of your ingredients are grown on the estate.
Navigating Eating in Italy
Booking a reservation in a foreign country can be intimidating. You don’t speak Italian, but you want to be sure to get an outdoor table or maybe a table in a quieter part of the restaurant. Perhaps you’ve rented a romantic apartment in Rome and want gourmet food or wine to be delivered to you. Or perhaps you need recommendations on where to eat or other entertainment and don’t speak the language. Travel Concierge Services, included with every Generali Global Assistance travel insurance plan, can help you with your travel reservations and other needs, including city profiles, food and beverage delivery, ticket bookings, and more.