Once you book your trip to Italy, you probably look for ways to make the most of it. And, of course, this includes food. While visiting famous landmarks is thrilling, that is not enough to feel the true Italian spirit. If you want to feel like a local, you need to act like a local. So, fine dining and knowing what to eat in Italy is a must.
I suppose you already know some of the most popular Italian dishes. However, the dining choices do not start and finish with pasta. Namely, there are a variety of specialities you need to try once you land in this amazing country. So, let’s explore what to eat in Italy!
To experience Italy the right way, you need to start with the basics, meaning pizza. It is a type of food that is eaten worldwide, so many people are not really keen on the idea of trying Italian pizza. I will need to stop you right here because tasting pizza in the country of its origin is something you cannot miss.
You will see what I am talking about when you have your first slice. Pizza in Italy is nothing like the one you have tasted in your country. Even though many restaurants claim they make genuine Italian speciality, you will spot the difference from the first bite. That is, you will notice that the crust is unique and the ingredients taste differently. And there is a variety of choices, but Neapolitan-style and Roman-style pizzas are foods in Italy you cannot miss out on trying!
Our recommendation for pizza? Thankfully, it’s very easy to find good pizza in Italy, but some of the more well-respected Nepoliatan pizzerias that have expanded to Rome, Milan and Bologna is Sorbillo.
Here are some examples of Neapolitan-style pizza. This is the more popular style of pizza and what you will find in most restaurants
Another popular Italian dish known worldwide is carbonara. You cannot go to this country and not try their authentic pasta. When you try Italian pasta, you will forget about everything you have tried in the past. Italians pride themselves on homemade pasta and delicious sauces, such as carbonara. I am talking about a classic dish, but the way Italian chefs prepare it is not something you might be familiar with.
Florentine T-bone Steak
When you try to figure out what to eat in Italy that is not pasta or pizza, go for meat dishes. If you are a fan of meat, then make sure you try the Florentine T-bone steak at least once during your stay. However, this is a speciality you can only try in certain regions of Italy, Tuscany being the most popular one. Since it is prepared uniquely, you should not expect to see it on every trattoria’s menu. It is made of the loin of a Chianina cow raised in Tuscany, so it is not strange that it is a rare dish. Nonetheless, you can find variations of Florentine steak in some restaurants across Italy.
Among the must things to eat in Italy is polenta. Although this dish is often mistaken for grits Americans eat, it is essential to point out that it is a completely different one. Namely, polenta is basically corn mush without any specific texture or shape. However, it is the ideal side dish for meat, and Italians love it.
Ossobuco is one of the rarest foods in Italy, mainly because of its preparation and cooking requirements. It is a recipe believed to come from Milan, but there are many variations, so you can find it in other Italian parts as well. Nonetheless, since this speciality requires 3 hours of cooking time, you cannot easily see it on the menus. Therefore, if you are lucky enough to come across it, you should not miss out on the opportunity to try it!
Italians are not only masters of pizza and pasta but bread as well. When thinking of things to eat in Italy, do not exclude different types of bread, especially focaccia. It is a type of flatbread, made of similar thick dough used for pizza. The focaccia is salty, drizzled with olive oil, and extremely delicious. You can eat it in a sandwich or dip it in olive oil, as the Italians do!. Either way, you are about to taste something heavenly!
Among the foods in Italy you cannot miss out on is risotto. Although Italians do not eat a lot of rice, they are one of the biggest producers of it, and it is quite tasty! That said, when you get there, do not forget to indulge in it. One of the most popular rice dishes is risotto alla Milanese originating from Milan. It is regarded as the best risotto across the territory of Italy. However, other popular variations are risotto with cuttlefish and ink, as well as with peas and pancetta.
When thinking about what to eat in Italy, do not omit the famous gelato! Part of the experience of Italian travelling is enjoying the heavenly gelato everyone knows of. Even though gelato is often called ice cream, it is not the same thing. Namely, gelato contains less butterfat and is served warmer than ice cream. Hence the fast melting in the mouth. Moreover, it is characterised by higher density, so it is quite flavourful.
Gelato is fantastic all over Italy, but the photo on the right is from Gelateria Dondoli, a two-time Gelato World Champion.
Tiramisu is a dessert you need to include in your list of things to eat in Italy. When you want to take a break from gelato, the second best thing is tiramisu. It is the perfect dessert you can have after a fine dinner. Tiramisu requires no baking and contains layers of mascarpone cheese and coffee-soaked ladyfingers.
Although coffee is not something you eat, you must try it. Italians take great pride in their high-quality coffee and specific way of making it. In addition, they also have a specific method of drinking their coffee, so before you go, it might be useful to do some research. And do not expect to order your regular Starbucks beverages because you will not get what you get in an ordinary coffee shop. Therefore, if you are picky about your coffee, reading something about Italian coffee beforehand can help you out. When in doubt, nothing beats the traditional espresso!
Finding good Coffee is one of the easiest things you can do in Italy; for example, the photo on the right is from a supermarket chain called Iper. Final Tip: if you see the word “Torrefazione”, it means that the Cafe roasts its beans.
Still wondering what to eat in Italy? Well, I’m quite sure you won’t want to miss out on the world-famous Italian Cheese! Italians are known for doing their part in creating plenty of cheese varieties, often experimenting by smoking or melting them.
If you ask a local, they’ll tell you the absolute best cheese to try here is the mozzarella, a kind of fresh cheese made with buffalo milk in Southern Naples. Next on the list comes the Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, which many call the king of cheeses, originating from Parma. While on the topic of cheese, I can’t forget to mention that one of the most popular ones is definitely the Gorgonzola, an Italian blue cheese from the Gorgonzola region.
Before you try this dish, you should know there are two main types- Roman and Sicilian. They both have a filling with tomato sauce or ragu, mozzarella cheese, and Arborio rice (one used to make Risotto). What’s interesting is that you can also find arancini that are filled with vegetables instead. And they are as delicious as the ‘original’ ones!
Unsure how to serve this tasty Italian food? Well, they go perfectly with a bit of marinara sauce, making one of the best Italian treats across Italy. Arancini are a popular item on the menus of many pubs, bar stalls and fine dining restaurants throughout Italy. Though Italians prefer sitting and truly savouring it with a meal, you can enjoy Arancini as a snack if you’re in a hurry.
The original Lasagna recipe comes from the city of Naples and is made of ragu, cheese, and bechamel sauce. Over the years, the original lasagna recipe changed as people got their hands on more ingredients. As you know, people now make it with layers of pasta, cheese, meat and tomato sauce, and there’s even a vegetarian version available.
There’s no other country that compares to the truffle quality Italy produces. Trust me, it is one of the best gifts Italy has given to the world. This aromatic fungus grows near the tree roots across the forests of Piedmont and Umbria. Usually, they’re picked from early winter to early spring, particularly between November and March.
For those of you who haven’t had a chance to talk about truffles before, you should know there are two main varieties- light or black truffles and white (the ones with the strongest taste). Both varieties are some of the most expensive foods in the world. Italian chefs love to add them to many pasta dishes, breakfast eggs or salads, which adds a strong, specific aroma to the meal.
Image of Truffle (Tartufo) at a market in Italy and another one with Truffle added on top of a steak.
A kind of pasta ripiena – or stuffed pasta, Ravioli is a blend of fillings. It often includes traditional herbs, vegetables, cheese, and meat, all depending on the region. For those of you who have trouble distinguishing them, ravioli have a square or round pillow shape. They’re the most popular Italian dumpling variety, often served with cream-based pasta sauce or tomato. Another popular variant is the sweeter version, which is a deep-fried dumpling with custard filling. Though they often make a main course dish, more than a few Italian food restaurants or cafes serve it as an appetiser, too.
Bruschetta is a famous Italian starter dish that originated in Ancient Rome. Its traditional version is made of basic Italian ingredients, including grilled/ toasted bread, olive oil, basil, garlic, salt and fresh tomatoes. Often, the bread comes with toppings, such as cheese, salami, prosciutto, and vegetables. Both tourists and locals enjoy the tomato bruschetta best, making it a must-try food as you explore the delicious Italian cuisine.
Fettuccine al Pomodoro
Another classical Italian dish! Despite its simple appearance, you’ll be surprised how incredibly Fettuccine al Pomodoro tastes. Pomodoro is an Italian word for tomato, and it’s the tomato and basil sauce that gives the dish such an iconic taste. People often mistake it for Marinara sauce, traditionally paired with spaghetti rather than fettuccine. However, although the two are made of similar ingredients, they’re distinct from each other. The main difference is that the marinara sauce is chunky and liquid, while the Pomodoro sauce is thicker and smoother.
It is not possible to go to Italy and not be tempted to try this traditional Sicilian dessert. Besides, it is known worldwide, especially after the Godfather movies. In essence, it is cylinder-shaped dough that is fried. Then, it is filled with the most delicious ricotta cream. You can find it in several variations, but most commonly, dipped in crushed pistachio or small chocolate chips. Its roots go back to the Arabs who ruled Sicily in the first century AD, but naturally, Italians elevated it with their traditional cooking techniques and locally sourced ingredients.
While in Italy, you must try Ribollita. This hearty vegetable is quite popular among tourists and locals. In Tuscany, people consider it a special treat in autumn, when vegetables have a full, rich taste. This makes the soup explode with flavour despite there being no meat used.
Caprese is a simple dish of basil, cow’s milk mozzarella cheese, sliced tomatoes and a drizzle of Evoo. The four-ingredient salad is super fresh and uses only locally grown ingredients. The term “Insalata Caprese” gets its name from the island of Capri and is the perfect light summer lunch. It’s one of the dishes you can easily whip in your kitchen, although I highly suggest that you fly to Capri to get the real flavour. Once you taste it, I’m sure Caprese Salad will be the very next thing you’ll try making at home.
Cacio e Pepe
Cacio e Pepe literally translates to cheese and pepper. And yes, you should look no further than Cacio e Pepe if you want to try some of the most famous foods to eat in Italy. With just three ingredients, this tasty meal proves that you don’t need much to create something delicious.
Now, you might wonder if this dish is really made with cheese and pepper. It surely is! The magic happens when the thick pasta is tossed in a creamy sauce made with sheep’s milk, Pecorino Romano cheese, a splash of starch water, and ground black pepper. You can say it is the most adult version of mac and cheese and enjoy it with one or two glasses of tasteful wine.
Want more recommendations of What to eat in Italy?
Before you set off for your travels, learn about foods in Italy, you must try. You need to know how locals behave to experience the country like a true local. And that kind of experience starts with delicious dishes and meals.
If you are preparing to go to Italy, check out where you can get the must-try dishes. We have written articles about the best restaurants in Rome overall and Trastevere, one of the most popular neighborhoods for eating out.